BELEN — In the aftermath of the devastating flood that swept through Belen last week, the city and other entities are continuing to assess the damage as well as cleaning up as much as possible.

Makayla Grijalva | News-Bulletin photo
Crews continue working to shore up the Highline Canal at Delgado Avenue. This was the site of a major breach that sent millions of gallons of water into the city of Belen last Tuesday.

During an emergency meeting Monday, the Belen City Council prioritized a list for the city’s administration and the Emergency Operations Center about how to move forward this week. Steven Gonzales, the emergency manager for the city, said the EOC is in need of direction from the council.

“We are at a point where we are changing operations from the emergency standpoint to clean up,” Gonzales said. “We have mitigated all the emergency situations city-wide. Now we want to focus on what you all feel are the major impacts to the city.”

Gonzales told the council he needed three to five objectives to give to the EOC based off of the governing body’s observations and recommendations.

“We would like to have an end goal of Wednesday (for emergency operations). Up to Friday is available with the possibility of moving it that far,” he said Monday. “We’re looking at the potential of demobilizing the EOC either today or tomorrow and moving strictly to city of Belen operations and functions, with our own personnel and equipment.”

The list the city council compiled includes:

  • Emergency declaration from the state for additional funding
  • Updated status on shoring up ditches at Castillo and Didier avenues and Gilbert Street
  • Seek approval from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District regarding allowing the city to drain the holding pond at Eagle Park into the irrigation ditch
  • Compile a list of resources for private residents and commercial property owners, including the American Red Cross
  • Ongoing clean-up of city streets and storm drains

Councilor Frank Ortega said he hoped the city and MRGCD could consider an agreement or understanding that the city could divert run-off water in one of it’s holding ponds to an irrigation ditch.

“We have hundreds of thousands of water over there at Eagle Park,” Ortega said. “It seems to me that we could divert the water into the ditch. It would cost us thousands of dollars if we pump all that water out. Right now, (the ditch) is empty.”

Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo
Charles Montoya, owner of AC Disposal Services in Belen, volunteers in the clean-up effort in Belen. He an others volunteered their time and equipment after last week’s flood.

VOLUNTEERS WHO HELPED

Curbside Towing, Jacob Martinez

Yucca Veterinary Medical Center, Dr. Florian Sanchez

AC Disposal Services

Valencia County Fire Department

Village of Los Lunas

Village of Bosque Farms

Valencia County

Bernalillo County

Socorro County

First Baptist Church

NM Baptist Disaster Relief

Calvary Chapel Rio Grande Valley

Facebook Data Center in Los Lunas

Walmart – Belen

Greases Pieces, Chris Gabaldon

Franks and A&A Pumping Septic Works

Triple T Pumping

He also wanted to know the status of the state of emergency declaration from the state, saying he’s not sure why it hasn’t happened yet.

Councilor Danny Bernal Jr. concurred, saying he spoke with U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan’s team, who told them they have no say as to the state’s response.

“We’ve asked the governor’s office, but they aren’t responding,” Bernal said.

Ortega said the financial threshold the city has to meet for an emergency declaration from the state is $281,844. Roseann Peralta, the city’s finance director, said the city of Belen has already spent $233,900, but that doesn’t include employee overtime.

“We’re way over the threshold,” Peralta said. “We have made requests for funding from Homeland Security, and the preliminary request was for $440,000.”

Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said he too has concerns about an emergency declaration, saying he wants to know if other parts of the state that have flooded have received the declaration from the state. He also wants to continue informing residents and business owners about support, including the American Red Cross’ efforts in assisting homeowners.

“About 50 percent of the gravesites at Our Lady of Belen are damaged,” Cordova said. “Of course it’s private, but we’re pulling together resources to assist them.”

In accordance with the state’s anti-donation clause, the city or state can’t lend or give private home and business owners direct financial support, including providing government-employee time and resources.

Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo
Martin Lopez, of Fortis Construction, volunteered his time and energy on Friday to help shovel dirt and silt at Delgado Avenue and Mesa Road.

The mayor is also wanting crews to continue to asses the status of ditches and holding ponds in the city.

“I want to ensure we are having regular status checks on the sandbags, and to let people know where they are and how to get them,” the mayor said. “There is still trash and debris clean up related to private property, and some folks are piling it on city roads. In the past, the city would go out and collect it.”

Councilor Robert Noblin said there is still a lot of water on the roadway at Bernard Avenue and Third Street, where he saw a woman who is wheelchair bound trying to sweep away the water.

Ortega suggested the council discuss establishing a flood control authority at its next meeting on Monday, July 19. He said the authority could include Belen, Valencia and Socorro counties, MRGCD and other entities that could apply for federal funding for infrastructure that would alleviate the threat of flooding to the area.

Steven Tomita, the city’s planning and economic manager, told the council that a flood authority would be an independent entity that could meet with the MRGCD and could possible coordinate efforts to come up with a solution.

“The (flood control) authority would represent the whole story verses independent agencies putting it together like peace meal,” Tomita said.

Belen City Manager Andrew Salas said he will reach out to MRGCD official and ask them to present their roles and responsibilities at the next city council meeting.

The city crews, along side other entities, such as Valencia, Bernalillo Socorro and Sandoval counties, and the village of Los Lunas that are helping with clean-up, there have been private volunteers who have come to the Hub City to help.

Fortis Construction, the company building the Facebook Data Center in Los Lunas, sent a crew out Friday to help clean up mud and debris at the intersection of Mesa Road and Delgado Avenue.

Joe Silva, with Fortis, said his superintendent asked his crew to come out and assist the city.

“We have a couple of guys out here — we wanted to do our best to help and clean up the area,” Silva said. “It means a lot to me because I used to do this kind of stuff back in the day. I used to be a city employee in Albuquerque, and I used to do this kind of stuff. It’s pretty bad, but we’re going to do the best we can to help.”

Dumpsters can also be found at the following locations for convenience:

  • N. Fifth St. at Garcia Ave.
  • Aragon Road at Mesa Road
  • N. 10th St. at Esperanza Dr.
  • Delgado Ave. at Mesa Road
  • Baca Ave. near Second St.
  • Belen City Hall parking lot

Shortly after the breach of the canal, the New Mexico Chapter of the American Red Cross opened a shelter at Dennis Chavez Elementary in Los Chavez to give people impacted by the flooding a safe place to stay and connect with resources.

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
Rachelle Hill, left, and her mother, Vickie Hill, right, speak to Red Cross volunteer Stuart Dietz at the Belen Public Library last Friday. The organization had staff in the Hub City after last weeks flood to connect those impacted with clean-up resources.

The shelter stayed open through the weekend, and the Red Cross established multi-agency resource centers throughout the weekend and into the beginning of this week.

On Friday, Sandra Darling-Roberts, the Red Cross disaster program manager for central New Mexico, said the organization was “definitely seeing big numbers” in terms of people needing assistance.

“We’ve had about 100 people come in,” Darling-Roberts said. “We are gathering information on people’s unmet needs — for food, water, shelter, cleaning supplies.

In the initial stages of its response, the Red Cross worked to establish the scope of the disaster, which meant it was important for residents impacted by the flooding to make contact with the organization so their needs could be understood, she said.

While the Red Cross can provide some direct services and assistance, Darling-Roberts said the organization also helps connect families with various partners, such as New Mexico Baptist Disaster Relief which offers muck-out services for residential properties.

“We share information with partners to get the services needed to the community,” she said. “Our initial priority is finding out what people need. Do they need shovels? Do they need people to use those shovels?”

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin, as well as the executive editor of El Defensor Chieftain, the News-Bulletin's sister paper in Socorro.
Clara is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.

Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.