Montezuma residents find silver lining in costly flood damage
Chris Brinkman lives in a little village called Rileyville, just south of the town of Montezuma and past the part of Montezuma Road that was destroyed last week, leaving residents without vehicle access to their homes.
The 29-year-old chef likened the situation to having an itch on the bottom of your foot that you can’t scratch because it tickles.
“Everyone’s got a positive attitude,” he said of the roughly 40 people that have had to hike in and out of town.
Late Thursday night, long after the shuttle saving residents a couple hours of walking had stopped, Brinkman and his girlfiend Nikki Reldy hiked up to town carrying a Helly Hansen backpack full of 45 beers.
On Tuesday, June 3, high runoff on the Snake River destroyed a section of Montezuma Road just west of the Peru Creek Trailhead. The river washed out parts of one lane and caused about 1.5 miles of damage.
County officials hope to restore vehicle access for residents by the end of this week.
Assistant county manager Thad Noll said high water pressure likely crumbled the structure holding a culvert in place. He said the whole area where the river normally flows next to and under the road on Tuesday looked like a lake.
Brinkman, who is more than 6 feet tall, said he later walked around the river banks and couldn’t reach debris left high in the trees.
Montezuma residents didn’t lose power, but they lost landline phone service for a few days.
“It’s a really pretty awesome town,” said Montezuma mayor Lesley Davis. “They’re all pretty tough and resilient. That’s for sure.”
She has been keeping the town’s residents informed. Now residents are more anxious to drive in and out on their own, she said, but they’re all being really patient and understanding.
At least six county departments have been involved, and Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, American Red Cross, Xcel Energy and CenturyLink also responded. Officials set up an incident command center in a red tent at the roadblock a few miles east of Keystone where they held morning and afternoon meetings last week.
By Wednesday evening, they installed a footbridge from the Dillon Marina. During the two days before the footbridge was installed, residents had to walk much farther up the river.
“It was a haul,” Noll said.
Saturday, June 7, crews finished installing a temporary bridge brought from Jackson County.
That bridge gives access to emergency vehicles only. Residents can’t use it yet because officials don’t want the traffic to slow construction crews working to repair the damage further down the road.
Before that bridge could be installed, county spokeswoman Julie Sutor said, workers had to make the road below drivable for construction crews bringing the bridge up and make the river banks structurally sound.
“Saturday these guys really worked their butts off. They got a lot done,” said Kim Fenske, the Summit Stage bus driver operating the shuttle Monday.
“Just hope we can drive home soon. Sooner rather than later,” added Reldy, 24, to other residents on the shuttle. She said that she hoped nonresidents don’t try to drive up and check out the road. “It’s hard enough for us locals that live up here to do it.”
When the noon shuttle arrived to the washout site, 14 people and four dogs piled on.
Brinkman has been leaving a dirt bike on the north end of the washout and an ATV on the south end. He still has to walk for a while in between.
“It’s a little bit of a hike,” he said, “but you know, some people walk their dogs around the city park, and we just walk home.”
When friends from Denver called freaking out, he told them, “It’s OK. We’re going to be all right.”
He and Reldy joked that the incident was a secret attempt to stop the zombies of ‘Zuma from attacking the rest of the county.
“It’s really cool to see people pull together. A lot of people have been bringing beer more than food,” Reldy said.
Some of her neighbors seem happier than ever, she said, with no one coming around to bother them. Brinkman added that they understand they live in a tourist county, but still, “it’s nice to have a breath of fresh air.”
At least one resident didn’t share their views.
AJ Fazendin, 27, has lived in Montezuma for about a year and was planning to load up his car and move to Florida last Friday. His move is now on hold until “as soon as they get that stupid road done.”
“We’re going on a week now, and we still don’t have access,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. It’s unacceptable.”
He called the county and complained last Friday.
“If it wasn’t the little town of Montezuma,” he said, “it would’ve been done by now.”
He had to cancel a couple interviews in Florida and eat the cost of a plane ticket for the friend helping him drive across the country.
“Most of the people in town are pretty happy,” he said. “The only reason I’m pissed is because I’m trying to move.”
He works with his family’s home construction business, he said, and he feels the road repairs are taking too long.
“It was two days before they were even running a machine,” he said.
Others in Montezuma are starting to get fed up, he said. They don’t know what to do with their trash, and “walking 45 minutes uphill is starting to get old for people.”
Fazendin’s delay has been the biggest issue the community has had, said Davis and other officials.
This week, county employees and contracted construction crews will turn the lane that washed out into a dirt road, level with the existing lane.
They plan to install portable traffic lights around the temporary bridge, so residents can drive in single-lane traffic over Old Montezuma Road, which hasn’t been used in more than 50 years.
“The less we can do to that road the better,” Noll said.
Shuttle service will continue at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m., and Montezuma Road likely will be closed to nonresidents all summer.
Noll estimated fixing the road will cost the county between $1.5 million and $2 million.
Today, “we wouldn’t use a metal pipe culvert” for a river, he said, Those are for small streams and creeks, while rivers use concrete box culverts.
The county plans to finish its other road and bridge projects scheduled for this summer, Noll said, but right now repairing Montezuma Road is the top priority.
Even though most residents are upbeat, their walk home is “still a pain if you’ve got a week’s worth of groceries,” he said, “or one night’s worth of beer.”
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