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Officials developing hazard mitigation plan

Local governments and their consultant have completed a draft of an updated plan to address natural hazards, but Roswell-Chaves County Emergency Manager Karen Sanders, seen at a meeting on Tuesday afternoon, says people are still encouraged to complete surveys and participate before the plan is adopted by the county and municipalities. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The biggest risks for Chaves County in terms of naturally caused hazards in coming years are projected to be drought, floods, wildfires, tornadoes and severe storms involving rain, snow, winds or lightning.

Dam failures are considered to be in the low-risk category, in spite of severe flooding in some parts of the county in 2021 due in part to a levee breech, but local officials have added action items intended to reduce flooding risks.

Those are some of the conclusions of the draft of an updated Chaves County Hazard Mitigation Plan being developed by area public safety and government officials.

Karen Sanders, Roswell-Chaves County Emergency Manager, said that work began on the update in 2019 and that public input is still wanted.

“We will have a couple of different meetings where we will allow public participation,” she said. That will include meetings where the county and its four municipalities will decide whether to adopt the updated plan.

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She added that people are encouraged to make their comments and views known to the planning group by responding to an online survey. The link to the survey is posted on the city of Roswell website, https://www.roswell-nm.gov/272/Emergency-Management.

The draft of the plans is also posted on the Emergency Management pages of the city and the county’s websites. The county website is chavescounty.gov.

“It is a living document,” Sanders said.

According the plan, which has been developed with the help of the engineering firm AECOM, the Chaves County Hazard Mitigation Plan is required by some state and federal rules and also must be updated every five years by the county and its four municipalities so that they can be eligible for grants and financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Mitigation plans outline steps and plans to reduce the risk or the likelihood of damage due to known natural threats. The plans are part of local communities’ emergency management efforts, with other aspects including preparedness, response and recovery.

Sanders said that the draft will now go to the state for its approval. After that, it will go to FEMA for its review. She said she hopes that the FEMA review will be completed by the end of 2021 so that the plan can then be adopted by Chaves County, the city of Roswell and the towns of Dexter, Hagerman and Lake Arthur.

The update includes three new action items intended to be addressed in five years: to install backup power systems for all critical public buildings in the area; to evaluate and reconstruct county flood control structures; and to revisit efforts to have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers install a gate that would close off the Rocky Arroyo Dam, one of the two dams in the Twin Rivers Dam Project west of Roswell.

The last two action items follow the 100-year rainstorms in June 2021 that resulted in significant damage to some properties in south Roswell and the Midway area and a state emergency declaration to provide financial assistance for public infrastructure and buildings. Local flood control officials consider the lack of a gate on the Rocky Arroyo dam a major factor leading to the levee breech and the flooding.

Kelly Keefe with AECOM said that it is recommended that governments plan for ways to reduce the risks of most of the natural hazards they face, even if they are not considered high risk, so that requests for funding can be made in the future.

According to the plan, dam failure received a 2.1 Priority Risk Index score, which is developing by looking at data about the frequency, severity, financial losses and injuries and deaths of past hazards. The only lower score was received by expansive soils, with 2.0.

But flooding is ranked as the second-highest risk in the area with a PRI score of 3.0. First was severe weather at 3.3. Others hazards considered top five risks are drought (2.8), tornado (2.7) and winter storm (2.7).

Another finding of the study is that the five local governmental entities have an average mitigation capability assessment score of 50.8, which falls in the “moderate” category of the scale that goes to 100 possible points. Chaves County and the city of Roswell had “high” capability ratings of 69 and 63. Dexter, Hagerman and Lake Arthur all had “moderate” capability ratings ranging from 34 for Lake Arthur to 47 for Hagerman.

“You don’t want to think of this like a grade,” said Keefe. “You don’t think of this as a 50% out of 100. If you are a 100% capacity, that means you don’t need federal intervention at all, that you … don’t need any of those things. You will not be eligible for any grant funding for anything if you are at 100%.”

She added that no government entity, including federal entities she has worked with during the past 15 years, has had 100% mitigation capacity.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.