A Town Hall meeting on August 26th brought together government leaders and local agencies to discuss post flooding resources and answer questions from local residents. Held at the Miami High School auditorium, the full town hall meeting is available online.
In attendance were representatives of the City of Globe, the Town of Miami, Gila County Health & Emergency Management, the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, Team Rubicon, and United Fund of Globe-Miami. Elected officials in attendance included Gila County Supervisor Tim Humphrey; Globe Mayor Al Gameros and Globe City Council members Freddy Rios, Frank Pastor, and Mariano Gonzalez; and Town of Miami Mayor Sammy Gonzales, Vice Mayor Dan Moat, Town Manager Micah Gaudet, and Town Council members Mike Black and Mike Sosh. A representative from Congressman Tom O’Halloran’s office was also present in the audience.
According to Supervisor Tim Humphrey, Russel Gulch received almost 13 inches of rain in the recent monsoon rains, compared to 1.9 inches last year and about the same the year before. Even without the burn scars and runoff, he said, the area would still have had a lot of flood waters. Acknowledging that there are a lot of people in need, he urged patience.
Humphrey said the organization between the different entities involved has been amazing and he encouraged people to contact the county’s call center for help, but asked people to be patient.
“The county is doing everything they can to help all the people they can,” he said.
One challenge the county has been dealing with is funding sources they haven’t dealt with before, Humphrey explained. The county has received funding through the state (DEMA), but has not qualified for federal funding through FEMA.
Globe’s Mayor Gameros said the events of the past two months have been eye-opening for everyone.
Gameros said we need to prepare for the future, as individuals and as a community, because this kind of flooding could be with us for years, and the flooding that happened recently could happen again. “Growing up here, born and raised, I don’t think any of us saw this type of flooding, ever.”
Changes need to be made through the state legislature, said Gameros, so people who need help can get that help immediately – such as people from the trailer court (Little Acres), who need temporary housing, showers, and bathrooms immediately.
Miami Town Manager Micah Gaudet and Miami Mayor Sammy Gonzales both acknowledged the resiliency of the Miami community and how people come together to help out the flood victims.
Gonazalez pointed out that 3,000 tons of mud were removed after the flood, and 35 different agencies have been involved in the recovery.
Gila County Emergency Manager Carl Melford provided updates on the current recovery efforts.
Gila County got started on flooding mitigation planning even before the fire was contained, he said. The county has an open emergency declaration for post-fire flooding, which makes it possible for the county to apply for public assistance grants. Melford said he has discussed a public assistance grant with AZ DEMA.
These grants are not financial awards to homeowners, he explained, but instead, they provide funding to counties and municipalities to help cover their costs of responding to a disaster. In this case, the funding would provide $200,000 per event at a 75% reimbursement rate, for debris removal costs, staffing costs, and county and municipal infrastructure repairs.
Melford said House Bill 2001 has already been providing assistance, making $100 million available statewide for fire suppression and post-fire flooding efforts.
Currently, about $4 million has been spent statewide, and $3.7 million of that has been used in Gila County. Approximately $271,000 has been spent for the City of Globe, $188,000 for the Town of Miami, and $3.3 million for Gila County.
Gila County Emergency Management has submitted 91 funding requests, including for debris removal, heavy equipment for debris removal, hydrology services, rain gauges and trail cameras, sand bags and sand, jersey barriers (heavy concrete blocks), temporary living accommodations for people who’ve lost their homes, repairs to infrastructure, and more.
Regarding individual assistance, Gila County Emergency Management has called on the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Team Rubicon to assist. The Red Cross has operated a shelter for displaced people after the flood and assisted with damage assessments. The Salvation Army has provided various services, including feeding and hydration. Team Rubicon has assisted with cleaning out homes.
The county is helping people get contractor quotes for debris removal on private property, says Melford, adding that they have helped more than 100 people so far.
“We’ve had four major flood events, and we have not had one single death or injury, and I think that is tremendous and nothing short of a miracle,” Melford said.
Gila County Public Works Director Steve Sanders said the county’s Public Works department has been working with a contractor to create maps showing where flooding might occur, and filling sandbags with the help of volunteers. Sanders reported that more than 40,000 sandbags have been filled, not including what the City of Globe and the prison have done. The county sandbags have been distributed throughout the region from Tonto Basin to El Capitan.
Sanders reported there has been widespread damage in Globe-Miami, El Capitan, Dripping Springs, Tonto Basin, and Roosevelt, and there are about 10 local contractors that have been put under contract for cleaning creeks and debris removal.
It should be noted that the County needs permission from private owners to do cleanup, and Sanders encouraged property owners, even if they don’t live on a drainage, to give the County permission to come on their property to clean the waterways. Without the permission, the County can’t do the cleanup necessary to clear drainage areas.
“The county will come clean it up for you,” Sanders said.
Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS, a branch of the Department of Agriculture) has been brought in and has identified 23 potential projects in the drainages coming down from the Pinals. Those have been narrowed down to seven critical projects, and the County is applying for funding for them. These are long-term channel protection projects that will help in years down the road to keep creeks in their channels and protect adjacent private property.
Russel Gulch was identified early on after the fires as a potential problem. The County worked with BHP to upgrade a secondary access road in case the hospital was cut off by flooding. The County is continuing to work with BHP to obtain a long-term easement so the access road can be kept in place.
Freddy Rios, Division Manager with the Arizona Water Company and a member of the Globe City Council, said the extreme flooding in Little Acres compromised the water system, which made it necessary to turn the water off so floodwaters would not compromise the system any more than it already had. He said there were broken sewer laterals from trailers, among other damage, which took a few days to evaluate and locate the services before repairs could be done. Rios said it was fortunate that there were no outages outside Little Acres.
He said the water company had to flush and disinfect the entire system over the weekend. Water samples, which were taken for testing on Monday, came out clear, which meant water service could be restored in Little Acres.
He added that plumbing outfitters were in the process of cleaning septic tanks on site and inspecting underground infrastructure to be sure sewer lines haven’t been compromised.
“As soon as those tasks are done,” Rios said, “sewer service will be reactivated.” According to Rios, the Arizona Water Company has already activated 24 service connections with water and sewer, and 16 are still being evaluated.
Economic and Community Development Director Linda Oddonetto said a program has been established to help displaced homeowners get back into their homes. The program has raised $258,000 of local dollars with funding from United Fund, Freeport McMoRan, BHP, Capstone Miami Mining, Southwest Gas, and the Globe Lions Club.
The funds can help with costs such as replacing carpet, drywall repairs, new water heaters, and so forth. The Salvation Army is partnering with ECD (Globe’s Economic and Community Development) to administer the program.
Details about the program are available through Yvette Ngolo and the local Salvation Army at 161 E. Cedar Street. Pick up a flyer or call the office at (928) 425-4011.
“The Salvation Army has been in Globe for well over 100 years… and we don’t plan to leave. And we plan to stand alongside you as you go through these times of difficulty.” Major Tammy Wray, Salvation Army
Questions from the public
Question: Why was the water rerouted instead of going toward the field where it was originally intended to go?
“There was no rerouting of any channels, there was just too much water for the channel to carry. It broke out at the upper end of Little Acres, came down the roads, and then it broke out again by the hospital, came down to Cecil’s, and once it was out of the channel it went where it wanted to go. But no one rerouted any channel.” — Steve Sanders
Q: Why were people in the community not evacuated or warned that the channels wouldn’t hold?
A:Sanders said the county had communicated with the community prior to the flooding via meetings, which were broadcast live, as well as apps. He said, “The maps are out there showing the inundation areas, the flood areas. It’s been out there for everybody to see.”
A:Melford said the County had been advertising “in every possible way we can,” including fliers and town hall meetings, as well as with Everbridge. He encouraged people to sign up for Everbridge so they would get a phone call. He said the national weather warnings have gone out, and flash flood warnings have been activated for every flood event.
As to why people weren’t evacuated, Melford said County Emergency Management met with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office to discuss what evacuation would look like in a flash flood event – which has never had to be done before. In those discussions, it was determined that evacuation would actually put people at greater risk than having them stay in place. That’s because when it rains on the Pinal watershed, the flooding will reach Globe-Miami within 20 minutes. That doesn’t give enough time for people to evacuate and get off the roads before the flooding hits.
Melford said, if someone’s home got flooded with a foot of water, “believe it or not, they were safer standing in a foot of water in their homes than walking out into three feet of water on the ground.”
Also, he said, most of the houses in the canyons sit higher than the roadways, which means if people are stuck in a traffic jam in the roadway, it could be much more dangerous than having them staying in their homes.
Q: Will there be any assistance with personal or business inventory losses, any type of reimbursement?
A:Micah Gaudet said there is a gap in terms of resources for local businesses. He said he isn’t aware of any assistance with inventory, but he does know of resources available for hiring and rehiring individuals.
A:Melford added that County Emergency Management is actively looking for answers for private business owners. Currently all they have to offer is help with debris removal. He said the County is still reaching out to different partners to get different kinds of help. He said in disasters like this, the County has to go out and search for resources.
Question: Why was the creek by the trailer court not cleaned in the two months after the fire?
A:Sanders said, “That’s all BHP property, and in the beginning they weren’t really receptive to going in and cleaning things up. We’ve since worked with them very closely. They’ve identified areas that we need to stay out of, areas that we can go into. We will as quickly as we can get into the areas now that we haven’t before.”
He said BHP’s concerns had to do with environmental issues having to do with the tailings and special conditions. He said BHP had to do some environmental mitigation and remediation and get approval. That approval just came through within the past two weeks.
Question: Can some barriers be put up on the south side of the trailer court?
A:Sanders said APS engineers are working with County engineers to determine what can be done. He said the Corps of Engineers, which controls the waterways, won’t come in to help, but the County still has to follow their rules.
He said concrete blocks would not be enough. For the longer term, the County is looking at digging out the channel and armoring the sides. They’re looking at about five different places to do that, and hopefully it will be completed by next year.
Q: What can people do (at Little Acres) before the next big storm?
A:Melford urged people to sign up for Everbridge, because the monsoon season isn’t over yet. He said, “If you know there’s a storm and you’re in that area, I highly recommend staying out. And if there is an emergency message, a flash flood warning, and you’re in that flood zone, your best bet is to shelter in place, because I’d hate to see somebody try to evacuate and not have the time to do so.”
Q: Why haven’t the creeks in the county been cleaned at all in years? If those had been maintained, we wouldn’t have had a lot of what’s going on in the creeks.
A:Sanders said, “Most of the creeks are on private property. It comes to the owners to keep them clean. The County can go in when there’s an emergency declaration and work with the owners, but normally we can’t go on private property and spend government funds to improve private property. We’re breaking the law when we do.”
That said, Sanders explained that Russel Gulch, Kellner Canyon, Icehouse Canyon, Six-Shooter Canyon and Pinal Creek through Globe were cleaned in 2017 when the Pinal Fire burned. That project was funded by the NRCS and cost a quarter million dollars.
Q: Can anything be done about about getting showers for these people, who have no way to take a shower and no transportation?
A:Melford said the County has been approved to provide temporary housing accommodations, such as hotels. There are also community transport companies in the area to get people to the hotel.
A:Gaudet said the town of Miami operates the Copper Mountain Transit Authority, with support from the City of Globe and Gila County. It provides a stop service and dial-a-ride. Their phone number is (928) 473-8222. Anyone who needs transportation services can also call the town manager’s office for assistance.
Q: People are concerned about filling up dumpsters because of the cost of emptying them.
A:Sanders said the landfill at Russel Gulch is waiving fees for all of these damages and they’re taking everything with no charge.
Q: What can be done about the AM/PM? It’s going to be an eyesore because nobody is going to take responsibility. The culvert there, and other culverts in that area, are not sufficient.
A:Sanders said the AM/PM is in the City of Globe, so the City should be able to reach out to the owners and get it cleaned up. Melford said his department has someone going to look at the AM/PM on the 27th and the contract should be approved right away for debris removal.
A:Melford said County Emergency Services will get with the City of Globe and the County about the culverts, and it’s a constant issue.
Q: Is there a plan for notifying and evacuating the elderly and disabled adults, who might not have Internet or phones?
A:Melford said Everbridge, when you sign up, will ask you if you have access or emotional needs and the County can find assistance for those people. When there is an evacuation, there are door-to-door, in-person notifications for people who need them, in addition to electronic and phone notifications. They are sent out at the same time. The electronic notices will get out faster, obviously, but people should rest assured that the County will still do both.
Q: Is Team Rubicon only helping current flood victims, or can people who had damage from the previous flood in Miami get help as well?
A:Melford said Team Rubicon is here to help with flooding in general and not specifically one storm or another.
Q: What about the United Fund money?
A:Gaudet said that is for flood assistance for anyone in the Gila County area. People who still have needs from the Miami floods can still look into what the County offers for debris removal, as well. Salvation Army representatives can help with accessing and applying for the United Fund money.
Q: Should we be aware of any environmental issues, such as contaminated soils, or anything like that?
A:Sanders said when he said environmental, he was referring to the Army Corps of Engineers regulations for the waterways. There were differing interpretations of those rules between BHP and the Corps, and it took some time to iron it out. He was not referring to any contamination issues.
Q: We have another huge storm coming in. We need berms on the west side and the south side of the Little Acres trailer court ASAP. The remaining homes there will be destroyed if the water comes through again. There are no barriers at this point.
A:Gaudet said Emergency Management is tracking the storms coming in and is working with contractors as quickly as they can.
A:Sanders said there’s no temporary solution that would work; it will have to be an engineered structure. Any kind of berm, no matter how big, would get washed out. He said he would talk with his engineers to see if anything can be done.
A:With reference to the upcoming storm, Melford said there can be some optimism because after a fire, the first debris-flowing flood event is always the worst. There is hydrophobic soil after a fire, and it takes a while for it to heal. He said there is a silver lining in this monsoon season in that it pushed a lot of the debris off the hill.
He said in Miami, in the first rain, there were devastating waters that rose within hours and went down within hours. But now when it rains, there is a much slower rise and much slower decline. That means the soil is already healing. Because the floods have been so catastrophic, there’s a hope that in future floods there will be less debris and more soil absorbency, which means less water going down the hill. People should still keep their guard up, but there can be hope that future floods will be less catastrophic.
Q: There’s a power pole that’s leaning over on my property, is anyone going to do anything about that?
A:Gaudet said an APS representative is present and he will take action on that.
Q: Do you use disaster.gov in this situation?
A:Melford said the County is in direct contact with FEMA and DEMA for all the resources they offer, so they don’t use the website.
The questioner said disaster.gov is separate from FEMA. They help individuals deal with federal programs for social security, housing, and food stamps during emergencies. The County could work with disaster.gov to help get assistance to people.
To wrap up, Supervisor Humphrey urged people who are able to to volunteer for the organizations that are helping during these emergencies.
Patricia Sanders lived in Globe from 2004 to 2008 and at Reevis Mountain School, in the Tonto National Forest, from 2008 to 2014. She has been a writer and editor for GMT since 2015. She currently lives on Santa Maria island in the Azores.