Supervisors Declare Emergency In Tonto Basin


Gila County Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to declare a state of emergency in portions of Gila County due to recent flooding.

Particular focus was given to Tonto Basin, where residents on the east side of Tonto Creek have been stranded, unable to ford the high water since Saturday night.


Longtime Tonto Basin resident, Brenda Straw, describes the rising level of Tonto Creek. Straw and other residents on the east side of the creek have been unable to cross since Saturday night because of flooding from recent storms and runoff.

"The primary location we discussed was the Tonto Creek area where we have had to use our heavy equipment to bring food and medicine to the 470 people living across the creek," said County Supervisor Ron Christensen. "Supplies are running low and the children have been unable to get across to go to school."

The creek continued to rise as a series of Pacific storms made their way through Arizona. Melting snow from nearby mountains contributed to the swift flow and high water, making the creek impassable.

"In declaring a state of emergency, we will be able to recoup some of the expenses the county has had meeting the needs of those residents," Christensen said. "There is no question that Governor Napolitano will declare this area a state of emergency."

Another storm is expected this weekend, casting doubt on any potential relief for the stranded residents. What so far has been days of isolation may turn into weeks.

"With the coming storm, we may be looking at them being stranded for a long period of time," Christensen said.

The county is examining the option of a supply point on the east side of the creek and officials are in discussions with Congressman Rick Renzi's representative, Chris Udall.

Udall was expected to visit the creek on Thursday and report to Renzi on the situation.

Because the creek runs through federal land, various agencies including private environmental groups have tied up much of the discussion of a bridge to make the creek passable in times of high water.

Although Gila County has set aside $1 million for the construction of a bridge, the expected cost could be as much as $10 million and the federal government has not offered financial assistance.

"We are trying to get the issue of an all-weather crossing on the agenda again," said Christensen.

Yet even Christensen acknowledges that issues of forest health and homeland security as well as the budget crisis in the state make the Tonto Creek crossing a lower priority.

The next Gila County Board of Supervisors' meeting will be March 25 in Payson. The proceedings begin at 10 a.m. on the campus of Gila Community College.

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