New trees along river could cost county $615K

July flood wiped out thou­sands of plants

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Tripp Stel­nicki tstel­nicki@sfnewmex­i­can.com

Santa Fe County could spend an ad­di­tional $615,000 to re­pair a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar treeplant­ing and river restora­tion project in the Santa Fe River that was dec­i­mated by the his­toric flood that over­whelmed the city in July.

Ac­cord­ing to a pro­posal, the county might also take an ad­di­tional $100,000 to cover an en­gi­neer­ing dam­age as­sess-

ment of the area be­tween Siler Road and Frenchy’s Field where the flood­wa­ters wiped out all of the 150 cot­ton­wood saplings and bat­tered the thou­sands of young wil­low trees county work­ers had planted along the banks of the riverbed.

By June, the county had planted some 15,000 wil­low stalks and roughly 150 cot­ton­wood saplings in that sec­tion of the riverbed as part of the Santa Fe River Green­way Project. This seg­ment of the project was “99% com­pleted,” ac­cord­ing to a county memo.

The con­struc­tion costs of the project to re­shape and beau­tify the riverbed were $3.76 mil­lion, the memo stated.

The ad­di­tional $615,000, which county com­mis­sion­ers will con­sider Tues­day, would bring the con­struc­tion bud­get costs to $4.4 mil­lion. The ad­di­tional ex­pen­di­ture will be partly cov­ered by an in­sur­ance claim the county ne­go­ti­ated, said Scott Kase­man, the Green­way Project man­ager.

Both city and county of­fi­cials ini­tially wor­ried the early sum­mer drought that struck North­ern New Mex­ico would leave the trees high and dry. Tor­ren­tial floods ar­rived shortly there­after. A se­vere down­pour July 23 swamped homes, busi­nesses and in­fra­struc­ture, com­pelling Mayor Alan Web­ber to de­clare a state of emer­gency. The Green­way Project trees were a ca­su­alty as wa­ter and de­bris washed out the banks of the river and crushed or up­rooted them.

“The project was never de­signed to with­stand some­thing like that,” Kase­man said. “We needed some time for nor­mal mois­ture to just al­low ev­ery­thing to set­tle and fill in the voids in the rock struc­tures, and to get the veg­e­ta­tion, which re­ally holds ev­ery­thing to­gether. We didn’t have a chance for any of that.”

Sim­i­lar plant­ings were in­stalled at San Ysidro Cross­ing sev­eral years ago, Kase­man added, and those sur­vived the flood be­cause their roots had time to grow deeper.

“Un­for­tu­nately this phase didn’t have that lux­ury,” he said. “This is what hap­pens. Hor­ri­ble.”

All of the cot­ton­woods and most of the wil­low stalks will be re­placed. “It re­stores the project to the pre-flood con­di­tion,” Kase­man said.

The new plant­ings are ex­pected to be in place by Fe­bru­ary. Kase­man said the county and its con­struc­tion con­trac­tor won’t do much dif­fer­ent to mit­i­gate the risks of an­other wipe­out in the un­likely but still pos­si­ble event of a sim­i­larly over­whelm­ing flood. The plant­ings need to be sit­u­ated where they were be­fore to re­ceive the ben­e­fits of reg­u­lar rain­fall and river flow.

“There was a 100-year-plus event [on July 5] and they did fine; they all did OK,” Kase­man said. “We just need a lit­tle time be­fore the next ma­jor rain event like we had.”

Com­mis­sioner Anna Hansen, whose dis­trict in­cludes the river seg­ment, said she plans to urge con­trac­tors to be proac­tive.

“It was a so-called 1,000-year flood, but a 1,000-year flood seems to hap­pen about ev­ery 50 years, or less, and they could hap­pen more of­ten,” she said. “And we want to be pre­pared.”

LUIS SÁNCHEZ SATURNO/NEW MEX­I­CAN FILE PHOTO

Wil­lows and cot­ton­wood trees were planted ear­lier this year on the banks of the Santa Fe River be­tween Frenchy’s Park and Siler Road, but a storm wiped them out in July.

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