Town looks for new space to house police department
By Marcy Stamper
Winthrop Marshal Hal Henning and his staff have squeezed in with other town personnel after a heavy downpour flooded the marshal’s basement offices with at least 3 inches of filthy water last Tuesday (July 26).
“Right now, we’re just stuffing everyone upstairs,” said Winthrop Mayor Sue Langdalen.
As water accumulated in the basement, town staff waded in to grab computers and other equipment, said Michelle Gaines, the town’s clerk/treasurer. “We were walking in the water trying to unplug everything. It happened really fast once it started flooding,” she said.
Gaines and her colleagues also emptied the bottom drawers of filing cabinets and picked up anything that was on the floor. Important papers and documents were already stored in plastic bins, a precaution taken after the marshal’s office flooded two years ago. The only supplies lost were some envelopes and other stationery, said Gaines.
While files and office equipment survived, all the drywall, wooden wall paneling and flooring had to be torn out and thrown away. Workers from Emergency Remediation Services of Omak were already at work the day after the flood, ripping up walls and floor and drying out the rooms with industrial fans.
While town employees expect the space will be dry and walls and floor repaired within a few weeks, “No one will go back in the basement to work,” said Langdalen. After the second flood in two years, the risk of mold was too great, she said. “Mold grows — it just doesn’t get out of there,” she said.
Langdalen said the town has begun looking for space outside of the building for the police department. The marshal’s office already wanted to relocate to offices that would be accessible to the disabled and would not require officers to navigate a flight of stairs when someone is brought in for processing after an arrest, said Gaines.
The town of Winthrop owns the town hall and marshal’s office, so any new space would likely mean paying rent or a mortgage, and the town doesn’t have much money available, said Langdalen. Henning has already proposed increasing salaries for himself and deputies, but the town council hasn’t made a decision on his request.
Having two or three people from the marshal’s office share the space with the six staffers in town hall — the mayor, clerk and planning and building staff — is not a long-term solution, said Langdalen, who gave up her desk to accommodate police staff. Winthrop already holds meetings in the kitchen.
The marshal’s office also needs secure areas. Employees were able to lock confidential police documents in a closet for now, said Gaines.
Even once it’s repaired, Langdalen said the town will use the marshal’s office only for storage and possibly short meetings because of health risks posed by mold.
Henning — on the job less than two months — was out of town last week but told Langdalen they shouldn’t worry and that he would “jump in and start rolling” when he comes back, said the mayor.
Winthrop’s insurance will cover the remediation and repairs, said Gaines.
Several years ago, concerns about the marshal’s office space prompted then-Marshal Dave Dahlstrom to suggest that the town purchase what is now the Methow Valley Ciderhouse building on Highway 20 and convert it to police headquarters. That proposal didn’t get very far, in large part because of the expense.
Unusually heavy rain
People who described the storm as epic — it lasted about an hour and produced a torrent of rain and hail — are correct that it was particularly powerful.
Winthrop recorded 1.22 inches of precipitation on Tuesday, according to John Livingston, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Spokane. “That’s a healthy amount of rain for the summer in Eastern Washington,” he said.
The average precipitation for all of July in Winthrop is .75 inches, said Livingston, so Tuesday’s storm produced more than one-and-a-half times that amount in about an hour. Winthrop also received .29 inches of rain on July 22 and .03 inches on July 27, he said.
Mazama got .27 inches on the 22 and .53 inches on the July 27. There was no precipitation registered in Mazama on July 26, but reported data can vary because the volunteers who monitor the rain gauges don’t always check them at the same time each day, said Livingston. There are no gauges in Twisp and the results from Methow have not been provided yet.
Nancy Studer, who lives in Edelweiss, was driving from Mazama to Winthrop on Tuesday when a muddy deluge 2 feet deep swept across Highway 20. “A road was funneling a huge amount of brown water across the highway,” but it disappeared within half an hour, she said.
The wet and unsettled weather is part of a trough of low pressure that has been hanging over the western United States for the past eight to 10 weeks. The low pressure has brought thunderstorms from the west, along with moisture from the Pacific Ocean, said Livingston. A more typical pattern is for summer thunderstorms to come to this area from the south. Those storms carry less precipitation, said Livingston.
The low-pressure trough is not part of any larger weather phenomenon like El Niño or La Niña. It is responsible for the hotter temperatures that have been roasting the middle of the country, said Livingston.
The forecast for the coming week is for a frontal passage that will bring cooler temperatures, strong winds, and drier weather, said Livingston.
Tuesday’s storm also caused relatively minor damage to the gravel portion of Bear Creek Road near Pearrygin Lake State Park, which had been cleared by the next day. Mud and debris slides — the largest at Pearrygin Creek — also closed Ramsey Road (Forest Service Road 100) which goes from Bear Creek Road at the shooting range past Pearrygin Creek and up toward Sullivan Pond.
A major mudslide in the canyon where Pearrygin Creek flows closed Ramsey Road and inundated surrounding property with hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of debris in 2011.
When the U.S. Forest Service repaired the road five years ago, engineers designed it as a ford crossing because they anticipated more debris flows as the area — prone to erosion after the Tripod Fire — equalizes, said Mike Liu, the Methow Valley District Ranger.
Allowing the creek to flow across the road means that logs and rocks can be scraped off the roadway, rather than risking a plugged a culvert and causing the road to fail, said Liu.
The storm also caused a significant mud and debris slide on the upper end of Falls Creek Road, which is now impassable, said Liu. The Falls Creek slide clearly originated from the Falls Creek Fire in 2014, said Liu.
The Forest Service hopes road crews can clear up the debris on Ramsey Road within the week. There is no estimate for reopening of Falls Creek Road, said Liu.