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Hundreds of tons of debris cleaned up after mudflow

Greg Masse
Staff Writer

Cleanup of the mudslides that bemired Mitchell Creek Aug. 5 has been complete for weeks now, leaving wary residents to wait and hope they’re not bombarded again.

In all, it took Garfield County Road and Bridge Department workers about five days to clear the area after the slides, said Doug Thoe, District 1 road foreman for the county.

Thoe estimated his crews removed about 210 tons, or 420,000 pounds, of mud and debris from the road area. Private crews who worked above the gate on private lands removed close to 550 tons, Thoe estimated.

The mud was taken to the Garfield County dump in South Canyon and used to cover trash and to fill in an area from which road workers borrowed dirt several years ago.

Ralph Besler, whose house burned down in the Coal Seam Fire, still occasionally makes his way up to his property – the last one on Mitchell Creek Road – to see how things are going.

“Our house was the last one on the stream and the road,” he said. “It burned flat to the ground, along with my pickup.”

He said if the fire didn’t get his house, the subsequent slides would have done the damage instead.

“They took 30 loads out of where my house used to sit,” he said. “It probably would have broken the basement windows if it was still standing and flooded it.”

He’s staying in the Village Green Apartments for now, but he hopes to rebuild eventually.

But first he has to wait out the mudslides.

The lower part of the road was cleared out continuously by “blades,” or tractors with large scrapers under the driver’s seat, on Aug. 5, Thoe said. In fact, crews didn’t stop for the night until 2 a.m. on Aug. 6.

“We had a loader and a truck up there,” he said.

Crews also had to reset some concrete barriers that were pushed over from the force of the mud, allowing debris to flow onto some property. But the mess was cleaned up and the county crews wound up doubling the barriers so it wouldn’t happen again.

“I think doubling it up is definitely going to help,” he said.

As to whether the flows will happen again, Thoe said he doesn’t know.

“Basically, we’re reactive. The BAER team is proactive,” he said.

The Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation, or BAER, team he referred to is a group that put together a plan to stabilize and rehabilitate the burned areas in an effort to repair the burnt forest as quickly as possible to prevent any more damage.

If the lower Mitchell Creek Road cleanup was done privately, it would have cost $8,000 to $10,000, Thoe said. But the county is able to do it for a lower cost because it already has workers on the payroll who are being paid for just such and event and because the county owns its equipment.

Above the gate that separates private land from the county road – located upstream from the Glenwood Springs Fish Hatchery – the cleanup was done by private contractors. The cost of that part of the cleanup was unavailable.


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