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'We're kind of stranded out here': This year's snowmelt flooding stresses access for Flagstaff neighborhood

Areas in and around Flagstaff had some of the worst flooding issues, leaving a desire for more options for residents to access their properties.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — While Flagstaff's winter brought much-needed moisture to Northern Arizona, it caused issues in the spring as the snow began to melt. 

Certain areas taking in some of the worst flooding issues left roads unpassable on and off for several weeks, leaving a desire for more options for residents.

'Inundated' crossing

Residents living in the Forest Dale Neighborhood, accessed by Herold Ranch Road, had flooding for several weeks on the only way in and out of their neighborhood. 

"The amount of snowmelt flooding that was happening on the Herold Ranch Road was beyond what we had ever experienced," said Jennifer Kotalik.. 

Kotalik and her husband started building their home in the neighborhood back in 2001. She recalls weeks of trying to navigate the flooded Rio de Flag crossing along Herold Ranch Road. 

"It got to the point where on at least four or five occasions early in the season that we could not drive the car through," said Kotalik. 

While neighbors helped each other out as best they could, among other workarounds, Kotalik found at times the only way to get to her house was to hike in from a nearby forest service road. 

"That crossing was inundated," said Coconino County Public Works Director Christopher Tressler.

Not only was there more water, but Kotalik said the gravel road on either side of the concrete crossing started developing potholes, making the waters even deeper than the marker on the side of the crossing would signal it was. 

While there was still water flowing, Tressler said county teams came in an added material to try and help restore access for people living in the Forest Dale neighborhood. 

'We're kind of stranded out here'

Tressler said that putting a different crossing in for these types of flood waters isn't feasible. 

"It's a difficult situation in that we don't want to invest millions of dollars - because it would take several million dollars in that area - for a crossing that would not be inundated with floodwater on any given year," said Tressler. 

Kotalik notes many seasons the crossing is big enough for residents to get in and out, but says it's more than just about the flooding. 

"Building a bridge would address the river situation, so that would be terrific of course," said Kotalik. "But it doesn't answer the bigger problem which is another access in and out beside the Herold Ranch Road." 

Back in 2018, Flagstaff residents approved partial funding for an extension of JW Powell Boulevard

Kotalik recalls how when she and her husband moved out to the neighborhood the Rio de Flag crossing wasn't intended to be the only way in and out, and that the extension could have helped provide another access road for her neighborhood. 

"This needs an improvement because we're kind of stranded out here," said Kotalik. 

Tressler pointed to development and the JW Powell extension as a long-term solution. 

"If we can get John Wesley Powell routed around that crossing, and some of the development comes online, and other roads are constructed in that area, it eliminates the need for that crossing," said Tressler. 

The City of Flagstaff declined 12News' interview requests on the extension and the flooding on Herold Ranch Road. 

"The City is meeting and working with property owners in the area to cultivate potential solutions on alternative crossings of the Rio de Flag but nothing is definitive at this time," Sarah Langley, public affairs director for the City of Flagstaff told 12News in an email. 

An update on the extension is scheduled for a city council work session on Tuesday and the presentation indicates staff will also present an update on Herold Ranch Road flooding as part of the extension update. 

But, Kotalik is worried about safety beyond just what was experienced earlier this year. 

"We've been waiting a really long time and you know I just dread to hear beyond vehicle damage, which has already happened to multiple people that I know, I would hate to hear of anything more deadly or dangerous happening to anyone," Kotalik said. 

Slayton Ranch Road repairs

Coconino County is also working on repairing Slayton Ranch Road in Doney Park where a Flagstaff Unified School Bus became suspended when the road collapsed. 

Tressler said the culverts failed with the snowmelt runoff and led to the road collapsing. 

Now that the winter season is over, contractors have started working on the nearly million-dollar project and the county said it plans to have it back open by mid-July. 

"It's a crossing that, frankly, was undersized...we've used the best available and kind of the state of the art science to understand how much water could flow through there and so we could impede less water," said Tressler. "But the crossing is going to be much more robust and substantial than what was previously installed."

Tressler added a community meeting will be held in the next few weeks for updates on the project. 

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