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Flood victims frustrated over city's response to summer fire

By Nkoyo Iyamba | Posted - Sep. 4, 2012 at 11:34 p.m.


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SARATOGA SPRINGS — Volunteers spent the day Tuesday moving sandbags on top of the muddy yards — a line a defense for houses already drenched in mud and debris.

Some volunteers were in Clark Hoffman's basement, shoveling muddy water into buckets.

While Hoffman and his neighbors expressed gratitude for all the help they've received from strangers in cleaning up their homes, they also shared their frustration with Saratoga Springs city government officials. They question weather the city did enough to prevent Sept. 1 mudslide, after this summer's Dump Fire created a large burn scar on the hillside above their homes.

"They should've been working on more immediate solutions at the same time as their long-range plans," Hoffman said. "So yeah, I do lay some blame on the city."

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Hoffman and his family are staying with neighbors for now; they likely won't be able to return home for a while.

But the Hoffman's aren't alone. Twenty-three other families are still cleaning up three days after the slide.

"They needed to do more of a permanent structure up there," said Shawn McManus, whose home was also damaged.

McManus said city leaders met with residents to talk about the mudslides and what efforts are being made now in the aftermath.

"They kept trying to tell us it was a storm that doesn't come (but) every 500 years," McManus added, shaking his head. "That storm comes here all the time. It's because of the fire, the water."

McManus's basement was partially finished. The mudslide destroyed the basement bedrooms belonging to his two teenage daughters. He believes they wouldn't have so much to deal with if city officials had a better plan in place after the Dump Fire.

"I would've thought that the city would've gone up there and done an assessment and said ‘What's the potential (for damage) here?'" McManus said. "And if there was, I would've paid for my own sandbags."

City leaders said immediately after the June 22 Dump Fire, they were in the process of assessing and devising plans for long term mitigation of possible floods and mudslides. Mayor Mia Love said the city was waiting on federal and state grants, as well as permission from private property owners, before it could begin any mitigation efforts following the fire.


They kept trying to tell us it was a storm that doesn't come (but) every 500 years. That storm comes here all the time.

–Shawn McManus, Saratoga Springs resident


"The bottom line is we're dealing with private lands and we have some public lands that we have no jurisdiction over," Love said Tuesday. "But if we had even had the permission and the things that we needed to do starting from the Dump Fire, those big retention basins would not have been finished."

Saratoga Springs city manager Mark Christensen said immediately after the Dump fire city leaders were working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to receive an emergency watershed protection grant (NRCS). They were also requesting help from The State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Christensen said the city just received permission from private land owners on Sunday to begin putting mitigation efforts into place.

"We would have had a retention basin built by this fall," he said. "We were just working through the process."

Saratoga Springs isn't the only city that has faced these concerns this summer. After the Rose Crest Fire in Herriman, city employees refilled sandbags for residents and sought $150,000 in federal grants to help reseed the 400-acre burn scar.

Meanwhile, other Saratoga Springs residents said they're not blaming the city or anyone else. They say it's just too hard to predict what will happen.

"Obviously hindsight is 20/20," said Andy Scheyer, whose home was also damaged in the flood. "Apologies have been expressed. The city is doing their very best now."

Scheyer considers himself extremely lucky because his basement wasn't finished yet. At one point, mud and debris flooded his 8-foot=tall basement. covering the staircase that leads to the main level of his house. He said around 50 volunteers showed up to scoop muddy waters and debris into buckets and out of his basement.

Scheyer hopes whatever the city is doing now will help prevent future mudslides. "With weather reports, we may see more rain, we may see more issues there," he said. "And right now, we know exactly where the water is going to go, and it's straight through our backyards again."

Love said the city and residents are currently sandbagging and building retention walls to divert any future run-offs away from homes. She said she's extremely grateful for the thousands of volunteers — roughly 5,000 — who have been helping Saratoga Springs residents clean up their neighborhoods and homes.

Contributing: Devon Dolan

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