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Draper Journal

Summer storm catches city, residents by surprise

Sep 07, 2023 02:32PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

Heavy rain caused this landslide which intern caused the closure of the intersection at 1300 East and Highland Drive until crews could clear the road and deem the area and home above safe. (Linnea Lundgren/City Journals)

The morning after Draper got more than two inches of rain in one hour, city officials called it a 100-year storm. Not two weeks later, with more time to collect information and assess damages, Mayor Troy Walker referred to it as a 400- or 500-year weather event. 

“This was not a typical storm in any regard,” City Manager David Dobbins said. 

Regardless of if it was a century storm or a 500-year weather event, Draper was the epicenter of high winds, rapid lightning, powerful thunder and a deluge of rain that left an estimated $10.5 million in damages. There was no advance warning, though National Weather Service emergency alerts were broadcast shortly after the storm began and named Draper as an area of high impact. Sirens were heard soon after the start of the storm as fire and emergency crews responded to calls, rescuing people from cars stranded in water, and setting up roadblocks on flooded and damaged roads. “Our police and fire departments were out immediately,” Dobbins said. No injuries were reported.

It began at approximately 8:30 p.m. Aug. 3 and lasted just over one hour. Draper got “almost the entire summer’s average rain in one night,” reported KSL weatherman Kevin Eubank. According to Eubank, Draper measured 2.25 inches of rain, far and away the most among nearby communities. Holladay was second at 1.37 inches, Herriman at 1.35 inches, Riverton at .89 inches and Sandy at .83 inches. 

The mayor declared a State of Emergency in the wee hours of the morning Aug. 4. “I think I woke everyone up that night and they all responded,” Walker said. Later that day, he held a press conference and praised the rapid response of city employees, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, and county crews for their willingness to help. “Within an hour (of calling Wilson), the county had equipment in Draper City to help—dump trucks, backhoes and two dozen public works employees,” Walker said. They helped Draper City’s employees who were already boots on the ground responding. 

Draper’s public works crew had the idea of using the city’s snow plows to move mud and debris that covered city roads. “That idea came from city crews once they saw how deep the debris was. It worked fairly well in some instances,” Dobbins said. 

Bangerter Parkway was closed through the night and reopened the next morning with only one lane going uphill to South Mountain. The second uphill lane crumbled apart and remains blocked until it can be repaired. Traffic from 1300 East to Highland Drive was blocked because of a large landslide and Minuteman Road was impassable for a period of time due to flooding.

Water yanked manhole covers out of the city’s asphalt streets. Some residents had two to three feet of water and mud in their basements with mattresses and other objects reported to be floating in flooded basements. 

Walker said the city’s detention basins (designed to hold water and release it at a controlled rate) did their job for the most part, but some failed because they weren’t built to withstand such a powerful weather event. “Are these 100-year storms going to happen more often?” Walker wondered at the press conference the next day. Parks and Recreation Director Rhett Ogden indicated that even Southfork Park’s 100-year-storm detention basin overflowed, flooding the park. 

Pat Clinton resides in a gated community that sits on a lower tier of South Mountain, just above Highland Drive and just below a city detention basin. 

“The detention basin filled with water due to the city storm sewer draining into it from Rocky Mouth Road. The overflow system was plugged with debris so the water ran over, cutting a huge path and washing mud, rocks, sand and tree debris down our street. It came to the low spot in the street, washed over that by 2 feet, and ran out onto Highland Drive with such force that it moved cars. The police blocked off Highland until the water quit running,” Clinton said. 

As a result of the powerful water, his neighbor has a hole in his backyard that Clinton estimates measures 20-feet wide and 10-feet deep. Two panels from the concrete fence separating that neighbor’s backyard from Highland Drive were damaged by the force of the water. Several South Mountain homes in the neighborhood above Clinton’s had disaster clean-up companies and dumpsters in front of their homes in the days immediately following the storm. 

Clinton serves as treasurer for his HOA that estimates $22,500 in damages, including the huge hole and destroyed fence in his neighbor’s yard. 

“I am keeping track of everything we’re spending on the problem, and I will show those bills plus pictures to the city,” Clinton said. “We are planning on submitting our bills to the city with little expectation but some hope.” 

Clinton has lived in the Midwest where heavy rain is common and in Phoenix where monsoons occur. “But this was a rain like I’d never seen before. Looking out our front window, you could barely see the houses across the street. I’ve never seen it rain that hard, ever,” he said. 

It’s already a busy and expensive time of year for road work within the city. “This is our road construction season, so we already have city staff assigned to work on those projects, and contractors. While we’re doing those—we have to keep them going—we have to find the resources to allocate toward identifying repairs needed and finding contractors on extremely short notice who can do the repairs. We have to get repairs designed and then get contractors in place and we’re still scrambling to make that happen,” Dobbins said one week after the storm. 

Even City Hall had water in the basement where the court and police department reside. Dobbins described that as “no significant impact,” just a matter of getting the water out and letting it dry.

Then there’s the matter of funding for all the necessary repair work. “We’ll find out what the design will take, what the construction will be, then we’ll have to determine where the funds come from,” Dobbins said. 

City officials request that any home or businesses owners who experienced storm damage register that information through the form found at “Draper’s Emergency Management personnel are collecting data to submit to the county and state as a first step to determining eligibility for emergency funding…if the city meets the eligibility requirements for funding, the funding must first be applied to public infrastructure repairs…if any monies remain, a fund will be established and a process set up for residents and businesses who qualify due to damages to apply for aid,” said a statement from the city.

According to Assistant City Manager Brett Millburn, as of Aug. 15, nearly 400 people reported damage to homes or businesses in addition to damage to the city’s storm systems, roads, parks and trails.

At their Aug. 15 meeting, the city council voted to extend their proclamation of local emergency until Nov. 10. Utah code requires city council approval to extend a state of emergency beyond 30 days. “Hopefully, we’ll have a calm rest of the summer,” Walker said as the council meeting concluded. λ