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Levee restoration finally begins

Linda Hiller

The bulldozers have finally begun to move dirt on the levee.

After months of meetings, negotiations, setbacks, cross words, finger pointing and head scratching, people are actually out there working.

“I’m just happy we finally have tractors in the water,” Douglas County Commissioner, Bernie Curtis said Thursday.

“I talked to Arnold Settelmeyer and Fred Stodieck recently, and they both said that within the last few days, the river water had risen about six inches, so time is very important here,” he added.

Home owners in the badly-flooded neighborhood adjacent to the Carson Valley Golf Course had already begun to take some matters of flood prevention into their own hands, even before the earth movers fired up Wednesday.

Judie Shanks, who lives on Fifth Green Court, estimated that she and her husband Hal, have spent well over $10,000 in outside clean-up, fence-building and living expenses alone. The Shanks are still living in a motel.

“We did get some help from FEMA, but that money has run out. We hope to be moving back into our house soon,” she said, “maybe as early as this weekend. Our contractors are nearly finished.”

Judie, who is retired, said she may be returning to work in the future to help with their flood expenses. Hal is a shift supervisor at Harvey’s.

The Shanks and several next-door neighbors on Fifth Green Court have coordinated their fence-building efforts, connecting a low wooden fence from yard to yard to help stave off the waters of the next flood, if it should ever come.

“We all had to replace our fences, anyway,” Judie said, “and I always wanted a wooden fence, so we’re trying to make the new one as unobtrusive as possible.”

She admits the next flood, if ever, may be completely different than the January flood, but the new fence may help if water patterns repeat those of Jan. 1, 1997.

Next door, Annette Allen and her husband Bill have also joined forces with the fence building effort.

The Allens moved into their Fifth Green Court home last October from Torrence, Calif. Three months later, the flood hit.

Ever since, they both have been clocking the hours on the wheelbarrows, moving dirt load by load off their lawn and out of their yard.

“Bill has lost about 30 pounds,” Annette said with a smile.

“It has been a real adventure coming here and living through this,” she said. “We have bonded with the neighbors in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for the flood.”

For every tragedy, something positive emerges, even if it’s in the camaraderie of neighbors helping neighbors, she said.

Bill Allen rented a dumptruck and a bobcat at a cost of $1,500, and took out over 80 loads of dirt from three properties in two days. The three neighbors shared the rental costs and did the labor themselves.

Even though they were aware that the work on the levee had actually begun Wednesday, many residents felt it was up to them to protect their properties in the event of a future flood, and not rely on others like government agencies or even other property owners.

“It’s good to know they are finally working on the levee,” Annette said, “and we hope they do a good job. But in a way, it’s a false sense of security to think that just because they fix it, the threat of another 100-year flood is over.”

Down the road at the Carson Valley Golf Course, co-owner Lynn Brooks was busy running back and forth, working the pro shop and the snack bar at the same time.

“I didn’t even know they had started working on the darn thing,” she said. After recently opening up nine holes of the 18-hole course, Brooks said business has been “just OK. Of course, we wish there were more people coming to play golf.”

She said she was discouraged because they’ve had no help from anyone, except volunteers.

“As soon as they put back the banks of the river, we will be able to open up the rest of the course,” she said.

“I think it’s wonderful they they are working on the levee as long as they do it right. When you’ve listened to an endless string of promises, it’s easy to be skeptical.”

Curtis said he thought that Steelhead Construction, the company contracted to fix the levee, had 30 days to complete the project. He added that the Carson Valley Water Subconservancy District, individual property owners, state, county and soft matches (volunteer hour credit), are all contributing to the 25 percent obligation of the 75-25 split offered by FEMA to pay for the repairs.

“For the most part, people have been very, very good in this frustrating process,” Curtis said. “We’ve had assorted agencies trying to coordinate. The Washoe Tribe – Brian Wallace especially – has been especially helpful in helping us reach this point.

“We’re very happy about the positive relationship between Douglas County and the Washoe Tribe in working together to solve their mutual problems.”