Flood-devastated Jamestown hopes to
get back on its knees this summer
80% of residents live elsewhere while waiting for water
by Allen Best
JAMESTOWN, Colo. – After the flood ripped through Jamestown last September, a wall of mud crushing one of its beloved elders and the thrashing waters partially submerging many of its houses, town leaders had no real doubts about whether they would try to rebuild.
They would. The question was whether the waterlines crucial to permanent residence could be reinstalled in a reasonable amount of time.
Set in the foothills about 20 miles above Boulder, Jamestown has obvious appeal: a post office where you see your neighbors, a general store that is the center of community affairs, and a creek that, normally, is a gently lulling presence.
Last September, 14 to 18 inches of rain fell in just a few days in portions of the foothills. Today, the legacy of that flooding is evident in houses still filled with mud, others toppled, roads difficult—and a non-existent water system.
On a recent Sunday evening, the town was placid in the way that a hotel room would be the morning after a rampaging party by a guitar-busting rock-and-roll band.
The prayer flags and fences of old skis speak to a different time. It’s survival time now.
Mayor Tara Schoedinger says 80 percent of the town’s 300 residents remain displaced. They’ve rented houses in Boulder, Longmont, or elsewhere. This winter, Schoedinger feared few would return if water service and roads were not restored by August.
Now, it looks like they will. Bids will soon go out for design and construction of restored infrastructure of water treatment, mains and service lines. If all goes as planned, construction will begin in late May or early June. Completion is expected by August.
For repairs above ground, the town’s insurance will pay for replacements. But for the more costly below-ground work, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75 percent of costs and the state of Colorado 22.5 percent.
That leaves the town paying just 2.5 percent. This is expected to cost just under $2 million.
In an interview at the Boulder County Courthouse, where the town board has met since last September, Schoedinger recently explained that temporary roads associated with the water works will be completed by early August, with one significant bridge repair likely to be done by November.
As before, sewage treatment is handled through individual septic tanks, and $50,000 has been donated to that cause.
Roots of the settlement are traced to 1863, when evidence of gold nearby drew prospectors. It’s the most northerly extent of the belt of gold and other precious metals that sweeps across Colorado to the Durango area. The gold never amounted to that much, but the town stayed.
This isn’t the first challenge. Schoedinger describes floods in the late 1800s, then again in 1913 and 1969—and with at least comparable ferocity to that which occurred in September.
Jamestown was probably drenched worse than any other town in the four days of storms that dropped up to 18 inches in some locations. The flooding waters destroyed 20 percent of the houses and 50 percent of roads, plus the water treatment plant and the fire station. A mudslide also killed Schoedinger’s next-door neighbor, Joey Howlett, who was regarded as the town’s patriarch.
When the flooding started, Schoedinger worked for Vail Resorts, whose corporate offices are located about 40 minutes away in the Boulder suburb of Broomfield. She supervised a portion of the Vail Resorts Internet Technology department. She quit working Sept. 11, the day flooding began, and threw all her time into rebuilding the town. She formally left the company Jan. 1, but says the company itself has been exceedingly generous to her. Also, company employees have pitched in with personal time to help Jamestown struggle back to its knees.
Rebuilding has started. The new post office opened on Feb. 8. Meanwhile, a new 100-year flood plain has now been determined, which will allow for calculation of rebuildable lots.
The Denver Post reports that Schoedinger addressed Colorado Democrats on April 12 in a testimonial for Sen. Mark Udall, whom she credited with helping Jamestown rebuild.
“When the cameras and the media and the emergency personnel were gone, Mark Udall was still there,” Schoedinger said. “Always by our side to this very day.”
Once Jamestown gets water service and roads restored, Jamestown will have a broader task.
“The challenge is how do we build a community and make it more resilient to the environment in which we live,” she said.
Before the flood, Jamestown had started focusing on how to address the threat of wildfires. That will have to wait.
Colorado, Alberta floods had parallels
BOULDER, Colo. – Major floods in Alberta and Colorado last year were “very, very similar,” says Roy Rasmussen, a senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. “The only difference was that (the Alberta) floods were farther north.”
Alberta’s floods occurred in June, causing heavy damage to Canmore as well as Calgary and other communities (See next story in MTN). Colorado’s floods occurred in September, inundating large swathes of the Front Range from Colorado Springs to Wyoming. In that it covered such a large area it was at least unusual, at least in recent decades, notes Rasmussen. The source of the moisture was the tropics, nearly to the equator. It was fed by two hurricanes, creating almost a river of moisture to the north.
While the intensity of the storms was not necessarily surprising, the fact that they both occurred in the same year might perhaps be unusual. The big question is whether warming temperatures are creating more extreme events. As for that, Rasmussen has no insights. But other scientists are researching to see if the fingerprints of global warming can be found in these and other