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Flood control project coming to Mount Charleston

Gov. Brian Sandoval on Monday announced a deal that will allow a flood control project to be built near the washed-out Rainbow subdivision on Mount Charleston.

Construction on the project will start in several weeks and be finished before winter. Sandoval made the announcement at Rainbow Canyon on Mount Charleston, against a backdrop of rocks and debris that still cover yards and boarded-up houses awaiting repairs. For residents, it marked a turning point after previous failed efforts to get the berm built because Clark County attorneys objected to an agreement proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

A flash flood on July 28 hit the mountain community, flooding homes with mud and washing out Clark County roads, causing about $2 million in damage, according to a county assessment. Of that amount, 10 homes in the subdivision had $849,000 of damage.

“We are going to get the berm built,” Sandoval said, prompting applause from local residents.

Getting a flood control project to divert floodwaters — a temporary earthern berm to protect homes and property — has been a goal that has eluded Clark County officials. The Army Corps of Engineers had proposed an agreement with the county in which the federal agency would build the berm in exchange for the county maintaining the project, assuming its ownership and liability. However, county officials on June 2 sent a letter to the corps turning down those terms, citing concerns about taking on the ownership and liability for a project that would be built on U.S. Forest Service land.

Under the agreement signed Monday, the state will sponsor the Corps’ project instead of Clark County. Corps projects typically require sponsorship from a local or state government entity that will take on the responsibility. Federal funding will cover the design and construction costs of the berm, estimated at nearly $900,000.

“The important thing is to get this built,” Sandoval said.

Corps officials have said they were prepared to start the project in early June and have it finished within 30 days, before the monsoon season hit. As a result, Rainbow subdivision residents criticized county officials for not acting on the agreement after the July 28 flash flood heavily damaged the area.

That sentiment tinged Monday’s event somewhat. One woman in the audience at Sandoval’s press conference called out, “Where is the county?”

Sandoval said he was there to announce the deal, not criticize the county.

“I just can’t stand by and allow another event to happen,” Sandoval said.

The Rainbow subdivision never had significant flood problems until after the Carpenter 1 fire burned nearly 28,000 acres in the summer of 2013. The fire charred areas above the subdivision, destroying vegetation that had previously absorbed rainfall and protected residents.

The U.S. Forest Service estimated it will take at least five to seven years for vegetation to grow back on the mountain. The Rainbow subdivision was hit with flooding on Labor Day weekend in 2013, showing the region’s susceptibility to flooding after the fire.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said Rainbow resident Becky Grismanauskas. “… I just thank God that somebody did something.”

Resident Rodney Dukes had to pull the flooring out of his house, which was ruined in the flood.

“We’re glad they’re going to do it and we hope they’re going to do it right away,” Dukes said. “The sooner the better.”

Sandoval had toured the flood-stricken area on Aug. 1.

Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown said the county remains committed to maintaining the berm after it’s built.

The berm’s maintenance costs during its lifespan of about a decade will likely exceed $1 million, according to county estimates. The logical next step would be an agreement with the county and the state for the maintenance, said Brown, whose district includes Mount Charleston.

Brown stressed the partnership involved in the project.

“This isn’t about one agency that’s alone in getting a solution,” Brown said. “It’s the county, it’s the the state, it’s the Corps, it’s the Forest Service.”

The county has been in talks with the governor’s office for several weeks about the project. It appeared the two were close to an agreement Friday.

Last week, the governor’s office asked if the county was still committed to doing the maintenance, Brown said.

“We pretty much asked why the interest right now,” Brown said, adding that “we knew something was going to happen.”

Daniel J. Calderon, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the corps will need to re-evaluate the area before starting work and look at patterns in the recent flood to ensure that the current design is appropriate. The earthern berm started as a 1,200-foot-long project and was then expanded to 1,700 feet long. The latest preliminary plans peg its length at about 1,950 feet.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.

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