Jan. 18, 2017 Vol. 17 No. 9
Cañon flood gates shut pending federal process
Written by Jeanne Davant   

Blissed out in cone zone


From left, Eric Rincon, Mackenzie Winebold, Justin Witt, Devon Weiland and Rachel Luplow practice yoga poses around construction equipment in front of SunWater Spa on Friday, Jan. 12. Spa management announced a Hard Hat Special: a 5-3-1 Package for $108, which includes five classes, three soaks and one treatment, except for 90-minute treatments and couples massages. Guests also will receive a free soak with any class or service except for SunWater events. The special runs from Feb. 1 to April 15. Information: or 695-7007.

Photo by Rhonda Van Pelt

The new flood gates and walls on Cañon and Park avenues are finished, but the gates are locked down and cannot be opened until a federal bureaucratic process is completed, City Council learned Tuesday.

The gates “are welded into place until we get a letter of map revision” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Manitou Hazard Mitigation and Resiliency Manager Sara Hartley said. “Once we get approval, we can remove the welds.”

Hartley said after the meeting that the letter is a document sent to FEMA requesting modification of the flood plain maps.

Amec Foster Wheeler, the engineering firm that designed and supervised installation of the flood gates, performed a hydrology study as part of the project and determined that the flow for a 100-year flood is lower than FEMA’s flood plain data currently shows.

“Based on the new hydrology, we presume the flows are going to be lower through the project,” Hartley said. “That takes it out of the regulatory floodway.”

Hartley said FEMA had 90 days to make comments and ask questions on the document after it was submitted in September. The agency has done so, and the city provided answers about a week ago, Hartley said.

“Now they have another 90 days to review the project and determine if they have any additional questions and requests for clarification. We’re now waiting on their response,” she said.

Amec engineers have been diligent about stressing to FEMA that the flood gates need to be operational before Manitou’s rainy season begins this spring. One of the gates spans Cañon Avenue to divert flood waters to the west, and a second, smaller gate is designed to protect the driveway at the Spa Building parking structure.

The gates were tested before they were welded, Hartley said Tuesday, and will be tested again when FEMA approval is received.

Her comments came at a public hearing before Council, another governmental requirement in the close-out process. The $795,000 project was financed with federal Community Development Block Grant funds the state administers.

At the hearing, several residents sharply questioned accountability for performance of this project and the two previous flood control projects in Williams Canyon.

“Who takes responsibility and gets tail feathers lost if it fails?” asked Dave Wolverton. “We’ve had problems with Phases I and II. We just keep throwing these projects ahead, and problems come up months or years later, and we have no recourse. As taxpayers, we want some accountability.”

After the meeting, Wolverton said he was referring to issues with the trash rack designed to keep debris from clogging the box culvert at the base of the flood channel, which filled up and caused flooding issues in 2015, and with incorrect installation of aquifer recharge equipment.

He questioned the “piecemeal” nature of the projects and lack of a master plan and also commented, “It appears we spent public money to protect private assets. That’s not good public policy.”

Resident David Armstrong said at the meeting that he shared Wolverton’s concerns.

“We heard assurance after assurance on Phases I and II that turned out to be not very reassuring,” Armstrong said.

Hartley said the project engineers put their licenses on the line when they sign off on a project.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we’re questioning the credentials of licensed professionals,” Hartley said. “When an engineer signs the plan, they stand behind the project. If anything done is negligent, you can challenge their license. I’m telling you wholeheartedly that the firm working on the project stands behind it.”

The project was designed to withstand what’s known as a 25-year flood event.

“Without building 30-foot concrete walls, we cannot build a project that will withstand a 100-year event,” Hartley said.

The Phase III equipment has a two-year warranty, City Administrator Jason Wells said.

“I don’t know if that’s unusual, but it sounds pretty standard,” Wells said.

Resident Dale Latty said he had concerns about how the flood gates and walls were designed to divert flood water.

“We were told all along that there was going to be a 60-40 split of the flow” to the west and east, Latty said. “When we get an event that’s any amount up to a 500-year event, 100 percent is going to go all the way to Soda Springs Park with no split. I was unhappy with that decision. I think that’s going to come back to bite us.”

Another resident, Tom Borrelli, said his main concern was maintenance.

“Manitou has a very bad record of maintaining culverts and drains,” Borrelli said. “Until we solve the maintenance problem, it’s going to be coming back over and over again.”

Hartley said the engineers would provide an operation and maintenance manual that outlines how often the flood gates should be checked and debris cleared.

“Upon completion, they will be operated and maintained on an annual basis,” she said.

Mayor Ken Jaray suggested that Council consider accountability standards “to make sure that happens.”

Wells said a $2 per customer increase in the stormwater fee is generating an additional $72,000 annually.

“That does not give you a lot of maintenance,” Wells said. “That is something we all are thinking about.”

Wells said Public Services Director Shelley Cobau had spotted the trash rack issue and “had real concerns about the pitch of the channel. It turns out maybe she was right.”

At Cobau’s urging, Amec engineers reinstalled the trash rack at an angle during the Phase III work so that it’s more effective and allows more water to flow unimpeded through the box culvert.

“We have staff members not only competent enough to question [plan designs] but actually have done so,” Wells said.

Comments from the hearing will be included in the close-out package the city will submit to the state.

The public will get another chance to comment on Williams Canyon Phases I, II and IV on Tuesday, Jan. 24, when Council has scheduled a work session on those projects.