July 2013 Flagstaff Business News column

Three Years After the Schultz Fire

By Mike Townsend
Interim Coconino County Manager

Three years have passed since flames tore across the eastern face of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks and while the blaze has long been squelched, the impact of the 2010 Schultz Fire continues.

In the summer of 2010, the fire soon gave way to monsoon floods, which posed a threat to lives and greatly impacted properties, homes, utilities, and critical roadways. But in their wake, came learning hard lessons, pursuing funding and now investing millions of dollars by Coconino County and our state and federal partners into flood mitigation efforts.

The County and its partners continue to work collaboratively to complete community-driven projects designed to more safely navigate floodwaters through our impacted neighborhoods to improve protection of lives, homes and property.

Since the 15,000-acre fire and subsequent flooding, over $15 million has been spent on flood mitigation efforts by the County. The County has worked tirelessly since 2010 to secure the funding needed to model, engineer, and construct projects designed to prevent reduce the impacts from catastrophic flooding seen over the last three years.

More than finding a remedy to an ongoing issue, the County and its staff considers these mitigation efforts as an investment in our community by increasing safety, improving property values and providing jobs for local and regional contractors.

A study recently released by Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute found the total financial impact of the fire was upwards of $147 million. Overall response and mitigation efforts for the fire and floods cost city, county, state and federal governments upwards of $60 million, which continues to grow.

While such mitigation efforts are costly, those dollars have been invested with the safety of our residents and infrastructure in mind. Currently there are four major flood mitigation projects valued at over $7 million under construction in the Schultz flood area.

The first, the $3.6 million Brandis Way Emergency Watershed Protection Project, began in March. The project, which is funded through the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program and the County’s Flood Control District, will create sediment reduction measures on U.S. Forest Service property and the construction of a floodwater channel along Brandis Way.

Also in March, the $1 million Upper Campbell Ditch Stabilization Project broke ground. This project improves the existing drainage ditch on the north side of Campbell Avenue. Enlarging and armoring this ditch will help stabilize the Upper Campbell Ditch and increase its floodwater conveyance capacity. This project is funded by FEMA and the County’s Flood Control District.

Last month, the County began the $900,000 Crisp Hill Crossing Project, which is funded by the County’s Flood Control District and involves the installation of a new box culvert to take floodwaters from the Upper Campbell Ditch to Lower Campbell Ditch.

Also in May, the County and NRCS broke ground on the area’s second EWP project in the Schultz Flood area. The Wupatki Trails EWP Project cost $900,000 to create sediment reduction measures on U.S. Forest Service property and construct a floodwater channel through the community.

These projects and others being planned in the coming years are investments into our communities and are designed to aid our neighbors who continue to be impacted by ongoing flooding. Such investments by the County and its federal partners not only protect homes, properties and infrastructure, but they also improve property values and aid in spurring economic development for hundreds of construction workers and local businesses throughout Northern Arizona.

These projects are the result of an organized, collaborative effort with more than 50 local, state and federal partners, in addition to working closely with the utilities and the support of the affected property owners.

Mike Townsend is a lifelong resident of Flagstaff and serves as interim Coconino County Manager. This column was submitted and likely ran in the July edition of the Flagstaff Business News.