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Freezing, thawing, flooding – a winter to remember

Stevensville crews broke up and removed huge slabs of ice from the streets and gutters on Main Street last week in hopes of alleviating the potential for flooding. Victoria Howell photo.

By Michael Howell

The extended periods of extreme cold temperatures and heavy snow followed by thawing conditions have created a plethora of problems throughout the valley. Starting a couple of weeks ago, several homes in Stevensville were left without water when the feeder lines extending from the main water line to the homes froze up. The town has been renting a thawing unit for $2,000 a week to thaw out the lines. To date, two of the homes remain without water. Mayor Jim Crews told the Council at its February 9 meeting that the last two homes will probably not have water restored until the ground thaws in spring due to their locations.
Ed Sutherlin, Streets and Alleys Supervisor, said that the problem was the way the feeder lines were attached to the water main. He said the feeder lines come out of the top of the water main and then curve back downward before going to the house.
“That’s where it freezes up,” said Sutherlin. He said they were installed a long time ago and he doesn’t know why it was done that way.
The extreme accumulation of snow over those weeks created problems for parking along Main Street and has kept the Streets and Alleys department busy trying to keep the streets passable.
And then it thawed. That left the streets almost unusable by pedestrians without hip boots. It also flooded into the basements of a number of buildings on the west side of Main Street.
One of those buildings included the Stevensville Playhouse building and neighboring River’s Mist Gallery. A large group of volunteers showed up right away to start shoveling ice and snow in the alley, others started salvaging costumes, props and other items and moving into a dry area.
According to Ravalli County Office of Emergency Management Director Erik Hoover, the place probably hit the worst by flooding was the area east of Corvallis on Willow Creek and Oil Well Road last Thursday afternoon. He saw a lot of flooded garages in the area but did not have a tally of the number of homes affected. He did say that from the looks of it most of the flooding would be in basements and crawl spaces. He had not gotten any reports of homes with the first floor being flooded.
Then on Friday some ice jams occurred, creating flooding along Middle Bear Creek and along Dutch Hill and lower Mill Creek. The Ravalli County Road Department took excavators in to clear the ice.
Hoover said that over three days the county distributed 25,000 sand bags to the various fire districts in the valley.
“I would estimate that close to 10,000 were filled and taken by the Corvallis Fire District,” he said.
Most of the flooding typically occurs in the river bottom.
The County Commissioners declared a flooding emergency on Friday in response to the crisis. The declaration allows emergency workers to work overtime hours and provides the county access to its emergency management fund. Hoover said that he is going to recommend that the emergency declaration remain in effect until there is a better estimate of the damages, maybe for another week or ten days.
Hoover also mentioned that the county had not received many calls about flooding. He said that from what he had seen this was probably due to the quick response of the Volunteer Fire Districts, friends, neighbors, and people just passing by.
People needing to report flooded roadways should call the Ravalli County Dispatch non-emergency number at 363-3033.
Property owners wishing to obtain sandbags and sand can access those resources at the following locations:
Corvallis Fire Station #1
Victor Fire Station
Stevensville Fire Station west of the Stevi Wye
Three Mile Fire Station #2 on Eastside Hwy
Florence Fire Station #2 on Hidden Valley North
Ravalli County Sheriff Steve Holton and OEM Director Erik Hoover thanked the Ravalli County Road and Bridge Department for quick responses to flooded roads and for providing the sand for public availability. Updates will be provided and notices of closed or dangerous roads will be noticed on the Ravalli County Sheriff’s app for smart phones.

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