Mohave County needs feds help to stop flooding issue

TOPOCK – Red tape is preventing Mohave County from doing the work necessary to keep the Old Route 66 crossing on the Oatman Highway from flooding.

Mohave County is seeking a right-of-way permit with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enter the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge to remove a man-made berm that county officials blame for flooding near the Sacramento Wash. Recent monsoon rainstorms have twice flooded the road about a half-mile from Exit 1 on Interstate 40, said Steve Latoski, Mohave County director of public works.

The berm exacerbates flood events by picking up sediment and debris as it rushes toward Oatman Highway. The water flow often deposits a large amount of sediment on the roadway.

“Until we get the right-of-way permits this is going to, unfortunately, keep happening,” Latoski said.

Latoski added Refuge officials are working in cooperation to secure the federal permit. The slow pace of government has been frustrating, said Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson.

“The problem is something we’ve had forever,” Johnson said. “I’ve said let’s sue the railroad for building a dam above the wash to divert the river for a train track I don’t believe they ever built.”

Because of the berm, Johnson said, the water flow leaves its natural course – the Sacramento Wash – and causes roadway flooding.

“We can come in and push the dirt around on the road, but we can’t go in on the riverside because it’s federal land,” Johnson said. “We are prevented from going there because the dirt we cut builds up the berm and we can’t cut that down because it’s still considered federal land. Without a permit to enter the area water pools there.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says efforts to mitigate flooding may impact areas that have traditional religious and cultural importance to Native American tribes.

“Until we can get the channel where it should be, we can’t do anything to make this right and stop the flooding, Johnson said.