Good News, Bad News

By Joseph Lekarczyk
Date Line: Mon., Sept. 16, 9 p.m.

“I got some good news, and I got some bad news, which do you want to hear first?” We all know how that joke goes so I’ll start with the good news. First, although there are reports of five deaths so far in Boulder County from this disaster, none are from Lyons. Lyons Substation Supervisor Sgt. Nick Goldberger confirmed this to me. He said one hundred percent of the homes within Lyons proper have been visited by either Search & Rescue, Lyons Fire, BoCo Sheriff, or

National Guard three times; a hasty, a primary, and a secondary search to ascertain that no one is trapped inside or in need of help. Someone is then checking names of the known missing/unaccounted-for against the Town’s utility addresses and another visit is paid to those residences. (So if you are out, but didn’t register at LifeBridge as a Lyons refugee, please do so.) Goldberger added there are still many people who are unaccounted for, especially in some of the outlying areas surrounding Lyons.

You can’t believe how many assets are on the ground in Lyons. There are National Guard trucks and personal everywhere! Work crews are clearing downed trees, cleaning up debris with big front-end loaders. The power company, CenturyLink, and FEMA crews are on site trying to assess the damage and restore services. In fact as I was leaving town on Monday afternoon at around 4 p.m., I saw the first new power pole being erected between the Black Bear Inn and U-Pump-It! The local quarries have been ferrying truckloads of sandstone fill everywhere to shore up the bridge abutments and fill in some of the eroded streets and roads to make them passable for emergency veichles. Every two or three minutes helicopters are flying over head, most are heading into the mountains to evacuate stranded people in the more remote communities like Estes Park, Allenspark, Pinewood Springs, etc., but occasionally one lands in Lyons (either in a field at the top of Fifth Avenue, or on the street north of the fire station (the on-site command post) to drop off essential supplies.

Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen and staff met with BoCo Sheriff Joe Pele, the three BoCo Commissioners, St. Vrain Valley School Superintendent Don Haddad, and his staff in the Lyons Elementary School library (Town Hall suffered water damage and the School District has agreed to let Town Staff use the school for their business) on Monday morning to coordinate their efforts. The Town’s main-frame computer server (computer geeks, please excuse my ignorance if that is not an accurate technical term, I watch too much T.V.) in Town Hall has been relocated to the school. Commissioner Deb Gardner indicated that FEMA representatives will be setting up an office (Probably by Tuesday, in the Twin Peaks mall. Not sure where, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find, the mall is even more deserted than Lyons). She was aware of, and apologized for the miscommunication about FEMA being at LifeBridge with vouchers for evacuees. She stressed that residents should go to the Twin Peaks Mall for one-on-ones with FEMA, and not to LifeBridge (they have their hands full feeding and housing those who are still there). The Commissioners and Sheriff Pele are dealing with a lot right now all over the County, but were very helpful with contact information for Simonsen about available equipment, contractors, etc., and assured her that helping Lyons is one of their top priorities.

Superintendent Haddad offered the Town the services of several contractors that the School District has on stand-by. A convoy of District personal went into the high school (by way of the Fifth Avenue Bridge and then through the Heil Ranch Open Space) at 3 p.m., Monday afternoon to inspect the facility, and to bring out teacher text books, instruments, and football helmets (when school starts next week at the temporary site in Longmont, they want the students to feel as normal as possible). As things dry out, more supplies and equipment will be brought out if conditions allow.

The McConnell and Second Avenue Bridges are not yet functioning. The bridges themselves are still there, but the abutments leading up to the south sides have been eroded and the river has now channeled itself there. CDOT has been on site to access the viability of them, and all other bridges in town. The two bridges on Rte. 36 on either side of Planet Bluegrass, going out of town toward Estes are compromised but intact, and are being used. Same for the Fifth Avenue Bridge, but on a much more limited basis.

The St. Vrain Market got slammed, as most of you know. The Fork also got hit pretty hard. Most other businesses on Main Street to the east look pretty good from the outside, but probably most have suffered water damage, at least in the lower levels. The same is true to about the Black Bear Inn. From there it gets worse. U-Pump-It is intact, and a few people were shoveling out mud and opening the doors to dry it out. Clark’s Hardware got hit hard and employees were in “salvation-mode” when I drove by, hauling out water-soaked inventory, and separating into two piles in the parking lot; ruined and not ruined. Not much activity at Diamond Shamrock or Spirit Hounds, but they also got whacked pretty good. Ditto, Lyons Finest Confidential Care and Nick Angelo’s shop at the bottom of Stone Canyon. I saw Gwynne, and she said she got lucky. Her house is intact, with power (she and a few others are on the Poudre power grid) and the main nursery is good, with only damage to the exterior storage areas. Stonebridge Farm appears to be fine.

Probably one of the hardest hit was Planet Bluegrass. There are now several stream channels with running water throughout the grounds. Mud and debris is everywhere. The silo is still standing, as are the main stage, stone buildings, and Wildflower Pavilion. But the pavilion had a lot of water flowing through it, and the fence that went along the south side of it is scattered all over town. Rumor has it Craig Ferguson has purchased a back-hoe on Craig’s List, and has started an online campaign with his Festavarian friends from around the world to “Save The Planet!” Let’s all hope it’s a huge success.
I haven’t yet walked through Bohn Park, but I know the river re-channeled around the new tennis court and through the Public works equipment shed. Meadow

Park doesn’t look too bad as you walk in; a little erosion on the road into the parking lot with some sloughing of the hillside. The soccer/softball field is covered with mud and river cobble but is intact. From there it gets worse, much worse. The whole grassy area around the old stone picnic kiosk is gone. It’s just rocks and mud. The kiosk is a broken roof on top of a pile of rocks. The Town’s recently purchased (they closed on August 31) Hains property (the house behind the fence near the swimming hole) is no longer there. Nothing, not even much ground! Every building and the fence are now somewhere in eastern Colorado. The only thing still there is the white-roofed temporary garage-like storage thing that was held up by four thin poles. It obviously didn’t offer much resistance to the raging waters, and was able to withstand the river until there wasn’t anything left to stand on, and then it just collapsed in place on whatever was left. It’s an eerie sight. The swimming hole is still there, but it has probably been “reconfigured” by Mother Nature. The playground seems to be untouched, as is the larger picnic kiosk next to it, but the volleyball court/ice rink couldn’t be seen from my vantage point.

The wastewater treatment plant is a sort of island. It’s not functioning, but the buildings are still there. Town Engineer Jim Blankenship has inspected them and reports that two out of the three components (clarifier and digester) are okay, a third part of the system (headworks) is underwater. No telling yet the extent of the damage to the pipes bringing the untreated “stuff” to the facility, but they are certainly broken in many places. With all the raw sewage that is going into the river, and all the standing water around, there is a very real possibility of disease. Repairing the wastewater plant will be the toughest and most important task ahead. Simonsen pondered if we might want to rethink the idea of the plant’s proposed multi-million dollar upgrade, and instead request FEMA funds to build a whole new facility out at the abandoned Longmont water treatment plant east of town. 

There are still many people who haven’t evacuated for one reason or another, but that number dwindles everyday. Simonsen said only a dozen or so people were at the Monday morning 9 a.m., briefing at the Vasquez Stage in Sandstone Park. She reiterated that the LES evacuation center has been closed, because without power, water, and sewer, it is no longer possible to help people within the town. She also stressed that with all the clean-up and rescue activity, i.e. National Guard operations, FEMA, quarry trucks, work crews, helicopters, etc., not to mention the afore mentioned (oops I guess I just did) water-born disease factor, it really would be a help if everyone would leave town to avoid an accident or injury that would impede the process. (Click on the Victoria Simosen interview on the Recorder’s website).

There will be a special emergency Board of Trustees meeting held on Tuesday, September 17, at 1:30 p.m. Trustees Sandy Banta, Dawn Weller, and Mayor Pro-Tem were in Lyons on Monday. Trustees Connie Sullivan and Dan Greenberg (the Trustee formally known as Goldberg) are in the area, and will also be at the meeting. Trustee LaVern Johnson was seen at the LifeBridge Church, and was reported to be in good spirits. As you know, Mrs. LaVern, who goes to everything, will most definitely be at the meeting. A reliable source close to Mayor Julie Van Domelen has assured me that the Mayor is in route from Dar Salaam, Tanzania. She cut short her trip and left on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, a two-hour lay over in Nairobi, Kenya turned into an overnight stay because of mechanical problems, which then set off a chain reaction of missed connection through Paris and Atlanta to Denver. But at last report, she was in Paris, and should be arriving in DIA by 3:30 p.m., Tuesday. Not in time for the meeting.

Now for the bad news. Unfortunately it will probably be at least a couple of weeks until the power is back up and running. Maybe three, maybe longer. No way to tell until the water goes down and things dry out enough to do a full inspection and make all the repairs needed. The water and gas will take a little longer. The sewer longer still. There is no way yet to get a firm time frame for when any residents will be let back into town to perhaps gather things that were left behind, much less when we will be able to return to our homes. It is frustrating, but it is what it is. Everyone in Lyons is doing everything possible to speed the process along, but according to national reports I have heard, the flooded areas along the Front Range is the size of Connecticut, and growing every day as the flood waters travel to the east. The only thing we can do is be patient, and cross our collective fingers for a dry, hot, extended Indian Summer that goes into mid-November to allow the crews as much time as possible to make repairs before winter sets in.                      

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