Before the rain even stopped, during one of the worst three-day stretches of flooding in Colorado history, Douglas County commissioners were on the phone with their friends in Weld County, asking how they could help.
Without hesitation, Weld County officials accepted, and nine employees of Douglas County’s Public Works Department were soon on their way, equipment in tow, to help rebuild 11 roads and bridges, vital to Weld County’s agricultural production. A second crew of nine followed later.
“As devastating as the flood was, what would have been a much larger tragedy would have been the inability of the farmers to harvest their crops,” said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway. “We were hit with a double hammer. We had 109 roads washed out, many of them that were farm-to-market roads. And with it being harvest time, we were really facing the possibility of a second disaster in a matter of days.
“Most of the roads were inaccessible, and with our limited resources and crews, there were just too many projects to get done and we had to prioritize the larger projects.”
But being the home to a $1.5 billion agricultural industry, the largest in Colorado and eighth largest in the United States, Weld County simply could not afford to have its farmers unable to get machinery and equipment to their farms, while tens of thousands of acres of farmland had crops perish at harvest time.
“When I say Douglas County Public Works employees are viewed as heroes here, they truly are just that,” Conway said. “The work they did allowed for at least a partial harvest for our farmers, and depending on the weather, possibly a full harvest for many. This is not only a life-saver for our farmers but the entire state of Colorado. This is the second largest industry in Colorado and we account for almost half of it.”
Douglas County employees have been in Weld County since Interstate 25 reopened just days after the flood, and have plans to stay at least another week or two. Other counties that have also pitched in include Otero, Las Animas, Prowers and Alamosa.
According to Douglas County Commissioner Jack Hilbert, the county will be eligible for FEMA reimbursements for the work its employees have done in Weld, but regardless of the reimbursements, “going was just the right thing to do.”
“They have been down here before assisting with fires in El Paso County, the Hayman Fire, Burning Tree,” Hilbert said. “It’s not a tit-for-tat thing, though. The damage was just so widespread and massive. There were people in need and we need to be able to serve our citizens as a whole.”