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Crews minimize impact of flooding

| April 5, 2012 9:43 AM

Days of steady, drizzling rain is bad enough but when that rain comes with warm temperatures at higher elevation it accelerates the snow melt, creating a dilemma for residents living in the valley below.

That scenario played out last week and likely will continue for weeks to come as Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency officials — with the aid of local volunteers and federal workers — were able to stem the surging floodwaters.

On Friday and Saturday, EMA Director Vic White and Deputy Director and Floodplain Manager Lisa Oedewaldt aided by about 40 volunteers teamed to sandbag to hold back the rising floodwaters at 10 locations in and around Libby.

“There was a lot of hydrology going on here,” said White. “We avoided a disaster because of the volunteers who stepped up.”

That amount of “hydrology,” as White put it, prompted Libby Mayor Doug Roll to declare Libby a floodwater emergency.

   “Actually, we declared an emergency,” said Roll, differentiating from a disaster.

“We got lucky. The weather cooperated. We got some sunshine. The people of Libby pulled together, like they always do, and we got through it.”

Roll said because the emergency flooding situation was averted, the Army Corps has rescinded its emergency response, and the city, school district is trying to assess who will pay for the repairs to the culvert.

“It’s really the school district, as its on their property,” Roll said. “But we’ll get it figured and repaired.”

The mayor was not the only official offering praise, as White lauded city and county workers and a small army of local volunteers who showed up just in the nick of time.

   “I was so happy to see those guys — in six, seven, eight and nine trucks — pull up from David Thompson Search & Rescue,” White said. “I was about beat from filling sandbags. We couldn’t have done this without everyone’s help.”

   From about 10 a.m. Friday and well into Saturday when a sinkhole emerged from a failed underground culvert behind Libby Elementary School, the EMA and volunteers scattered about the county to redirect floodwaters spilling from the overflow of area creeks.

   By noon Saturday, White knew there would be more concerns ahead, but he was glad to see sunshine Saturday afternoon.

   “I think we have a little break right now, but we’re in no way through this yet,” said White said who admitted to working well into the evening Friday and then being up at first light Saturday. “There’s an awful lot of spring still ahead.”

   The EMA office responded to 11 areas, which include:

• An overflowing creek near 476 Bobtail Lane;

• Flooding at Vanderwood Field;

• High water along Pioneer Road;

• Parmenter Creek flowing from its banks and backing up onto Education Way;

• Flooding along Dale Street;

• High water in the 400 block of Flower Creek Road;

• Floodwater at 90 Reedway Drive;

• Water creeping toward homes at Spencer Road and Scotts Stroll;

• Concerns of a potential mudslide from the rains near Scotts Stroll;

• Creeping water on the roadway at Snowshoe Road.

• An underground drainage culvert that directs water coming off the mountain slope behind Libby Elementary School failed, creating a sink hole.

   “It could have been a lot worse,” White said of day’s activities.

   “If water could not have been diverted from the school, we could’ve had a flooded school,” he said.

   White contacted Libby Elementary Principal Ron Goodman and Libby District 4 Superintendent K.W. Maki early about the flooding concerns.

   “We contacted the Army Corps in Seattle to get technical and financial help with this,” White said. “All day long we had great help from David Thompson Search & Rescue, the City, the County Road Department, the Sheriff’s Department.”

   White also credited Chris Noble of Noble Excavating, who with Corky Pape, devised an emergency plan to pump floodwater from the sinkhole to a manhole about 50 feet away should the 14- to 16-inch culvert area collapse and begin flooding the school.

   “It just takes so many people to pull this all together,” White said. “We’re grateful for everyone’s help.”