Dozens attend Aztec meeting to discuss flood

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

AZTEC — More than 70 residents attended a meeting here Wednesday to question city officials about their storm water management plans after a thunderstorm last month flooded public and private property, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

City Manager Josh Ray said officials are trying to find a funding source to help private property owners recover from the storm. Officials say about 170 homes need to be classified as destroyed for neighborhoods to qualify for federal disaster relief.

"The bad news first," Ray said. "It doesn't exist as of today. The good news — we're going to keep looking."

The storm on Aug. 26 dropped nearly 4 inches of rain in one evening on northeast San Juan County. It washed double-wide mobile homes off their foundation, ripped roofs off homes, and left mud and silt covering roads. It hit Aztec the hardest.

Officials estimated nearly $1.4 million in damage was done to public property, though they say that figure likely will change. But how much it will cost to address the damage done to private property is less certain.

About 70 residents from the Kokopelli subdivision attended a meeting in Aztec City Hall on Tuesday to discuss the storm. Wednesday's meeting drew approximately the same number.

Guy Collier lives on South Church Avenue. A storm that took place almost two years ago also flooded his home, he said.

"This is the second time my house has gotten hit," he said.

Like many of the property owners in the meeting, Collier doesn't have flood insurance. He said he doesn't have the money to fix his home, either.

He asked what he should do the next time his home floods, perhaps in another two years. He doesn't believe the city has improved its storm drains, and he doesn't see it adding more of them, he said.

"This is a city problem," he said. "I'm highly irritated about this, but I'm looking for results."

Other property owners also criticized the city's storm-drain system. They said the city has too few drains, and those the city has are too small to handle flooding. One man suggested raising taxes to fund more infrastructure, and another man said the city shouldn't build in flood plains.

"What are you going to do?" Collier asked.

Ray said the city on Wednesday began advertising for contractors to study ways to improve its storm-water drainage system. Soon, he said, the city will start investing in drainage improvements. Ray agreed that the city needs to improve its system.

But there's a simple solution to much of the city's flooding, said Dale Anderson, Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village vice president and a member of its board.

"Right now, nothing stops the Blanco Wash. Nothing stops it," he said. "It goes straight through."

Storm water often surges down the arroyo and flashes into homes and property. In the late-August storm, the arroyo flooded the museum, filling its basement with so much mud that high school students had to help dig it out, Anderson said.

But he and others at the museum discovered records showing that in the 1940s, the city built dams upstream from arroyos that historically flooded the city, he said. But those old dams are now filled with sediment, Anderson said, and they aren't working well.

"Once it comes down Blanco to the museum," you can't stop it. "It's going to come right on through and hit his office," he said, pointing to Ray.

Ray said the city cleaned out the sediment from the dams during the flood two years ago, but crews haven't been up there since the recent flood because they're working on other areas.

City officials had no response to many of the other questions property owners asked in the meeting. One woman asked how the city plans to control the storm water that floods her neighborhoods.

"Let me answer that one like the other ones: I don't know," Ray said.

But at the next City Commission meeting, he said, he will ask that flood mitigation be made the city's top priority.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.