Who’s at fault with four years of flooding?
SUMMIT COVE – County Commissioner Tom Long tromped through a rain-soaked neighborhood in Summit Cove Monday night, observing the effects of an overloaded drainage system. More than an inch of rain had fallen on the area, flooding garages, crawl spaces and some basements.
“It was ugly,” said Long, the commissioner most knowledgeable about water issues. “I saw water running over the banks that shouldn’t be there. I saw a lot of upset people, and understandably so. I saw an insufficient drainage system.
“The fixtures and facilities are inadequate, but it’s exacerbated by the golf course. That’s the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s a situation that is intolerable for the people that live there, and we’ve got to get it remedied.”
This summer marked the fourth straight year of flooding, and it’s not the first time residents have called for help.
Keystone’s River Course opened in June 2000, but Summit Cove flooding problems began during the course’s construction in 1999.
Homeowners Karl and Janet Bierbaum, whose duplex unit backs to the course, sued Keystone Resort/Vail Resorts for flood damage to their home. They said an April 2000 flood so damaged their home they couldn’t use the ground level. The two parties settled last September, with the resort agreeing to bring the Bierbaum home back to pre-flood condition, pay the couple’s legal fees and improve drainage around the house. The Bierbaums said earlier this year they now plan to sue the county for its role in the problem.
Homeowners further from the course see its effects as well. Jim and Cindy Ernst, who live about one-third of a mile from the course, say excess water from the course, coupled with poorly directed water draining from the new Buck Ridge development, causes a ditch near their home to overflow. After a rainstorm, the couple sees “a wall of water,” sometimes a foot deep and as much as 35 inches wide, flowing through their back yard, Cindy said. It’s enough water, she believes, “to wash away a child.” Enough to make them fear for the safety of their 3-year-old daughter.
“One inch could cause a flood,” said Cindy. “That’s scary.”
The Ernsts say they’re certain the bulk of the problem stems from sprinkler-saturated ground at the River Course. Rain can’t soak into the earth there, they believe, and instead pours off the course and into ditches that run through the neighborhood. Cindy, who’s lived in the Summit Cove house for 15 years, said water didn’t flow this way until the golf course was built.
The county has tried to address the problem. Last summer, it hired a Denver-based water engineering firm to study the problems there. Summit County and Keystone also have spent more than $35,000 making drainage improvements in the area, but some residents – including the Bierbaums – say the golf course simply isn’t engineered properly.
Summit County Public Works Director Jack Benson said Keystone now is reviewing the findings of the county-hired engineering company. The county is waiting for a response from them, he said, adding it has always been his intent to “get something done this year.”
“We’re coming to an end point,” he said. “We’ve got the idea of a conceptual plan and how much it’s going to cost. There is a need to really focus in on improving the drainage in that area. That area has built out over time, and the open fields that used to percolate the water are just gone.”
The issue is set for discussion by the Summit Board of County Commissioners during their Monday morning worksession.
Long said it was an eye-opener to witness the flooding effects firsthand.
“It just hit me like a hammer out there the other night that our actions have probably been inadequate, and so have everybody else’s,” he said. “We’ve got to get off the dime and get something done.”
Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at email@example.com
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