County awarded fire mitigation funds for Tonto Basin

Dawn Houghtaling/Courtesy photo Last summer’s Bush Fire has left Tonto Basin at significant risk of flooding, which a pair of county projects looks to mitigate.

After last summer’s Bush Fire, which burned more than 190,000 acres in the mountains, much of Tonto Basin is at risk of flooding from future rainstorms in the burned area. Last fall, Gila County was awarded $253,000 for fire mitigation projects in Tonto Basin – but the county was not notified of the projects’ approval for 60 days.

During their Jan. 5, 2021 meeting the Gila County Board of Supervisors approved signing documents needed to receive $253,000 from the National Resources Conservation Service’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP). That money will go toward a bank protection project on Reno Creek, near the Tonto Basin Fire Department and School, and replacement of five culverts on Walnut Springs Creek with a box culvert. Gila County Public Works Director Steve Sanders said those culverts routinely get plugged during storm events.

While the NRCS approved the projects on Sept. 9, 2020, the county was not notified until Nov. 9, in  an email from staff. Sanders told the board that as far as he knew the county was still awaiting an official NRCS letter to acknowledge the funding. And that two-month delay has left the county behind on the time-sensitive EWP  program, which requires projects to be complete within 220 days of approval.

Sanders said the 220 days would be up around April 21, 2021. “We’re just starting the design on these now,” he told the supervisors. “We’re never going to get it done in that time.” However, with an agreement in place, the county can then request extensions from NRCS – which Sanders plans to do. The county can also ask for additional funds once an agreement is in place. “I have every reason to believe that they will extend the contract time,” Sanders said.

Though glad to receive the funds, Supervisors Woody Cline and Tim Humphrey were less pleased by the two-month delay in notification. “I don’t think that’s cool at all,” Cline said. “Something is broken here.” Cline also suggested that the NRCS should credit Gila County for the lost time.

The Reno Creek project is estimated to cost $147,000, with the NRCS providing $110,550; the county will provide $36,850. The Walnut Creek culvert replacement is estimated to cost $104,500, of which the NRCS will provide $78,375 and the county $26,125. The NRCS will also contribute $24,000 of the $49,998 needed to design the projects.

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