Tahoe-Truckee storms: May take months to determine true cost of damage
TAHOE-TRUCKEE — Tahoe-Truckee residents were praying for snow in October, after years of drought left many wondering if the ski industry would ever be the same.
Now, many are remembering to be careful what they wish for.
Less than eight weeks into 2017, the region has already been pummeled with record-breaking snowfall and enough rain to raise flood concerns more than a few times, but the bulk of the damage remains to be seen.
“We had a fair amount of damage in early January when we got the rain storms that came through.” Truckee Public Works Director Dan Wilkins said in a phone interview on Monday. “We had some shoulder erosion that happened on some roadways in town, nothing too serious, but a lot of it we’re unable to see right now because of the snow coverage.”
“Then we had a large storm event, which brought down a lot of trees,” he said. “And there’s an untold amount of trees and debris that came down along the roadways but it got covered by the snow.”
The town declared a state of emergency early on in an attempt to secure federal funding assistance. According to town staff, the declaration must be made relatively soon after the situation occurs in order for the local government to be eligible for reimbursement.
Damages estimates won’t be complete until there have been enough warm days for the snow to melt and for town and county employees to get outside and assess the area.
It’s too soon to say when that will happen, but long-time residents have estimated that during a year like this one, we could see snow on the ground through June in some of the higher elevations of the town.
Wilkins said the most recent storm last week didn’t create much more damage, but it did add some. For example, he said the storm created what he called “undermining” to the roadway near Donner Lake, on South Shore Drive.
“Water running down the edge of the road eroded the material under the pavement,” he said.
As of Wednesday, public works crews were on the scene trying to manage some of the damage.
Wilkins said that damage estimates within the town will be modified based on what crews find in spring in summer, but so far, they’re hovering around $500,000 to $750,000.
Liberty Utilities spokesperson Kathy Carter said in an email that the company spent more than $2 million with contracted vendors for storm-related repairs since the start of the year.
This included hiring line crews to help with repairs when fallen trees hit power lines, and when a helicopter was needed to access remote areas such as the Tahoe Pines area.
According to the email, Liberty Utilities Vice President of Operations Travis Johnson said that total costs for storm-caused outage repairs will “easily reach the multi-million mark,” because of the contracted labor, extra materials, overtime for employees and food and shelter for employees who were unable to drive home.
Tahoe City Public Utility District Community Information Administrator Kurt Althof, meanwhile, said that all 27 of the district’s generators were in use during the January storms.
“Early estimates in damages and storm related costs are $364,882,” Althof said. “We won’t know the true impact or costs until the snow melts.”
He also said that among the damages were a TCPUD access road that was significantly impacted by erosion, and a minor flood and mudslide that damaged a portion of the city’s new ice rink.
The region also experienced intense storm-periods in 1997, 2001 and 2005, but Althof said the district was much better prepared to handle the challenges associated with inclement weather this year.
“We have significantly upgraded our facilities, we’ve added several permanent and mobile generators, had better forecast information ahead of the storm, maintained sufficient and larger fuel storage, and kept critical staff overnight locally to ensure there were no access issues,” he said.
The North Tahoe Fire Protection District responded to 379 calls last month, a record for the month of January, according to an email from Public Information Officer Beth Kenna.
District staff responded to a wide range of reports, including, but not limited to, structure fires, weakened or collapsed buildings, animal rescues, gas leaks and vehicle accidents.
She also said that Incline Village’s North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District reported receiving 309 calls last month — almost double from what they responded to in January 2016.
As for the Truckee Fire Protection District, crews recorded 1,158 calls last month, according to the email.
Placer County also declared a local emergency in January due to extensive damage from storms, and estimated that costs for repairs were around $8 million countywide, according to a Jan. 24 announcement on the county’s website.
County spokesperson Chris Gray-Garcia said no Tahoe-specific number had been calculated as of Wednesday.
“We’ve heard from a few businesses looking for any help that may exist for damage to their property, and we’ll be reaching out soon to collect more info on personal and business damages to provide an estimate of that toward seeking more state or federal help,” he said. “But apart from that, we’re thinking much of the damage won’t be fully evident until the snow melts.”
Amanda Rhoades is a news, environment and business reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 530-550-2653 or @akrhoades.