This update has been transcribed from Dan Schoedinger, father of Tara Schoedinger (mayor of Jamestown, Colorado). This was his update to our family as to what has been happening in the aftermath of the flooding in Colorado. He went to visit Tara and this also includes his experience.
Friday, Tara Schoedinger, Arne (Tara’s husband) and Pete (their golden retriever) went back to Jamestown for Tara to attend a meeting with a variety of state and Federal representatives to assess the costs to restore the town’s water treatment and distribution facilities. Tara was taking an engineer with her who will be working on the plans to restore the public infrastructure in Jamestown, and she took us, too.
The videos, film and pictures of Jamestown that we had seen before going up didn’t begin to prepare us for what we saw when we arrived. The devastation is really beyond belief. In addition to the six or so houses washed away, many others have been damaged way beyond repair by having their foundations simply washed out from under them or being filled a couple of feet deep with mud and rocks. In some cases, the ground on which houses had once stood was gone along with the houses, washed away as the creek created a widened and relocated creek bed. The bridges and culverts providing the crossings of the creek were gone. The creek in various places through the town split into two to four separate branches. Some of those branches took courses down packed gravel street of Jamestown. Because of the speed and force of the water, those streets were washed away down to large rocks a foot or two below the original grades of the streets. If I hadn’t known that streets had originally been there, I would have thought they were creek beds: heavy rounded rocks and a rolling surface, as well as being below the surface of the adjacent land.
For those of you who have been there, the road going up the hill across the creek from the Merc is simply gone. Cars that had undoubtedly been sitting in roaring water 3-4 feet deep were left packed in mud and rocks as the water receded. The town’s water distribution system has been washed away in at least two places where it crossed the creek and has been broken in an unknown number of other places and could no longer operate under pressure even if the town’s water treatment plant, which was overrun and contaminated by flood waters, could provide properly treated water. The fire hall will likely have to be replaced. The post-flood creek bed is, in many places completely relocated, in some cases through peoples’ property and in others under roads that were washed away.
As we were walking around the town on an inspection tour with representatives of the US EPA, the Corps of Engineers and FEMA, two of them remarked separately that this was the worst devastation they had seen since Katrina, and the third said it was the worst he had seen since 9/11. These statements are not hyperbole and very understandable given the incredible flow and power of the flood. Arne was scheduled to leave for a raft trip on the Colorado River on Thursday morning (the morning after all of this started). On the day before, he checked the water flow rate in the Colorado. It was 1,200 cubic feet per second. The flow rate in James Creek at the height of the flood was 5,000 cubic feet per second. FEMA has established flood water elevations for various magnitudes of floods and designates them by the average frequency at which a flood to a particular elevation should occur: the less frequently a flood of a particular elevation will occur, the higher the flood waters will be. A flood to an elevation that should on average be reached once every 100 years is a major flood. The flood in JT is believed to have been somewhere between a 500-year flood and a 1,000-year flood.
Tara’s meeting with the public officials went very well. They were there to estimate the cost to restore the town’s water treatment and distribution facilities. Establishing an estimate of costs to restore public improvement in Boulder County is a necessary prerequisite to obtaining a Presidential disaster declaration, which will make substantial federal funding available. I was impressed with how easily Tara worked with the officials who had much more experience than she had and how much information she had absorbed in a short period of time and was able to communicate to them.
After the meeting, Diane and I drove back to Boulder with the engineer, and Tara and Arne stayed. They are living up in Jamestown now with electricity, but no running water, and telephone and internet available only at the town hall but only marginally.
After not hearing from them for five days, we were able to connect with Tara last night. It was good to talk with her after five days of not having any contact with her. She has been terribly busy meeting with and contacting various public officials, including Senator Bennet, the governor of Colorado and Vice President Biden, not that I’m dropping any names. She has also been working on getting the story of Jamestown out through the media, supporting and comforting residents, many of whom have lost a good part or all of what they had and most of whom have had to move out of Jamestown until the infrastructure is restored, and working to hold the community together through what will be a long restoration process.
Many have asked what they can do to help. Tara has set up a fund to help pay the cost of the restoration of the public infrastructure. This will be a major expenditure for a town of 295 people. Even with the disaster declaration, which thankfully has been signed, the feds will pay only 75% of the costs. While I think it is impossible to tell what the total cost will be, the engineer who went with us on Friday commented to me that the total cost may be $15 million or so. Even with an informal commitment by the State to pay half of the remaining 25%, there is a lot of cost for such a small town to absorb, particularly since many residents will have substantial unreimbursed costs to pay to restore their private properties. The website for learning more about the flood and making a donation is www.rebuildjamestownco.org.
Important note: With the Government shutdown and furloughs, funding to help the rebuilding effort has been jeopardized. This is a major blow to the families and communities in need.
Kevin is a sixth generation funeral director. He lives in Upper Arlington, Ohio with his wife, Jennifer, sons, Foster and Ferris, and two dogs, Louie and Brutus.