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Flood of money

With a presidential disaster declaration, the area will be better able to address storm damage


More of this please: Gov. John Hickenlooper and Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder cut a ribbon at a flood control project. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • More of this please: Gov. John Hickenlooper and Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder cut a ribbon at a flood control project.

After a long winter, the rains of spring were greeted curtly by many El Paso County residents.

These were not the drenching downpours of the area's "monsoon season," but rather dreary, all-day affairs, gradually dropping record amounts of moisture on the area in May. Over time, the rains led to collapsed roads, bridges and retaining walls; flooded basements; and moss growing thick in areas that once struggled to keep cacti alive.

It was unusual. And it caused an uncommon amount of damage — early estimates were $20 million for all public properties across El Paso County, though it's probably more.

The good news is that President Barack Obama now has declared the late spring rains a federal disaster for 11 Colorado counties, including El Paso, which means the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay up to 75 percent of the costs for repairs to public infrastructure.

"It's a huge deal to get this money," says Brian Olson, the county's sales and use tax administrator.

Olson, who has taken the lead on flood recovery funding, says the unincorporated county racked up at least $7.9 million in damages during the disaster period of April 16 to June 20. That includes about $4 million for roads, $2.3 million for parks and $1.5 million for facilities.

Olson says FEMA will work with governments to determine the total cost of repairs. The state may also decide to foot 12.5 percent of the local governments' bills, which would be a big help.

"Some of this stuff — no pun intended — is very fluid," Olson says, noting it's impossible to say what the total cost to the county will be.

One thing is for sure: Damage that occurred after the disaster date range isn't covered. The county is estimating that rain damage at $367,000 so far.

Municipalities didn't fare any better during the period covered by Obama's aid designation.

Bret Waters, emergency management director for Colorado Springs, says the city suffered about $11.5 million in damages during the disaster period. Roughly $8 million in damage was to public works infrastructure, such as roads and drainage channels. About $3 million in damage was done to parks and trails.

On May 26, City Council appropriated $5 million for repairs, some of which will be reimbursed. The city has already started working on some projects, including stabilization of a channel in the Rockrimmon area and cleaning a debris pond in North Douglas Creek.

Shelley Cobau, Manitou Springs' flood recovery manager, says her town estimated its damage at around $2.1 million, though it could be far more. Manitou has identified 60 damaged areas, including collapsed retaining walls, two failed bridges and a lost water line. But the box culvert that comes out of Williams Canyon and flows through a neighborhood is causing the most uncertainty.

The culvert sprung a leak, and a study is needed to determine how much damage it did. If it needs to be rebuilt, Cobau says it could cost around $18 million. That would be completely unmanageable for the town without help from the federal government.

"The presidential disaster declaration opens the door to recovery," Cobau says, "and we're glad we got it."

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