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Mesa County Declares Emergency After Massive Mudslide

Collbran, Landslide, West Salt Creek Mudslide
Mesa County Sheriff's Office

Mesa County implemented an emergency declaration Tuesday following Sunday's massive mudslide near the town of Collbran.

KVNF's Laura Palmisano spoke with Mesa County administrator Tom Fisher about the declaration and what it means for the area following the West Salt Creek Mudslide.  

In the interview Fisher explained there is an immense body of water building up behind the collapsed ridge on the edge of the Grand Mesa that is now acting like a natural dam, and officials fear it could burst sending a large pool of water and a secondary landslide towards homes and oil and gas production sites.

Fisher said the Mesa County Sheriff's Office has set up a reverse 911 alert system for cell phones and landlines to warn people if another slide occurs.


PALMISANO: Why has Mesa County declared a state of emergency? 

FISHER: We've declared a local emergency simply because the aftermath of the West Salt Creek Mudslide has indicated that there's a large pool of water building up behind the main slide from runoff from the [Grand] Mesa. And we're concerned about that because as it begins to grow behind this new earthen dam that's been built by nature it has the potential to release a large body of water quickly if it breaks. So, we are concerned about that as well as further slide activity as a result of this. And so we want to alert obviously the state and federal emergency management folks through this emergency declaration. And make sure that they can help us assess those risks as we move into the next few days.

PALMISANO: What's the risk to energy production and property in the area? 

FISHER: We're mainly focused on the risk to life and property in the area. Obviously this is a mountainous area and there's downstream concerns if there is a release of water. 

PALMISANO: I recall at Tuesday's press conference, Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said the sheriff's office was working to set-up an early alert system. What do you know about that?

FISHER: I don't think it's anything more than human alert although I heard also the sheriff speak about a reverse 911 system for both cell service and landline service. I believe that has been put in place or is being put into place at the present time, but beyond that we don't have much available at this time. 

PALMISANO: And, what are you seeking assistance wise from the federal government?

FISHER: From both the state level and federal level essentially [we are seeking] expertise in the aftermath of mudslides, geological survey help [and] any help that can provide sight of or onsite visual evidence to us that we can look at on a regular basis to see if there's movement or water build up. Those are the type of things we don't have the capability to do largely and ongoing. And, there's also a concern that the water build up coming off the mesa and this main slide is all on Forest Service property so there is a jurisdiction issue as far as where the concerns are in relation to where the Mesa County concerns are. 

PALMISANO: So, how will that be resolved? 

FISHER: Simply through this emergency declaration, this gives us the authority and gives the federal and state levels the authority for us to work together officially. And, then those things will be worked out between the agencies in agreements that will come forth from this emergency declaration. 

PALMISANO: Is the declaration a formal document yet? 

FISHER: From a procedural standpoint state law gives the county executive, myself, the authority to declare an emergency so that we don't have to wait for an elected body to get together to do that. We will ratify it. The County Board of Commissioners will ratify it on Monday at their regular board meeting, but it is in affect.

Laura joined KVNF in 2014. She was the news director for two years and now works as a freelance reporter covering Colorado's Western Slope. Laura is an award-winning journalist with work recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, Colorado Broadcasters Association, and RTDNA. In 2015, she was a fellow for the Institute for Justice & Journalism. Her fellowship project, a three-part series on the Karen refugee community in Delta, Colorado, received a regional Edward R. Murrow Award.
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