Flooding wreaks havoc in N.M.

Monsoons have left a catastrophic mark just south of Durango. Heavy rains and flooding have pounded the Navajo Nation, western New Mexico and areas around Farmington in recent weeks. In response, Gov. Bill Richardson has issued executive orders declaring state disasters in the areas and opening a funding stream to help them recover.

The Navajo Nation has been especially hard-hit by recent weather. In Church Rock, N.M., a bridge has washed out twice in recent weeks and there have been funnel cloud sightings and tornado activity. Further south, residents have been evacuated due to flooding along the Little Colorado River, and many rural roads are now impassable. In addition, an 89-year-old woman died in Rock Point, Ariz., after the mud and timber roof of her traditional Hogan collapsed, and lightning claimed two lives on the reservation.

Flash flooding first struck Farmington on Aug. 1. Since that time, the city has struggled to keep culverts clean and keep muddy water off streets and out residences. To date, the City of Farmington has spent $2 million on cleanup and has been holding out for state and federal funding to help provide relief.

On Tuesday, Richardson’s orders freed up as much as $1.9 million to help reimburse communities for clean-up efforts. The Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will coordinate all requests for assistance.

“Even though the rain came late this year, it has been intense, and according to the National Weather Service there is more to come,” said John W. Wheeler, New Mexico’s Homeland Security Secretary.

The governor has also authorized the New Mexico National Guard to provide military support to civil authorities as needed for this emergency.

Mesa Verde names new superintendent

A 25-year National Park Service veteran is taking over the helm of Mesa Verde National Park. Clifford “Cliff” Spencer has been named the new superintendent of the nearby park and will assume his new responsibilities Sept. 26.  

Spencer is currently the superintendent of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, where he took innovative steps to protect park resources. He led a planning effort to evaluate the effects of climate change on the park and sought to reduce the park’s energy consumption. He also oversaw the completion of more than $3 million in repairs to visitor facilities, roads and park residences.

Spencer has also served at White Sands National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore, Shenandoah National Park, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area, Lake Mead National Recreational Area, and Grand Canyon National Park.

“Cliff has an outstanding ability to communicate with diverse audiences and years of experience building relationships with gateway communities, other government agencies, and strategic partners,” said John Wessels, the Park Service’s Intermountain Region director. “These qualities make him an excellent choice to manage the challenging and complex natural and cultural resources at one of the most notable and best preserved cliff dwellings in the United States.”

Spencer will manage 52,485 acres, an annual operating budget of more than $5.8 million, and a staff of about 114 employees. He succeeds William Nelligan, who served in an interim capacity after the retirement of Superintendent Larry Wiese. Nelligan will return to his full-time, permanent position as deputy superintendent at Mesa Verde.

Business Improvement District goes to vote

Downtown Durango is about to go to the vote. The Durango

Business Improvement District is hosting a special election to ask constituents to continue and increase the funding for the entity. Since its formation in 1997, the BID has worked to sustain the economic health of the greater downtown area. The initiative would increase the mill levy from 1.5 to 2.

Ballots will be mailed Oct. 1 to constituents, which include businesses and property owners in the Central Business District as well as along north Main Avenue. Approximately 800 people will be eligible to vote.

Given the current economic conditions, the BID felt it prudent to ask constituents for a higher tax assessment. In exchange, the BID plans to take on additional projects to help sustain downtown.

 “We’re very sensitive to our constituents and their economic struggles,” said Rod Barker, BID board member. “But just as with any marketing effort, the most important time to implement it is during a downturn. Now, more than in flush times, the BID is a valuable resource to help our district businesses make it through this rough period. We hope our constituents understand this and vote to renew the funding.”

Over the past seven years, the BID has added infrastructure to downtown – including the new business directories, and tents, sound and stage equipment for special events. In addition, the group has funded branding of Durango with promotional maps, bags, the visitors kiosk and umbrella marketing. The BID has also funded economic research projects to benefit district members.

Weeknight closures hit U.S. Hwy 550

Motorists may want to reconsider late night travel over Red Mountain Pass. U.S. Hwy. 550 will be closed from 8 p.m. - 6 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday nights. The company American Civil Constructors is replacing the Bear Creek Bridge and widening the roadway and needs these closures to allow for rock anchoring below the highway. The weeknight closures will run through mid-September.

The Bear Creek Bridge project, located 2 miles south of Ouray on US 550, started July 26. The build includes a new, wider Bear Creek bridge, improved parking to the north and a cantilevered walkway to allow visitors a better view over the canyon edge. The existing Bear Creek Bridge is 44 years old and recently received a “poor” rating, meaning that it only had one to six years of life left. Final completion of the project is expected in November of next year.

Updates can be found at: www.coloradodot.info/projects/550bearcreekbridge .

– Will Sands