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With the weather pleasant and the birds singing, It was a very nice morning in the Jemez Mountains to have a meeting.
For residents living on Elk Trail Road however, the Monday gathering was bittersweet. During a meeting with Sandoval County Project Manager Fred Marquez near where the road washed out, they received some good news and some bad news.
The good news is, Marquez said the county has made fixing the washout a top priority. The bad news, the residents are looking at least two to three more months of navigating their vehicles across the county’s temporary fix, a fill of stones over the bottom of the washout.
Residents have complained that the round stones get displaced under the weight of their vehicles, saying it’s only a matter of time before someone gets stuck.
Marquez said the road washed out for two reasons, one, the Thompson Ridge Fire burned off all the plants and root systems that secured the soil and two, the area experienced a once in a 500 year storm event, according to their measurements.
According to Marquez, the reason why it’s taking so long is they want to be certain the solution they come up with works. The wash currently contains two of the county’s efforts over the past decades, scraps of a cement culvert as well as pieces of a steel culvert the county installed in the gap 20 years ago.
“We now have our engineers looking at the flows that could still potentially come down out of the mountains, now that there isn’t any vegetation upstream” Marquez said. “The flows are pretty significant. We are looking at 14 tons of debris per acre of burned area.”
Even though a small culvert would be a relatively easy and quick fix, he said they are now looking at using corrugated metal culvert 96-inches in diameter.
“We’re doing everything we can to help you,” Marquez told the crowd. “To be honest with you, we still have roads all over the county, including Rio Rancho, which is closed. We don’t have the manpower to fix every road the day after a storm happens. “...we’ve visited you twice but there are some roads we haven’t even seen yet.” Marquez also mentioned that they are in charge of 1,500 miles of road, and only 20 percent is paved.
“I can’t promise anything, but we are trying hard to get something out here really quickly for you,” he told the crowd.
Residents from Black Bear Road, the road that’s downstream from Elk Trail and runs parallel to it, were also at the meeting. Their concern was with their culvert and the status of their road in general. the road has two smaller culverts running underneath it, and one is already blocked up, causing water to flood over the road no matter how big the storm is, according to resident Joyce Olsen.
“If you fix this, there’s still going to be a lot of water and debris coming down, what are you going to do about our little culvert?” Olsen asked Marquez.
“We’re trying to deal with one problem at a time,” Marquez told her.
The county’s main concern for now, he said, was to make sure emergency vehicles can get in and out.
La Cueva Volunteer Fire Chief Lee Taylor they’ve been testing the road. He told residents at the meeting that their two-wheel drive, lowest clearance vehicle made it just fine over the gap.
“But, the problem I did see with the river rocks you have put in, is that they would get displaced just by driving over them,” he told Marquez. “If we did have a structure fire over there and we did have multiple tenders driving over it, it’s not going to last. Smaller gravel on top of the temporary fix would be better.”
At the end of the meeting, Marquez thanked the residents for their input and their resourcefulness for dealing with the problem.
“Thank you very much for getting together and helping us as we get this figured out,” he said. “As I said before, we are going to do our best to make this right for you guys so hopefully, you will never have to deal with this again.”