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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Longmont 2013 flood commemoration tour highlights resilience

Several Front Range communities have spent this week looking back on the legacy of the 2013 flood. Longmont is no exception, and to round out the commemorative events, guests were given an up-close look at impacted areas via trolley car.

On Saturday morning, trolley tours took participants to three key stops around the city. At each stop, flood recovery team members gave personal accounts of their experiences from 10 years ago and answered questions from the group.

Saturday’s tours had a total of 61 registrants out of 66 slots. Marijke Unger, communications director for the city, said the tour idea came from a desire to celebrate Longmont’s “spirit of community” and showcase the connection between different recovery projects.

“I think people don’t often get to see all those pieces or don’t know them as a connected story,” Unger said. “So it was really about being able to tell that story with a little bit of continuity.”

After departing from the Longmont Museum, where tour guests had the chance to check out the new 2013 flood photo exhibit, the BrewHop Trolley arrived at the first stop: Kanemoto Park. There, Longmont police officer Daniel Kilian recalled going door-to-door in the surrounding neighborhoods to check on residents as the water rose.

“Even though there wasn’t a whole lot of water on the street side, the backyards were much lower,” Kilian told the dozen guests on Saturday’s final tour. “So we did have people who were still asleep in their basements as the water was coming through their window wells.”

Kanemoto Park was the last park the city reopened after the flood. Its pool today sits in a different location than the one 10 years ago, which was destroyed by floodwaters.

“When it was flooded, the neighbors actually came back and said, ‘We’d like to design it again, we’d like to be part of that process,’” explained Assistant City Manager Sandi Seader. “(It’s) really a testament to our neighborhood group leaders.”

The second tour stop was the vacant lot that used to house the Royal Mobile Home Park on Boston Avenue. Carmen Ramirez, community and neighborhood resources manager for the city, pointed to the fenced-off area and asked guests to think about the 50 families who were displaced because of the water and later relocated.

“We’re talking about seniors, we’re talking about Latino families,” Ramirez said. “Connections are so important. Know your neighbors. Know if they have pets, if they have an elderly person living with them, so you can help them.”

Seader shared that the Longmont City Council covered disposal fees for the homes in the wake of the flood. Today, the city owns the land and plans to build affordable housing in the area.

At Dickens Farm Nature Area, the final stop, tour guests gathered around picnic tables next to the St. Vrain Creek to hear from city employees about flood recovery projects. Peter Gibbons, disaster recovery officer for the city, said Longmont is particularly unique in being able to retain 100% of its FEMA funding.

“That took an effort that spanned from our engineering department to our finance teams to our housing group and so on,” Gibbons said. “We all ended up working exceptionally well together to make a really positive outcome for the city. And you’re getting to see one of the rewards of that today, which is Dickens Farm Nature Area.”

Molly O’Donnell, housing director for the city, talked about the $76 million of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding that Longmont brought in to administer recovery projects throughout Boulder County.

“Yesterday, we got word that our final expenditure on the Boston Avenue bridge is going through,” O’Donnell said, prompting applause from the tour guests. “So here we are, 10 years later, and we’ve spent every penny.”

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