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‘Maximum flood’ in Death Valley could keep Scotty’s Castle closed through 2019

Visitors might have to wait at least three more years to see one of Death Valley National Park’s most popular attractions.

The National Park Service now says it could take until 2019 to reopen Scotty’s Castle after the early 20th-century mansion was damaged by a historic deluge in October that engineers are now calling a “probable maximum flood event.”

“And (2019) is the best-case scenario, if we get all the funding we need,” said Abby Wines, management assistant for the 3.4 million-acre national park along the California-Nevada border.

Death Valley officials consider the October flooding “the most expensive natural disaster in park history,” with about $30 million in damage, $19 million of it at Scotty’s Castle alone.

The 90-year-old building escaped with only minor water damage from leaks in the roof, but the flash flood toppled nearby power poles, destroyed the water system, damaged the sewer system and washed several feet of mud into a few surrounding structures, including the visitor center.

The flood also washed away large sections of the road leading to the mansion 180 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Wines said work on Scotty’s Castle Road likely won’t begin until spring 2017, once engineers complete an extensive redesign.

“The flood changed the way future water will flow through the canyon,” she said. “They can’t put the road back in the same place and in the same manner.”

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the park, Wines said work should start “extremely soon” on a stretch of Badwater Road through Jubilee Pass that was washed away by floodwaters during the same storm. The damage cut off paved access to the park from Shoshone, Calif., a tiny town heavily reliant on tourist traffic from Death Valley.

Wines said the road could reopen by the end of the year. “Design for that is a lot more straightforward,” she said.

As recently as December, Wines and other park officials were hopeful that they would be able to get all of the park’s roads rebuilt and Scotty’s Castle at least partially reopened in 2016. But the outlook seemed to get worse and worse each time they met with engineers, architects and historic restoration specialists.

“We were in denial at first,” Wines said.

Park staff members are now in the process of removing historic items from Scotty’s Castle and placing them in storage. With no power or water to the building, the artifacts are at risk of being destroyed in a fire or slowly ruined by the elements, Wines said. “Every day it’s sitting in an uncontrolled environment, the museum collection is being damaged a little bit.”

During the October storms, the area around Scotty’s Castle received a year’s worth of rain in two days.

The worst of it came on the night of Oct. 18, when more than three inches of rain and hail fell in just five hours, sending a torrent through Grapevine Canyon and across the castle grounds that was measured at 3,200 cubic feet per second.

“That’s about a quarter of the flow of the Colorado River in a place where there’s normally no water,” Wines said.

It’s no wonder the damage turned out to be worse than originally thought — and that signs of destruction are still being discovered months later.

“Just last week we found another one of our dumpsters,” Wines said. “It was four and a half miles from the castle. It used to be in the parking lot.”

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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