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Officials, Sen. Reid tour area

Linda Hiller

Douglas County officials got a chance to say “Thank-you, by the way…” to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, yesterday.

As part of a reprise of last January’s “Flood Tour of ’97,” Reid landed in the Carson Valley in order to talk, but mostly to listen.

Reid hosted members of the northern Nevada media as they traveled in two large helicopters, flying over some of the hardest-hit locations, including downtown Reno, Sparks, the Reno/Tahoe International Airport, Lockwood, Carson City, Yerington and the Walker River Canyon.

Representatives from Reid’s offices in Carson City, Washington, D.C. and Reno, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration, Governor Miller’s office, residents and business owners also toured with the senator.

“Every place we go, we learn different things about what people need,” Reid said. “Certainly this Valley is no exception.”

Convening in the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center building adjacent to the Minden-Tahoe Airport, Reid’s traveling group was joined by representatives from Douglas County, including Sheriff Ron Pierini; commissioners Jacques Etchegoy- hen, Kelly Kite, Steve Weissinger, Bernie Curtis and Don Miner; Emergency Management Depart- ment representatives Dick Mirgon and Pam Jenkins; East Fork Fire and Paramedic Chief Jim Reinhardt; County Manager Dan Holler and state Water Engineer Mike Turnipseed.

“The thing that sticks in my mind from the last time we flew over this Valley,” Reid said, addressing the group, “is watching the trees that had been on family farms for four to five generations get picked up like toothpicks. That was dramatic.”

Reid said it was clear from the air that every flood-affected area he had flown over was different, and had varying needs to mend the wounds from the flood.

“All the damage in Reno and Sparks came from the Truckee River,” he said. “Carson City is the opposite, though. There was little damage from the river itself, but more from the water washing down the mountains. Because of that, the two areas have differing wants and desires.”

Greg Daines, Reid’s legislative clerk in Washington and chief clerk for the Energy and Water Subcommittee, of which Reid is a ranking member, was also on the tour. The subcommittee distributes approximately $20 billion per year, and every penny is discretionary, so having Daines there was important, Reid said.

Speaking on behalf of early warnings and dealing with future floods, Dick Mirgon told Reid how important a major fire and emergency training center could be to the western United States. Currently, trainees travel to Maryland for extensive training.

“We can always get monies for dealing with hazardous materials like nuclear waste spills, but to get money to train for dealing with disasters like earthquakes and floods, or the infrastructure for a community, is difficult,” he said. “Yet, these problems are very important to how we deal with tomorrow. A training center on the West Coast would be a step forward.”

Commission chairman Etchegoyhen said there were times after last year’s flood that he thought of giving up ranching – in which he has worked since he was 11 – because of the massive effect the flood had on the agrarian community, and the general stress of the whole situation.

“We are one of the oldest agrarian communities in Nevada and we’re also a community in transition,” he said. “We were devastated by the flood, but without the federal assistance, I don’t know where we’d be. We really appreciate all the help.”

Reid remembered one of the primary dilemmas officials here had wrestled with during meetings after the flood.

“I recall the story of that levee, and how no one could figure out who had jurisdiction over it,” he said. “I know that with a small county government such as this, spending $3-4 million on a levee would have a big impact on your total budget, which is – I believe – just under $20 million a year.”

Commissioner Don Miner, who represents the Lake, thanked Reid for last summer’s presidential summit at Lake Tahoe, an event that Reid helped arrange.

“I am proud of you and the task force for making that happen,” Miner said. “As a small community, we never could have accomplished what you did by having the summit here.”

Reid said President Clinton has continued to reference the Tahoe summit in many of his speeches, particularly in regard to how so many diverse groups, private and government, came together and crossed many lines, including political party lines, to work together for the health of Lake Tahoe.

Turnipseed, speaking on the subject of early warning in regard to future floods, said approximately 14 water gauges were damaged or destroyed during the January flooding, specifically the gauges on the East Fork of the Carson River at Markleeville and Gardnerville.

“What we really need are data collection platforms at each of the sites, where the information goes from the gauges to satellites and back to a website, so we can monitor the water as it rises,” he said.

Turnipseed said half of the costs for the systems could be paid for by his office and half by the United States Geological Survey. Reid then asked about the costs of such a system.

“Each site would run $10,000 to install and $5,000 to maintain,” Turnipseed said.

Mirgon said last year, as the higher-than-average Sierra snowpack began to melt, and rivers flowed faster by increments, his office watched the gauges on the Internet, used Nexrad radar and snow pillow data to attempt to predict the flood.

“Because of it, we were able to give early warnings, which were invaluable in saving lives,” he said.

“We can handle living on a wild river, we just need a little assistance in the way of an early warning,” Etchegoyhen said.

“We might have lost many lives had we not had the warning,” Kite said.

Although county officials had praise for Reid and the assistance he had helped point toward Douglas County, as the group moved to re-board the helicopters and survey their last leg of the trip, the Walker River Canyon, it was clear the relationship between the federal government and the county would continue to improve on dealing with floods of the future as well as the recent past.

“For the most part the federal agencies have been outstanding,” Mirgon said. “I measure that by the number of hoops I have to jump through and the stacks of paper I have to deal with. We had good cooperation from you in our flood fighting.”