Flood cleanup slowly continues

By Jason Ferguson

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Gates Park playground and baseball field area is among those damaged by the Aug. 2 flood that still needs to be cleaned up and repaired. City crews are working to clean up and repair areas of town damaged by the flood while also tending to the other work the city needs completed in the summer months.

City of Custer officials know some in the community feel like the pace of cleanup from the Aug. 2 flood has moved along more slowly than it should, but say to rest assured that the cleanup continues each day.

“We’re going at it as we can,” City of Custer public works director Bob Morrison said. “It seems like we get a little bit done every day.”

Morrison said city staff has its normal work to get done in the summer, as well, making it difficult to devote entire days to flood cleanup. Just recently staff began to clean up Gates Park, where for a long time the ground was still too wet to move equipment into the area.

Some areas in town are still closed to the public post-flood, including the playgrounds at Gates, Harbach and French Creek parks. Morrison said the playgrounds may take a while to open, as digging must occur to get “suspicious soils” removed and replace the ground cover that was washed away. Morrison said it’s likely the ground cover will be replaced with American with Disabilities Act-approved cover.

The bridge on 7th Street remains closed, but shouldn’t be much longer. The flood waters got under the pavement at the approaches to the bridge, compromising them. Those should be repaired this week, Morrison said.

He said damage estimates within the city stand at around $80,000, the vast majority of which is chainlink fence that was wiped out, including at Gates Park and on the east side of town by the baseball field. He said the wastewater treatment plant, which took on a great deal of water from the flood, is back to normal water levels, although a recent lightning strike at the plant damaged some electrical equipment and fried a motor.

Depending on the availability of contractors and other factors, Morrison said the city’s flood cleanup should be completed by the end of the month.

“We’re plugging away as we can. We’ll get stuff opened up as soon as we can,” he said. “At least (the weather) has been behaving itself for a little while.”

Custer County emergency management director Mike Carter said representatives from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are in town this week, which will take the damage assessment process to the next level. A cost estimate for county damages still has not been finalized, he said.

“Things are pretty much back in order. We still have a lot of debris clearance to look at,” Carter said. He said repairing and opening affected roadways was the county’s first priority, but debris still needs to be cleaned up along the entire French Creek drainage area.

Some thought the county would hold off on repairs until it was learned whether the county’s disaster application was approved, but Carter said the county actually needed to return the infrastructure back to normal as quickly as possible in the interest of public safety. The county/city keeps track of costs spent recovering from the flood and then ideally recoups that from the government through an approved disaster declaration.

It’s anybody’s guess whether the disaster declaration will be approved by the federal government. Carter said it will be “a couple months” before the county learns about the fate of the declaration which must be approved at the state level, the regional FEMA level and in Washington, D.C. The application is still at the state level, Carter said.

For a while, two debris sites were set up for those who had items destroyed by the flood, but those are now closed. Applications for assistance under the FEMA declaration for individuals has also come and gone, although Carter said if the disaster application is approved by the federal government, a new round of applications will occur.

As far as county roads affected by the flood, county highway superintendent Gary Woodford said all of the roads have been repaired. 

He said Upper French Creek was by far the worse, as five crossings and a culvert were taken out. It took 168 loads of fill to repair Upper French Creek Road, he said, and thousands of tons of gravel. Lower French Creek Road also required some fill for repairs, as did America Center Road.