When it started raining in late April, few in Elbert County expected that the storms would continue for 25 straight days. During the month of May, rainfall in the county ranged from 6 inches in some areas to 17 inches in others, and in one month the …
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When it started raining in late April, few in Elbert County expected that the storms would continue for 25 straight days. During the month of May, rainfall in the county ranged from 6 inches in some areas to 17 inches in others, and in one month the precipitation exceeded the county's average annual rain and snowfall.
“Just to give you an idea,” said County Manager Ed Ehmann, “we had two cells collide a little bit north of Kiowa. Those cells, when they collided, dumped about 6 inches of water in about 40 minutes. The flood of '65 was one foot of water in three hours on Monument Hill, and it washed Denver away. Those are the types of volumes we're dealing with.”
Nine counties and nine cities in Colorado were hit by the heavy rains this spring, prompting the state to allow municipalities and counties to apply for disaster relief. On June 24, the Elbert County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution declaring a local disaster, the first step in the process of applying for federal money to help with repairs.
Initially the state set a declaration period from May 9 through May 12, and Elbert County did not meet the threshold of around $80,000 of damage during that period to be eligible.
“It was a very short point, and in that time frame, there was minimal damage in Elbert County,” Ehmann said.
The state has since changed the parameters for aid, expanding it to a 30-day window beginning on April 28 through May 28, a period where the damages in Elbert County are estimated to have reached over $1.2 million.
“We've had multiple road closures. We have had multiple areas where we are not able to maintain the roads because of the large volume of moisture. It's physically impossible to remove that moisture. We've had areas where the rain was so intense it washed the binder, the material that bonds the sands together, it washed it away from the sand, so we have a lot of loose areas,” Ehmann said.
Ehmann told the commissioners that the county is developing a plan to complete repairs, but cautioned that it will take crews the majority of the summer and possibly into next year to complete. He also warned that the damage estimates are preliminary, and the $1.2 million figure could rise as his team continues with its assessments.
Not all the roads in Elbert County may be repaired despite the availability of federal aid. The Federal Emergency Management Agency requires counties to provide matching funds of 25 percent of the total award. Based on initial projections, the contribution from Elbert County taxpayers is estimated to be a minimum of $250,000.
The county has some reserves in its Road and Bridge Fund to meet FEMA's match requirement, but according to Ehmann, it will not be enough to make repairs to all 1,200 miles of roads in Elbert County. The county is planning to defer some vehicle and equipment replacements, but Ehmann assured the commissioners that there is no plan to cut the asphalt recycle projects scheduled for county roads.
“The limitation is not going to be because of FEMA assistance, it's going to be because of county limitations on our match,” Ehmann said. “The state may participate in our match and drive our match in half, but that is unknown at this time, so I have to put the numbers together as if we have to participate at the 25 percent level.”
All of the aid will likely go directly to the county, but if FEMA accepts the county's disaster declaration, it could open the door for private landowners who suffered damage during the storms to receive aid.
FEMA was scheduled to begin reviewing the county's declaration on June 29 to determine if an award will be granted.
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