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Damage in the millions - Western part of county hit hardest

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By Martin Salazar

The remnants of last week’s flooding were visible throughout the city and county this week: a battered truck sandwiched between a rushing river and a fallen tree near County Road A19A, south of San Pablo; a massive cottonwood fallen behind the Animal Care Clinic, exposed culverts and washed out bridges throughout the county.

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With the Storrie canal back on line and carrying the bulk of the water from the Gallinas River to Storrie Lake, focus has shifted to securing federal and state money to help repair the public infrastructure damaged by record rainfall and flooding.

San Miguel County officials are estimating the damage to their roads, culverts, bridges, walking trails and other infrastructure at $6- to $7 million.

That doesn’t include homes and other private property that was damaged, nor the cost of repairing the privately-owned canal. Las Vegas-San Miguel County Emergency Manager Dennis English estimates that there are possibly 836 homes in the county that were affected and possibly another 200 homes in the city.

“The recovery phase could take years...,” English said. “We have that much infrastructure affected throughout the county and city.”

City and county officials met with FEMA representatives and with representatives of the state Homeland Security Department Wednesday and gave them a tour of some of the damage.

“The estimated cost is way above anything we’ve had to deal with,” said San Miguel County Manager Les Montoya. “We’re going to rely heavily on the state and the federal government.”

Officials say the western part of the county — including places like San Pablo, Camp Blue Haven, San Geronimo, and Cabo Lucero — was hit hardest by last week’s relentless rain and the ensuing floods as raging waters carried away bridges, culverts and other water crossings.

Harold Garcia, who oversees public works for the county, said every road, bridge and culvert that intersects or crosses Tecolote Creek or any of its tributaries in the western part of the county was impacted.

“We showed them (FEMA) two crossings (Wednesday) that are completely gone,” Garcia said.

6 inches of rain in city
City officials were still estimating damages to their public infrastructure and were hoping to have a figure compiled by this afternoon.

From Sept. 10 through this past Monday, the Las Vegas Airport recorded 6.24 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. During that same period, the Romeroville area received 8.1 inches of rain.

The flows proved too much for the Storrie canal to handle. The canal ruptured near Los Vigiles on Friday morning, spilling the water it was carrying onto a field and then back into the Gallinas River. The Gallinas River then began overflowing its bank, causing flooding throughout the river’s corridor.

Disaster declarations
The county commission has already approved a disaster declaration. If President Barack Obama declares the New Mexico flooding a national disaster, FEMA would pick up the tab for 75 percent of the repairs of public infrastructure, with the state paying for 12.5 percent and local communities being responsible for the remaining 12.5 percent. English said the city and county will likely be notified by next week whether a presidential disaster declaration is going to happen.

If it remains only a state disaster, then the state would be responsible for paying 75 percent of the damage, with local communities picking up the remaining 25 percent.

Although the city was still compiling its damage estimate, the figure is likely to exceed $1 million. The City Council was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting Thursday evening to approve a disaster declaration. English was also working with the village of Pecos on a disaster declaration for that area.

Among the infrastructure the city is listing on its preliminary disaster declaration as having been damaged are: Cinder Road, the Riverwalk, Dahlia Street, Valencia Street, North Gonzales Street, West National Avenue, San Francisco Street, Encino Street, Alamo Street, Sulzbacher Street, Rosenwald Street and bridges within the city. Also damaged, according to the declaration, were the Legion Street Arroyo Crossing, the Valencia parking lot, the diversion dam structure, utilities building and property, Peterson pump back system, Valencia lift station, Palo Verde lift station, the water treatment plant and the waste water plant.

The declaration also lists property belonging to Las Vegas City Schools  and the West Las Vegas School District.

It wasn’t just public infrastructure that got damaged.

Scarlett Branchal, who lives on Dahlia, said the flooding tore down her fence, uncovered the sewer lines, eroded dirt that they had brought in to build up the property and even washed away a trampoline.

“It was the worst experience of my whole life,” Branchal said, adding that she wants to know what help is available for people like her.

English said that if a presidential declaration is obtained, there will be an individual assistance program available. But he added that the threshold for homeowners to receive assistance is very high, and he said he doesn’t anticipate many homes or businesses qualifying.