SPRING MOUNTAINS RECREATION AREA (KLAS) — The U.S. Forest Service describes it as “a race against the clock” — repairing communities in the Spring Mountains after the August storm and before winter and wet weather that could add time to the process.
While a vast majority of the work is done, officials say, other work in some of the most popular locations on the mountain will take millions of dollars and potentially two years or more.
Repairs have now lasted 70 days, the amount of time 69-year-old Jay Lytle said it took for water to be reconnected to his Old Town Subdivision home. Before the repairs, he and his neighbors were offered showers at the nearby Retreat Lodge.
“Nobody expected a river 18 inches deep from where we’re standing over to the highway,” Lytle said outside his home Thursday, just an hour after the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD) reconnected water. “We’d never seen anything like this happen before.”
Most other subdivisions were reconnected within a few weeks of the storm, though Corey Enus with LVVWD says flood debris prevented water from turning back on to the Old Town subdivision until now. He says 30 to 40 properties are still not connected. Some of those are not occupied year-round, and water should be back by the end of next week.
“We didn’t have access to be able to get to where we needed to, in order to be able to identify what the problems were in order to fix the problems,” Enus said during a Thursday morning press conference 15 miles up Kyle Canyon Road from the valley.
Hope is shining through the trees as U.S. Forest Service Area Manager Deborah MacNeill said 99% of the recreation area is now safe enough for the public. Making it safe was costly.
Some of the trails are still a casserole of the elements and expected to cost over $25 million to repair over two years. This includes trails to Mary Jane Falls and Cathedral Rock and the Bristlecone Pine Trail. MacNeill said those popular trails are “kind of gone.”
The problem: Mother Nature has created new directions for water to drain down the mountain, which now includes areas once used for hiking.
“My folks have had to go in with crosscut saws. You can’t use a chainsaw in a wilderness area,” MacNeill said during the conference. “In some drainages, it’s going to be hard to know how to rebuild a sustainable trail in an area that is still kind of an active drainage.”
The two-year timeline is what MacNeill says is standard for non-emergency closures, but has hopes that some other areas could reopen by the Spring. In the meantime, federal and local funding to rebuild and reroute trails is being sought out.
“The destination is the waterfalls, right? But we can’t get there from where we used to get there,” MacNeill said. “We’re going to pursue funding from any avenue we can.”
While the driving routes up the mountain were left with chunks taken out of them – preventing safe travel to both visitors and residents for weeks – most now have new striping paint drying on them.
Lee Canyon Road (SR 156) reopened Thursday. Weather permitting, the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) expects to reopen Kyle Canyon Road (SR 157), which had over 3,300 feet of damages, on Nov. 3 and Deer Creek Road (SR 158), considered the most impacted route, on Nov. 10.
District Engineer Mario Gomez said that roads may not wash away as easily the next time there’s a 1,000-year storm, citing reinforcement upgrades and sewer drains installed “decades” ago that have now been replaced with pipes twice the size. In total, it’s an $11 million repair, he said.
“We’ve armored the shoulders with large boulders, and then we grouted the gaps between the boulders with concrete,” Gomez said during the conference.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOUR WINTER RECREATION
While crews work to reinforce some of the newly formed channels for flooding, the U.S. Forest Service still expects to open much of the recreation areas by the winter. Lee Canyon confirms the ski resort has emerged from the storm relatively unscathed. Facilities were untouched and ski lifts – once buried underneath debris runoff – have been restored.
“The chairlift did survive,” Lee Canyon Ski Resort Marketing Director Jim Seely said after the conference. “I believe with all of our heavy machinery, it was more than 200 loads that we had to basically dig out for the large dump trucks to haul away. We would use that to backfill, basically, all the erosion.”
A new closure order for the Spring Mountains goes into effect at 12 a.m. Friday morning, which minimizes much of the restriction in effect since after the hurricane. But, for those thinking to venture into the areas that remain off-limits, it may be unsafe and costly.
“If people are going to go and break those closure orders, it’s going to be very hard for us to get in there and get people out of there,” Mount Charleston Fire Protection District Assistant Chief Jason Douglas said during the conference, insinuating that most rescues would require a helicopter operation.
The U.S. Forest service says fines for breaking the order can be between $5,000 to $10,000, carrying a potential six-month jail sentence.