Damage to Riverside Park in Evans remains nearly three years after the devastating September 2013 flood. Christopher Wood / BizWest

Wading through challenges to rebuild park in Evans

Riverside Park, rendering - Evans, Colo.
Artist rendering of the proposed Riverside Park in Evans. Courtesy City of Evans

EVANS — Referring to the process of rebuilding Riverside Park as “complex” is an understatement, according to Kristan Williams, communications manager with the city of Evans.

“ ‘Devastated’ is the only word that completely captures what happened,” she said, referring to what was left after Colorado’s 2013 flood.

To rebuild a park that meets Federal Emergency Management Agency and Environmental Protection Agency requirements alone is presenting challenges that keep the city more than busy with the $14 million to $16 million project.

Matching dollars, protecting people and the environment from what the flood uncovered and developing a park that can withstand future floods continue to top the list of priorities.

The finished result is expected to be open in early 2018.

To date, eight grants that total $11.2 million have been approved to cover the cost of rebuilding Riverside Park. The city is required to match about $760,000 of that.

“The city of Evans just doesn’t have that kind of money sitting in its coffers,” Williams said, adding that money that’s been granted isn’t money the city gets upfront. Also, if any work is done that doesn’t go through the lengthy approval process, the money never will be reimbursed.

With an additional $2.8 million to $4.8 million still needed to fund the project, Evans continues to seek grants. “GOCO gives grants out every year, and if we don’t get enough, it means that some things just don’t get put back,” she said.

Reducing amenities such as concessions could be the result if the dollars don’t come in.

In addition to the widespread devastation Evans and much of the rest of the state experienced because of the September 2013 flood, a berm breach along the South Platte River allowed rising waters to carve out a new path.

“The water continued to flow in and didn’t recede, uncovering a noncertified, nondocumented landfill,” Williams said. “It’s not uncommon because in the ‘50s and ‘60s, people used to dump old refrigerators down by the river. That’s just what they did.”

Unfortunately, debris from the landfill spread all over the 100-acre park.  Making sure the cleanup meets state, FEMA and EPA safety guidelines and protects residents as well as the environment has added another layer to the renovation project.

Because of this and other environmental impacts, Williams quoted James Redmond, the state recovery liaison, as saying: “You are working on the most complicated environmental analysis in the state of Colorado right now.”

It’s these additional impacts that are stretching the park rebuilding project out so far, she said. “It’s not what people think — that we should be able to just put on a pair of gloves and clean the area up.”

Residents have at times misunderstood the process of putting the park back together, Williams said. Rather than fencing the area off and putting the project on hold, it was fenced as a safety measure because of the potential health hazards as well as the physical terrain dangers.

“When things get wet. they expand, and when they dry, they contract,” she said.  The process caused ground under Riverside’s sidewalks and ball fields to break through and leave gaping holes, pits and uneven surfaces.

“Floodwaters carved huge concrete slabs and dumped them in various places.”

Creating a park that will be flood resistant, one of FEMA’s requirements, is as time-consuming as creating a park that appeals to the current public.

“It’s a given that there will be another flood at some point, so we have to be sure to allow for minimal property damage,” Williams said.  “For example, you can’t put structures in the path of a flood, so the ball fields will be elevated.

“We did the research and know where the water will want to go — and water will always win.”

With efforts and dollars from local businesses, Williams said, the lake in Riverside Park was cleaned up and opened for picnicking and fishing for the one-year anniversary of the 2013 flood.

“It was the least damaged and is a lovely and quiet place,” she said.

The next step in the rebuild is to finish the design and engineering. “We are currently at 60 percent,” she said.  That phase should be completed in November, and then the city will put the job out to bid.

“The city is more eager to get the park open than anyone, and we recognize that residents are frustrated that it’s not open yet,” Williams said. “We’re very excited about the project and plan to get the funding and to do it right so we can have a fabulous amenity here.”

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