It’s been almost two months since the 2013 flood destroyed much of lower Coal Creek Canyon, stranding residents and ripping apart the bridges that gave them access from the highway to their homes. Since September 15, residents and commuters have used alternate routes to go to work, to shop, or to lead as normal a life as possible.
On Monday, November 11, at 11:30, Governor John Hickenlooper pronounced Coal Creek Canyon, Hwy. 72, officially open. Hickenlooper, Senator Jeanne Nicholson, CDOT administrators, the Coal Creek Fire Protection District, CCCIA, and dozens of residents cheered at the pronouncement. Their lives were one step closer to becoming as normal as can be.
After the ribbon was cut and after the speeches, Governor Hickenlooper signed banners, shook hands, and answered questions about individual concerns. Many residents are still waiting for the road in front of their houses to be fixed, for the pipes and culverts to be replaced, but opening Coal Creek Canyon gave them all hope that the end to the flood’s most immediate impact is in sight.
SD 16 Senator Jeanne Nicholson, of Gilpin County, said she was grateful to all the agencies that worked together to get the road open earlier than expected—three weeks before schedule—with road crews working 50 hours a week.
“I am so happy that Coal Creek Canyon residents will be able to have Thanksgiving in their own homes,” said Nicholson
When the barriers were removed, the cars and trucks and fire engines crept past the ceremony site, honking horns and waving to the people standing on the side of the road. Big smiles. Many hearty hugs and some tears brushed away. It was an emotional moment which ended in a both-directions parade.
With the opening of Coal Creek Canyon, authorities are looking at the progress on CO 36, CO 7 and Left Hand Canyon as well. The initial assessment provides a snapshot of the scope and scale of flood damage and risks in forest land. It also is the first step to assess long-term repair and rehabilitation needs in the Boulder and Canyon Lakes ranger districts.
Approximately 609,000 acres were preliminarily surveyed by both land and air as access allowed.
Initial Assessment Findings: A total of 232 roads, 382 miles, 70 trails, 36 miles, 4 bridges, and 42 facilities were damaged by flooding. Multiple debris slides exist throughout the flood area with at least one covering two miles and crossing several land ownerships and roads.
Piles of flood debris are deposited in streams and culverts and lands throughout the forest, many of these debris flows and piles may contain hazardous materials. Many roads, trails, and recreation areas are unrecognizable with ground cover washed away to bedrock. Due to access loss, fire suppression assets need to be reconfigured in order to respond to wildfires that could threaten values at risk located in inaccessible areas. Annual run-off and snow melt is expected to result in additional damage over the next one to three years.
The forest service explains that, although the full extent of damage across the forest is unknown, the infrastructure damage estimates in the report are considered a good initial assessment. Investment is needed in roads, trails, facilities, and ecosystems; and personnel may increase as more thorough assessments are completed and if additional damage is sustained over the winter to infrastructure compromised by the floods.
The next steps for the forest service include providing an organization to address these needs, identifying additional assessment work that is needed, continuing work with the FHWA and setting priorities of the work that needs to be done. The time frame for addressing all of these needs will take years.
Information about road status, closures and the assessment is posted at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/arp/flood2013.