Helena area looks to prevent repeat of 2011 floods

Helena resident Sharlene Larance looks over a new ditch and culvert network installed near her home on Tuesday

The National Weather Service predicts a less-severe flood season for Montana in 2012.

Major floods covered large areas of the state last Spring, causing damage to homes and infrastructure.

Officials are still urging caution. Lewis and Clark County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Paul Spengler says most of the winter snowpack is still waiting in the mountains and we are heading into the two rainiest months of the year in May and June.

“It’s prime, it’s ready to come out because of the hot weather so if we get a lot of heavy rain on that that could cause some problems,” Spengler said.

Lewis and Clark County is trying to prevent any repeats of last year’s flooding in the Helena Valley. The County has spent about $70 thousand in the last year on flood mitigation efforts.

A paving crew beside Helena’s Forestvale road was covering up a wide gap in a turnoff to a parking lot on Tuesday–a gap opened to put in a new culvert three feet in diameter.

Truck driver Jeff Hoffman works with the crew. He lives close by and said these pipes will make a big difference.

“Oh yeah, I think they will, because they’re a lot bigger than they used to be,” he said.

“There’s been significant changes,” said Sharlene Larance, who lives a block or two away.

She was looking up and down the now dusty street. The wide culverts run parallel to the road, beneath each side street, running into deep ditches freshly carved this year.

Larance says this whole area was underwater last June. She pointed to a nearby turnoff.

“They actually had a picture of some kids in a boat in the paper,” she said, pointing to a nearby turnoff.

Her house doesn’t have much of a basement, so she escaped without too much damage. Other homes in the neighborhood weren’t so lucky. Larance joined the local Valley Flood Committee formed as the waters receded last Summer. Residents on the committee have met every month over the last year with county officials—looking for a solution.

“We squawk and squeal and hope we get attention,” she said, laughing.

Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Derek Brown also attends the flood committee meetings. He says most of the money spent on flood prevention in the last year was spent on this project–on the culverts and the ditches along this road.

“That’s the part of the county that had the most significant damage, the highest population concentration,” Brown said. “There were flooding events in rural areas but they didn’t affect very many people.”

Lewis and Clark County has hired an engineering firm to make a long-range plan for flood prevention. Brown says more projects will come in the future as finances allow. Still, neighbors in adjacent areas have attended recent flood committee meetings threatening to sue over what they see as unfair treatment.

As Sharlene Larance says, there is still a lot of squawking to do.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is calling this week the first ever Severe Weather Preparedness Week.

The agency says families should know the potential emergencies for their area well and have plans in place should those emergencies occur.

You can find a lot more information on FEMA’s disaster preparedness recommendations by clicking this link.