Flagstaff residents affected by severe flooding after a fire in the Pipeline West area sent two separate open letters to city and county offices on Wednesday, imploring local leaders to expand how they respond to immediate needs in the affected neighborhoods.
The needs detailed in the letters include topics ranging from infrastructural improvements to expert advice as repeated flooding continues to hammer the region. City and county officials report that their immediate efforts are maxed out and long-term improvements are being pursued.
A high chance of precipitation remains in the forecast, with the National Weather Service reporting a 40 to 90 percent chance of rain every day through Tuesday.
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“Do better for us,” read one of the letters submitted and signed by 32 residents of the Coconino Estates neighborhood, where floodwaters have regularly encroached during the monsoon season. “Feelings of frustration, disappointment, anger, pain and fear are mounting as increased property damage and personal danger looms.”
The letter from Coconino Estates makes specific demands — such as placing “experienced professionals with legitimate flood mitigation experience” in neighborhoods to advise residents — as well as traffic management, volunteer coordination, reduced mitigation construction times, improved communication and weekly updates. . He also expresses concern that the current mitigation of sandbags placed by residents could be “dangerous, but well-intentioned”.
“We need professionals to work with our neighbors to better develop strategies to protect their personal assets and minimize downstream impacts,” the letter said.
More guidance and engagement are essential, said Allie Stender, a Coconino Estates resident who submitted the letter to elected officials.
“We need the actual technical expertise to know how we’re doing mitigation in our yards,” Stender said. “We need to have conversations with city officials to feel supported and heard. To do a good job of serving the public, you have to engage in the midst of the crisis. And that level of engagement doesn’t happen.
The other letter, submitted and signed by 29 residents of Stevanna Way, is more of an acknowledgment that the current flooding, while exacerbated by watershed damage caused by the pipeline fire, is also the result of a “series of bad technical decisions, compromises and inaction.”
“A root cause of this series of five floods (so far) can be attributed to under-capable and poorly designed culvert structures,” Stevanna’s letter read. “The coupled situation of Stevanna and Coconino Estates is outrageous and unsustainable.”
Stevanna’s letter refers to emergency mitigation led by residents to drain “Lake Stevanna” – the routine pooling of water that has accompanied each flood. According to that letter, this attenuation was necessary to carry the water away from Stevanna and a nearby apartment complex in the Rio de Flag.
“Our mitigation efforts on Stevanna were voluntary and, arguably, honorable; but they should not have been necessary,” the letter read.
He advocates the exploration of other solutions, such as the emergency construction of means of transport “through or under open areas upstream of the North Woods flats and Stevanna Way”.
Stevanna’s letter joins the letter from Coconino Estates in arguing for a shorter and longer term response from local government.
“The city must act with focus and urgency,” it read. “The West Side has now joined the East Side in facing the horrific reality of rapid environmental change, poor planning, underperforming infrastructure and the resulting devastation.”
The letter from Coconino Estates also argues that the Pipeline West area is receiving a “patchy” response compared to previous emergencies, alleging a lack of interagency coordination between the city and county government.
“This disparity is unnecessary, inappropriate and most likely unethical,” the letter read. “City staff and residents deserve the same level of interagency coordination, regardless of which jurisdiction takes the lead in the response.”
According to the city’s director of public works, Scott Overton, who is also the city’s incident commander for Pipeline West’s Incident Management Team, there have been “no issues” with inter-city coordination. agencies between city and county.
“It’s just that everybody’s really stretched,” he said.
The county was further taxed, Overton said, by having to respond to flooding in the Pipeline East area, which is entirely within county jurisdiction and therefore not subject to support from city resources.
The county is providing all available resources for Pipeline West’s response, said Lucinda Andreani, county flood control district manager. Efforts include the tens of thousands of sandbags currently protecting Pipeline West homes.
“Over 95% of those sandbags all went through the district’s sandbag operation,” Andreani said.
She also reported that engineering consultation for immediate and long-term mitigation in the Schultz Creek watershed was funded at “substantial” cost to the county’s flood control district.
Nonetheless, Andreani acknowledged that people are “frustrated” with what appears to be a difference in response between the various flood events in the county. Some of the differences can be explained by the unique location of Pipeline West – a location that combines the residential density of the Museum Fire floodplain and the topographic tendency towards “pooling” as seen in the Pipeline East floodplain, Doney Park.
“It really complicates the dynamic there,” Andreani said, adding that resisting the urge to use mitigation measures to protect yards and landscaping — and instead just houses and structures in sandbags – could help in the area.
“We understand [protecting yards]”, said Andreani. “That’s what everyone wants to do. But if the water spreads there, it could dissipate in the neighborhood and have much less impact.
There was a “big effort” to support and educate people in the area, Andreani said, including patrols of engineers who traveled the area to “get information on how people should mitigate,” the production of flood preparedness guides and the creation of a hotline to request individual assessments from an engineer.
This hotline, in Overton’s opinion, was “very responsive”.
“There was no backlog of engineering requests,” he said.
The city and county also held a community meeting a week ago. During the meeting, Coconino County District 1 Supervisor Patrice Horstman reiterated that the city and county are “working very closely” to do “everything we can.” But she acknowledged that their ability to deal with the crisis in the short term “will not be enough”.
“It’s beyond the capabilities of the city, beyond the capabilities of the county,” Horstman said. “We need federal money.”
On this front, there has been movement.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently ‘confirmed’ that it will provide $2.4 million for the construction of a 16-acre retention pond to reduce the impacts of flooding in the Pipeline West area. , said Overton.
A statement from the City of Flagstaff noted that “although the ponds will not eliminate the threat of flooding, they will significantly mitigate it. Of note, this project is expected to be completed this fall, just six months after the pipeline fire This is not indicated to dodge the concerns of citizens, but rather to underline the importance and urgency that have been attributed to this situation by the City and its partners.
The pace of the project shows how much the government’s response to fires and floods has actually improved in recent years, Rep. Tom O’Halleran said. He said this was partly due to legislative efforts to increase funding available for fire and flood response and to improve coordination between agencies such as the NRCS and the US Forest Service.
“If you look at the history of the Schultz fire, you’ll see that it took a long time even to get to a point where we could have the money to move the engineering process forward,” O said. ‘Halleran.
Still, he acknowledges that there is more to be done and praised the efforts of the Senses. Mark Kelly and Krysten Sinema in their quest for funding to support proactive forest management.
“We have to be proactive,” O’Halleran said. “The days of sitting back and waiting for disaster to strike should be long gone.”
But while six months may be an improved pace for the government, it’s still painfully slow for residents who face flooding every few days.
“We have another month of monsoons ahead,” read the letter from Coconino Estates. “We refuse to wait until October for relief.”
More information about Pipeline West mitigation and resources can be found at www.coconino.az.gov/2944/Pipeline-West-Flood-Area and www.flagstaff.az.gov/4767/Pipeline-Fire-West -Flood-Area .
The city’s hotline to request a technical evaluation is (928-213-2102) and will be answered Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. People can also call this number to request a damage assessment if you experience indoor or outdoor flooding on your property. .