Flood cleanup just beginning

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Weather > Public Works is cleaning debris and repairing roads after record-setting storms

By Arin McKenna

First in a series
Restoring the county’s infrastructure in the aftermath of the storm event which dumped seven inches of rain in six days will be a long and expensive proposition. Initial estimates to repair damage throughout the county stand at close to $6 million, with several major projects requiring long-term planning and construction.

Restoring those elements under the jurisdiction of the Public Works department will require fewer resources than what the Department of Public Utilities is facing. Initial estimates are just under $700,000 to clean culverts, repair retaining walls and sinkholes and other small projects. Repairing the holding pond at Pajarito Cliffs ($350,000) and a sediment pond and eroded slope at the landfill ($250,000) are the two most significant projects.

“For the most part, all our county infrastructure performed very well, considering a 1,000 year storm,” said Public Works Director Philo Shelton.

But even relatively minor projects, such as cleaning debris out of storm drains, is expected to take at least another week. Crews are still removing debris from the drainage catchments. Once that is complete, Public Works will bring in a specialized vactor truck to vacuum out the stormwater lines. Debris cleanup is Class A work under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) classification system.

Public works also helped DPU complete temporary repairs to Rendija Canyon Road last week so utilities could have access to the Guaje Canyon well field.

Projects such as the repairs at the Pajarito Cliff site and the Eco Station require greater planning.

“These have to be designed, and FEMA’s requirement is to try to harden the structure, meaning they don’t want you building back the same thing,” Shelton said. “They want you to consider hardening that infrastructure so it’s not impacted by a storm in the future.”

Public Works is currently getting scope and fee estimates from their on-call engineers that will consider improvements as well as repairs. For example, the flooding caused erosion on Camp May Road. Engineers will look at ways to prevent that in the future, such as installing additional storm culverts and riprap-lined drainage channels.

Other improvements could be as simple as replacing the fence that floodwaters knocked down at the airport with one that is flexible at the bottom, so fencing can lift up if water flows through.

All construction projects around town have had slight delays due to the storms. Public Works is considering all weather delay requests from contractors on a case-by-case basis, evaluating how each was impacted.

Paving on the Eastern Area Phase II project was delayed about seven days, and began Wednesday.

Ashley Pond construction also suffered minor delays and a few things had to be redone, but the storm brought one benefit: it filled half the pond, which had been drained for reconstruction.

In terms of private property, Shelton said the county has been getting some reports of groundwater entering basements (his own home included). There were some problems with swelled drainages in easements that run through people’s property.

Most of the county’s major damage occurred in canyons, which is to be expected. Infrastructure that had been hardened after the Cerro Grande fire —such as a fill bridge on Diamond Drive at Pueblo Canyon — performed well.

Last weekend’s storms brought more problems, mostly in the form of trees blowing down due to saturated ground from the previous storm. Public Works crews were called in to clear those, just as they labored to keep storm drains open during the main event.

“My crews are working hard and it’s greatly appreciated,” Shelton said.

The Department of Public Utilities suffered the greatest damage from the storm system. Read more on that in Friday’s Los Alamos Monitor.