AZTEC — This city is looking for help repairing damage from September flooding that could cost as much as $1 million.

"It's a mess," said Aztec Public Works Supertintendent Sean Ostrander of damage caused by heavy downpours last month. Two significant storms sent torrents of water gushing down hillsides and creating rivers of mud that damaged arroyos, roads, drainage systems, bridges, public utilities, not to mention private homes and businesses.

Tonight, commissioners are expected to declare the city a disaster area, clearing the way for state aid to mitigate the citywide damage.

Community Development Director Roshana Moojen, who also serves as flood-plain manager for the city, toured the flood-affected areas with officials from the Army Corps of Engineers last month. She reported to commissioners the extent of the damage, including high-risk sites like a failing alley bridge and a sewer pipe that was at risk of dropping twenty feet into Hampton Arroyo.

Final approval for repair work must come from the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency in charge of overseeing arroyos in the city.

Moojen estimates the total cost of the damage to be near or at $1 million.

Public Works Superintendent Sean Ostrander has asked for added help from the city to begin the lengthy repair work, much of which cannot be started without Army Corps of Engineers approval.

Ostrander oversaw a temporary fix on the failing sewer line that runs from McCoy Elementary across Hampton Arroyo to Sabena St.

City crews made a splint with a telephone pole to hold up the sewer line whose support structure dropped a few feet from heavy inundation of water along the arroyo.

"Hampton Arroyo and Blanco Arroyo will have some city crews working to clean out the refuse and debris, but no work to modify the arroyo banks can be done without Army Corps of Engineers' approval," said Ed Kotyk, city projects manager. "We have hired an engineer to develop a way to (permanently) secure the sewer line."

Sean Ostrander, with the City of Aztec, talks on Monday about a section of Sabena Street in Aztec that may fall in to an adjacent arroyo in the near
Sean Ostrander, with the City of Aztec, talks on Monday about a section of Sabena Street in Aztec that may fall in to an adjacent arroyo in the near future. (Jon Austria The Daily Times)

Until official approval is received, Ostrander says city workers can only clean up debris and refuse that has clogged many of the city's waterways and retention ponds.

"At least 50 trees, including probably a 100-year-old cottonwood, were blown out of the dirt," Ostrander said of the damage at the Hampton Arroyo. "The water came through so fast it went over the culvert and played havoc with anything its path."

The high-water mark was as high as 22 feet in the 30- to 35-foot-deep arroyo during the flooding, he said.

Some creative repair work by four city workers improvised a splint across the Hampton Arroyo between Sabena Street and Martinez Lane.

"With optimal conditions, by the time we get all the manpower and all the equipment, I expect the total repair work to take 150 to 200 days, basically a year," Ostrander said. "We're going to have to hire three or four more people to help complete the work."

He said its the worst time of year for major repair projects.

My biggest fear is fall, mid-October through mid-November, when we are street sweeping the ton of leaves that are dumped all over the city in a pretty quick period of time," Ostrander said.

Melissa Hamlin. a 44-year-old medical assistant, lives right in front of a failing portion of Sabena Street that is cracking and crumbling into the swollen arroyo. She called the city public works department when she noticed the utility pole across the street began tipping toward the arroyo last month.

"Used to be that you could walk a lot closer to arroyo, but now that's clearly not a good idea," Hamlin said. "I'm not mad at anybody. I just hope they can get to repairing all of the damage soon."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.