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Why wasn't Saratoga Springs ready for the flood?

Published: Tuesday, June 30 2015 11:19 p.m. MDT

Mayor Mia Love of Saratoga Springs talks with homeowner Andy Schreyer as they survey damage to his property, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Mayor Mia Love of Saratoga Springs talks with homeowner Andy Schreyer as they survey damage to his property, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SARATOGA SPRINGS — As tired homeowners in the flooded Jacob's Ranch neighborhood continued cleanup of destroyed basements and yards, a question was on the lips of those in the flood path: Could something have been done to prevent this?

"When the fire went off up there two months ago, everybody a week later was talking about how if we get a massive rainstorm we're going to have a mudslide," Gavin McClellum, who was on vacation when the storm hit, said Tuesday. "Would I have done anything different? I don't know … But with that said, I definitely want to say, I think more could have been done."

The mud flow poured onto his property, and he's spent the days since gutting the basement of the home he designed and built.

Other residents continued to fill Dumpsters on the streets with ruined sheetrock, insulation, cardboard and furniture. Three families remained displaced, according to volunteers who continued to be the lone bright spot of an otherwise difficult situation.

Volunteers from Stillwater Academy clean mud from vents in the basement of Clark Hoffman's home in Saratoga Springs, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Volunteers from Stillwater Academy clean mud from vents in the basement of Clark Hoffman's home in Saratoga Springs, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Homeowners here said insurance policies won't cover the damage, making the questions about preparedness more poignant.

“It seems like a lot was thought about way too late,” McClellum said. “That’s the same thing everybody’s talking about. They knew about it, but they didn’t start talking about  it, magically, until a week ago or a few days before it happened."

Since Saturday's storm, city officials have announced they are preparing catch basins, drainage ditches and water diversion areas to manage future runoff. Plans to reseed the burn scar that sent so much loose dirt hurtling into the area are also being negotiated.

Raquel McManus, whose home on Ruger Drive filled with mud, water and rocks during Saturday's surge, hosted Mayor Mia Love and members of the City Council Monday night for an informational neighborhood meeting.

A volunteer from Stillwater Academy cleans up after removing mud from vents at a home in Saratoga Springs, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) A volunteer from Stillwater Academy cleans up after removing mud from vents at a home in Saratoga Springs, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

McManus said city officials described prevention efforts that had been in the works but were too late, leaving the city in "triage mode."

"They were anticipating spring floods, rather than what they're calling 'the hunderd year flood,'" she said. "It's hard to blame them because they were in the works." Others, however, said the rain that fell Saturday was not atypical. The fire was the best predicter of trouble and the entire town knew that.

“Everybody knew it was inevitable. I mean, nobody knew we’d get that rainstorm, but everybody knew that there was a chance that after a burnoff you’re going to have a massive mudslide down the mountain," McClellum said.

Love, who returned to the scene Tuesday, said she called Gov. Gary Herbert and asked him to tour the area. Meanwhile, the city and county will be following appropriate channels to petition aid from the state. Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency would not directly impact residents, Love said.

Steve Loando, left and Ben Biggs remove some venting from a home as they help clean up in Saratoga Springs, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Steve Loando, left and Ben Biggs remove some venting from a home as they help clean up in Saratoga Springs, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

"We are quite literally on our own here," she said.

A website to collect online donations benefitting flood victims was activated Tuesday, Love said. Information about how to donate is available at saratogaspringsrelief.blogspot.com/.

McManus, who moved to Saratoga Springs from Minnesota less than a year ago, said she hopes future flood prevention efforts by the city will protect her home.

"As a homeowner, I guess we put a lot of faith in the city that they have us protected," she said, describing the gully near her house that will hopefully catch future runoff. "But I don't think we're going to be taking the sandbags away anytime soon."

In the meantime, McManus said she has been amazed by the many volunteers, and hopes businesses or corporate groups will pitch in with the sheetrock, plywood and building materials that residents need but say they can't afford.

Clark Hoffman works to restore electricity to a light in his basement as cleanup continues in Saratoga Springs, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Clark Hoffman works to restore electricity to a light in his basement as cleanup continues in Saratoga Springs, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

The affected homeowners expressed gratitude for the thousands of unnamed volunteers who came to their rescue over the weekend.

Clark Hoffman, who lives across the street from McManus, had a fresh crew from the Stillwater Academy for troubled youths on hand Tuesday pulling mud from his basement. The basement had filled to the ceiling with mud and water, coming within a foot of spilling onto the main floor.

"Over the weekend it was a phenomenal volunteer turnout," he said. "Obviously since the workweek has started the groups now are going to be smaller, but there are still groups coming out and we continue to be grateful for all of their efforts."

Hoffman said he wishes more could have been done to prevent the flood.

Volunteers sandbag west of the Clark Hoffman home in Saratoga Springs, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Volunteers sandbag west of the Clark Hoffman home in Saratoga Springs, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

"The city folks here are good folks, they were trying to start the process, I just don't think they acted quickly enough," he said. "I think their slowness in response contributed to it."

E-mail: mromero@deseretnews.com Twitter: @McKenzieRomero

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