Elk River damage is assessed in Routt County | SteamboatToday.com

Elk River damage is assessed in Routt County

Property owners discuss flood prevention ideas

Steamboat Springs resident Tony Connell, right, shows neighbor Dan Simon the flood damage to Connell's Saddle Mountain Ranch house Thursday. Connell is hoping to work with neighboring property owners to help prevent flood damage in the future.
Matt Stensland

— Standing water and a gutted ranch house on Tony Connell's property just west of Steamboat Springs serve as a reminder that this was ground zero for spring flooding.

There also is the large trench going through his driveway where the spillover from the Elk River chewed away at the ground. Four pieces of 48-inch drainage pipe could not handle the flow and were washed away.

"One's in Craig, one got crushed, one's right here and one's in my neighbor's yard," Connell said.

Connell bought Saddle Mountain Ranch at U.S. Highway 40 and Routt County Road 44 in 2007, along with several nearby properties. His vision was to sell building lots to families interested in the shared amenities the property offered, such as fishing, boating and equestrian activities.

Connell said the damage caused by the high water this spring was personally devastating, and there is no clear path to get operations back to normal.

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He said he is waiting to see whether his insurance company will cover the damages, which he estimated were $100,000 to the house alone.

Andrew George and his family were renting the home and had to evacuate it June 3.

Drywall and carpet has been removed from the home so it can dry, but Connell has done little else. The flood-damaged caretaker unit smells like a moldy basement.

"I'm just in limbo," Connell said. "I just can't start tearing into it until I know what's going to be covered and what's not."

Connell, who spent his professional career with Connell Resources construction company, said he thinks the flooding could have been prevented or at least lessened, and he has ideas for making sure it does not happen again.

"Handling water which is not the ranch's and is not historic drainage is not our responsibility," Connell said. "We will not be the impact zone for others' mistakes and bad designs."

The Elk hit its high for the season at 5 a.m. June 7, when the water was moving at 8,250 cubic feet per second, breaking the all-time record of 6,970 cfs set June 8, 2010. It was a 100-year flooding event.

"They had some forecasts of 10, 11,000 cfs that had some good probability," Connell said. "We're very fortunate we only saw the 8,500 cfs."

Given repeated years of high water along the Elk, Connell said he thinks the flows have increased on the Elk, for whatever reasons, and they need to be prepared.

Dan Simon's property just east of Connell's also was flooded, but the water never went above the floorboards of his family's home.

The men think they have identified the problems that led to their properties being overwhelmed with water.

"To me it's just simple to fix," Simon said.

One of the biggest problems, they said, was work done at a neighboring property, where the owner had intended to someday build a home along the rehabilitated river banks on the East Fork of the Elk. The banks were rebuilt too low and were breached, allowing water to flood property to the west, Connell said. Water still was coming over the banks Thursday, when the river upstream had slowed to about 2,700 cfs.

Water from the Elk was not evenly being fed into the Yampa River, Connell said. The West Fork was being overwhelmed, Connell said, while the East Fork flowing under a U.S. 40 bridge could have handled more water.

Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble has said addressing the issues along the Elk would require cooperation among all the stakeholders, which include private property owners, the Colorado Department of Transportation, Union Pacific Railroad and Routt County.

"It's a big task," Connell said.

— To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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