County Considers Flood Options

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Three families who lost their homes during the September flood that swept through Roosevelt Estates are scheduled to have their properties bought out by the county.

The county board of supervisors has agreed to put up its share of money that would make available $400,000 in federal disaster funds left over from the Rodeo/Chediski fire to purchase the properties.

When more than 10 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours, the Pinto, Wildcat and Campaign creeks converged into a river that swept through the subdivision, displacing several families and causing $1.5 million in damages.

Gloria and Lawrence Elchlepp clung to a piece of rebar as flood waters up to 12 feet high, raged around them, sweeping their retirement home and everything in it down the Campaign Creek.

"Everyone living along the creek was trapped in their homes that night," Velma Hodson said.

Following the flood, Governor Janet Napolitano's office assessed the damage and determined it wasn't extensive enough to be declared a disaster area. This decision meant those without flood insurance would not be eligible for FEMA money.

Hodson, was elected to head up a Roosevelt Recovery Team. Seeing no federal help was coming, Hodson and her team made relentless phone calls and wrote letters to anyone who could help those left homeless by the flood.

Mariano Gonzales of the Gila County Department of Emergency Services found a way to get the remaining FEMA funds left over from the fire, but it required the county to put up 25 percent, either in cash or in-kind services.

Gonzales was frank that getting money from the county may be difficult.

In January, the supervisors agreed to contribute the amount needed to buy out three property owners.

When county supervisors OK'd the $77,000, they "officially encouraged" anyone at risk to invest in flood insurance.

Hodson said FEMA officials are taking their time with the payout.

"These people are waiting here," Hodson said. "Now I understand that FEMA is sending people out to do an environmental study on the impact of the buyout."

Hodson said once the homes are bought out, what's left of them will be demolished.

Although the hardest hit flood victims will get some relief, many other homes now sit below the bed of Campaign Creek.

"The flood plain has changed dramatically," Hodson said. "Because of the new levels in the creek beds, many more lives and property are in immediate danger of increased flooding with rain amounts nowhere near those of Sept. 9."

Residents of Roosevelt Estates were hoping that the Natural Resource Conservation Service would assist in rebuilding some of the dikes destroyed in the flood.

The NRCS agreed to repair some sections of the dike downstream on Pinto Creek to protect the water supply, but claimed it wasn't economically feasible to repair the dikes along Campaign Creek in the subdivision hardest hit.

"Those repairs are designed to protect the watershed," Hodson said, "but they won't protect our homes. There are probably 30 homes in danger along Campaign Creek," Hodson said.

Gila County Public Works Director Steve Stratton opposed the NRCS's proposal and the county supervisors also moved to reject the plan.

According to Stratton, the NRCS's plan won't solve the problem.

The residential flooding was caused by water converging in a perpendicular angle into Pinto Creek and creating a back up.

The solution, Stratton said, is to erect a dike along Wildcat Creek and re-shape the channel.

"It would siphon water out of Wildcat Wash so that it wouldn't back up," Hodson said.

"That would help reduce the flooding potential of some parts of Roosevelt Estates, but it's not going to help anyone along Campaign Creek."

Hodson said the only solution the county may consider for Campaign Creek is a buyout of all the properties on the south bank.

"Of course that will take more money," Hodson said.

The plan Stratton suggests will cost $500,000, as opposed the original NRCS plan that was estimated at $50,000.

To raise the 25 percent contribution the county will be responsible for, supervisors may consider a flood district tax similar to that of Winkleman, following the 1993 floods.

"If they want to impose a tax, there will be public hearings," Hodson said. "It could be a long time before anything is done which is why they are encouraging flood insurance."

The county will be installing early flood warning devices in high-risk areas, including at the headwaters of Campaign Creek.

Homeowners, for the time-being, are looking into constructing their own retaining walls and sand berms, and keeping an eye to the sky.

"It's scary," Hodson said. "Every time it clouds up, we all get really nervous."

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