Navajo County Hazard Mitigation plan

NAVAJO COUNTY — Navajo County’s 157-page Hazard Mitigation plan for the 118,000 residents of the county was developed jointly by the county, Holbrook, Pinetop, Show Low, Snowflake, Taylor and Winslow.

The plan looked at responses to wildfires, dam failures, drought, flooding, hazardous materials incidents, levee failure, severe wind and winter storms.

The recommendations were based in part on past disasters, including 19 wildfires that prompted state and federal expenditures of $13 million between 1966 and 2017.

Flooding has actually inflicted far more damage, with the bill for 11 events in that period topping $40 million in state expenditures and $322 million in federal spending.

The report includes risk ratings for all kinds of disasters.

For instance, the report lists dams throughout the area with safety deficiencies that remain “possibly” prone to failure – some with less than six hours warning. Dam failures could inflict “catastrophic” or “critical” damage on Show Low, Snowflake or Taylor.

The report also offers a sobering history of damaging floods in the county. Virtually every town in the county still faces “likely” or “highly likely” threats from floods, with critical or catastrophic damage with only six hours notice in Show Low, Snowflake, Taylor and Winslow.

“Based on the historic record, multiple deaths and injuries are plausible and a substantial portion of the exposed population is subject to displacement,” the report concluded.

Almost the whole region faces “highly likely” impact from drought, which could pose a “critical” threat in some areas. Between 1995 and 2014, county ranchers received nearly $7 million in federal assistance to deal with the impact of drought.

The region also faces a “possible” or “likely” risk of hazardous materials spills, thanks to the interstate highway and the railroad. The report notes 60 railroad crashes nationwide that have spilled large quantities of oil since 2012. “The Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line has contracted to haul this highly flammable cargo, which increases the probability that a rail accident along the I-40 corridor could potentially affect populated cities such as Winslow and Holbrook.”

Some 64 percent of the county’s population lives along transportation routes vulnerable to such hazardous materials spills, the report concluded.

Finally, the report attempted to describe the wildfire risk facing the county – mostly the forested communities in the southern third of the county.

Pinetop-Lakeside and Show Low and many unincorporated areas face a “highly likely” exposure to a “catastrophic” wildfire, which could mean a forced evacuation with less than six hours notice. Countywide, that includes about a third of the population.

The report also includes a long, laundry list of actions the various agencies hope to undertake with the grant money to either mitigate the risk from these assorted disasters or train police and public safety officials in how to respond in an emergency. The wish list by community includes:

Navajo County:

• $100,000 to assess to asses wildfire risks in the most vulnerable neighborhoods and then to encourage residents in those areas to take steps to reduce their risk, like clearing the brush and small trees from around their houses.

• $66 million to improve levees along the Colorado River to protect Winslow from flooding.

• $200,000 to come up with complete evacuation planning and modeling for the county.

Pinetop Lakeside:

• $2.2 million to establish alternate evacuation routes through town.

• $1 million to secure wastewater treatment plants against flooding.

• $200,000 to for flood protection on Billy Creek.

• $1 million for software to model fire risk and response.

• $200,000 for complete evacuation planning.

• $250,000 to develop a drainage master plan for the community.

• $50,000 for backup generators for police, town hall and other critical facilities.

Show Low:

• $10 million to improve the Show Low Lake spillway so it’s no longer classified as an “unsafe” dam.

• $4 million to provide wildfire training for firefighters and provide a firefighting base at the Show Low airport.

• $300,000 to provide complete evacuation routes and training.

• $500,000 for backup generators for critical public facilities.

Snowflake:

• $350,000 to overhaul building codes to reduce effects of floods, drought and wind hazards.

• $50,000 to investigate creating a fire district to provide wildfire protection.

• $10 million to drill two new wells and three storage tanks.

• $50,000 to launch a program to clean storm drains and drainage features.

• $100,000 to expand the drought mitigation plan.

• $100,000 to develop water conservation measures.

• $750,000 to develop a master drainage plan for the community.

• $200,000 to develop a comprehensive evacuation plan

• $1 million to complete a fire infrastructure study.

Taylor:

• $200,000 for flood control works for Airport Wash.

• $1 million to protect wastewater treatment plants from floods.

• $1 million for fire flow computer modeling.

• $200,000 for evacuation planning and modeling.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

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