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Flood repairs are stagnant

Sheila Gardner

Flood repairs along the Carson River seem to be facing a bigger obstacle than Mother Nature or El Nino could ever dish out – government bureaucracy.

Relief funds for Douglas County are still trapped in a political log jam in Carson City, but county representatives managed to walk away Monday with $120,000 for repairs from the legislative Interim Finance Committee.

Emergency management director Dick Mirgon, who had requested $576,000 from the committee, expressed a mixture of gratitude and disappointment.

“I appreciate the fact that the Legislature did something,” he said. “They could have easily chosen not to take any action this month because of some of the things they felt confused by, and they didn’t.

“Now it’s our turn to take the faith they had in us and make it work to give them a good reason to believe we’re going to continue with future projects like this one. We can show them we can do what we’ve committed to.”

The money – a total of $1.5 million in flood relief – is the hostage in another north-south argument at the Legislature. The Board of Examiners rejected requests totaling $1.6 million from Boulder City and Henderson to repair August flood damages, arguing the Southern Nevada communities had the money to pay their own way and didn’t meet the need criteria.

The Interim Finance Committee voted Monday to hold off awarding most of the money until the issue is resolved. The committee agreed to a partial allocation for Douglas and Lyon counties so repairs can begin before winter arrives.

“I had high hopes they would award us the entire amount,” he said. “I was a bit disappointed. Dealing with the disaster was simple compared to dealing with the frustration of the repairs and the aftermath of the disaster.

“It takes so long to get through the multiple layers of bureaucracy in all phases and forms of government. And that includes the county all the way through to the federal government.”

Mirgon said most likely the money awarded Monday would go toward a $1.1 million Natural Resources Conservation Service project to repair a two-mile reach of the river from Lutheran Bridge to Highway 88 that was heavily damaged by the New Year’s flood.

“The NRCS has the design about 80 percent completed,” said Ira Rackley, program manager for the Carson Water Subconservancy District. The subconservancy district did the surveying and ground information while the NRCS did the design.

“The county will be sitting down and discussing the project with individual landowners up and down the river,” said Rackley. “We’re hopeful to have the bid package out by mid-December, assuming all the agreements can get completed.”

The timing is not lost on Rackley or Mirgon.

“It worries me on a daily basis,” said Mirgon. “As long as the river is in disrepair, we have no idea where the water could go or the damage it could do.

“I always have concerns about repairs. I had a concern about it last spring and we got lucky. We’re in the middle of an El Nino season, which means we could have drought or 200 percent precipitation above normal. It concerns me that government can’t seem to focus on a solution to reaching that goal as much at times as it focuses on politics.”

As a public employee, Mirgon said he understands and sympathizes with bureaucracy. He said the best way to make the process work is to go with the flow.

“Sometimes the people involved are not specifically involved in the area you live in. It gets difficult to show them the impact that’s going to occur by doing or not doing a project. What you can do is learn the process and learn to work with it. It’s give and take.”

The NRCS project is designed to restore the Carson River to its pre-flood status.

“One of the quirks with federal regulations we’re dealing with is that the project is only putting the river back to its condition immediately prior to the event,” Rackley said. “It’s confusing to some people. They’re sure the federal government will come in and protect the area for the next year. That’s just not available to us from the agencies we’re dealing with. If we need to go to flood control, there are other federal programs.”

Rackley said NRCS estimates the project would take 60 to 90 days once the contracts are awarded.

“We’re heading right into the high flow season,” Rackley said. “Our fixed costs would go up if we put the project on a 60-day schedule, but that would have it done by the first of March and hopefully that would help.”

Rackley said the county and the NRCS need to complete sponsorship agreements for the portion of the repair not paid for by the government.

“I believe once that occurs, we should be in a position to advertise for bids,” he said.

Minden Town Board officials, who pledged $50,000 in flood repairs in March, are expected to discuss the project at their Wednesday meeting.