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Lewis & Clark County seeks more data to plan Augusta flood mitigation

Augusta
Posted at 6:05 PM, Jun 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-18 20:05:45-04

AUGUSTA — In both 2018 and 2019, the community of Augusta experienced flooding that made its Main Street look more like a river. Luckily, they haven’t had that type of serious flood since then – but residents know it will remain a threat going forward.

“We are always on guard now, because we had never had two in a row like that, which really surprised all of us,” said Susan Ford, who owns Allen’s Manix Store.

During the 2018 flood, Ford’s home flooded, and her store had several feet of water in its basement. The flood destroyed a brand-new, $10,000 heater that had just been installed. By 2019, they had added a sump pump, which Ford said was able to at least keep the water no higher than knee level.

“We are prepared: We learned to be really good sandbaggers after 2018,” she said. “For 2019, we knew how to sandbag better.”

2019 Augusta Flooding
Augusta's Main Street, completely flooded, May 27, 2019.

The dramatic flooding got the attention of Lewis and Clark County. Leaders say, prior to 2018, Augusta had gone 40 years without being hit so hard.

“Any time you kind of have those back-to-back incidents, you start to wonder if something’s changing, if there’s something going on,” said Alexa Noruk, the county’s disaster and emergency services coordinator. “So we wanted to make sure that we fully understood what was happening, what might be causing the flooding, if not just purely natural causes – were there differences in development or anything that might have caused that area to be at a higher risk than in the past?”

In an attempt to get those answers, the county put out a request for proposals from professional engineering firms. They’re looking for someone to analyze existing data, then identify any potential problem areas from that and do an updated survey to get more information about them.

“Are those culverts that are not large enough? Are those areas of seepage?” said Noruk. “It’s really about getting boots on the ground and physically surveying the area that we’re looking at.”

The contractor will also be tasked with doing a hydrological study and making recommendations for possible flood mitigation projects.

The contract will be paid for with post-disaster hazard mitigation grant funding the county received after the 2018 and 2019 flooding. The money, including funds from FEMA, is intended to help determine why floods occurred and how to prevent them in the future.

“They’re looking for recommendations for the future, so this isn’t just, ‘We have the data and then we don’t do anything with it,’” Noruk said. “It’s ‘We have the data and we can take action to prevent future events.’”

Ford says she wants the county’s eventual mitigation plan to include at least some construction to divert flood waters away from the center of town. She believes some nearby landowners would be willing to have a retention pond on their property.

She said she hasn’t been satisfied with the communication between the county and the Augusta community, and that she wants to see county leaders do more to include local residents as the process moves forward.

“It’s not hard to get the information out; it just needs to be there,” she said. “Because we’re not going to be quiet about it anymore, and Lewis and Clark has to step up to the plate.”

Noruk said they do plan to host more public meetings and other events to get input, especially as they get to the phase where recommendations are being made.

“At this time, we just need continued public buy-in,” she said. “This process takes some time, and we understand that we don’t want to get into a situation where the flooding happens again this summer or in the spring, and we feel like we’ve missed the boat.”

You can find more information about the county’s request for proposals here (https://www.lccountymt.gov/home/news-item.html?tx_news_pi1%5Bnews%5D=619&tx_news_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=News&tx_news_pi1%5Baction%5D=detail&cHash=6f08ed3e428ab22aa1bed99f87ca088f).