Residents of the new Rancho Nuevo subdivision spoke publicly at the Nov. 15 Grand County Commission meeting and described an ongoing nightmare: stormwater repeatedly flooding their crawl spaces, garages and properties during multiple rain events this year. They say the subdivision developer’s poorly designed and constructed stormwater management system is to blame for the flooding, and that county officials inappropriately approved the inadequate system; they’re asking the county to take responsibility for the damage.

“The county approved this disastrous mess, and now has the obligation to right this wrong,” said Jason Goldsmith, a homeowner who spoke at length on behalf of himself and his wife as well as others in the neighborhood.

Water, water everywhere

“We’ve had stormwater flow into our garages and crawl spaces, the unwelcome terra-forming of our driveways and lots, and mud and other debris deposited on concrete and other surfaces,” Goldsmith said.

He told the commission that he had submitted a GRAMA request to the county for all correspondence related to the subdivision, and in reading over 300 pages of documents, he had the impression that county officials became exhausted with trying to prod a reluctant developer to design and build the development according to code. Goldsmith concluded that the county failed to follow through in ensuring that the developer met standards.

Sarah Finocchio, another homeowner in the subdivision, also described an ongoing ordeal with her home and property.

“So many things on my home were not done to code and the county approved a complete mess on this development of eight brand new homes and made the homeowners pay the price for the county’s negligence,” Finocchio said. “The county failed us and needs to take responsibility for what happened in this development.”

She said the county should reimburse her costs for repairing her home.

“I am in the tens of thousands of dollars chasing and fixing all the issues that exist in my home because of the county’s negligence,” she said.

Trista Winder, another homeowner in the subdivision, described how she and her husband rushed outside with shovels during rainstorms and thunderstorms to dig ditches in an attempt to divert water from their home.

“There’s water in my crawlspace; my retention pond failed; my neighbor’s retention pond failed above us,” Winder said, concluding that it would be a “huge help” for the county to reimburse their flood management costs.

Rancho Nuevo

The Rancho Nuevo subdivision was controversial from its beginning, with neighbors expressing concerns about its effects on the character of the neighborhood where it was proposed; the ability of fire and emergency personnel and equipment to reach all the homes; and flooding and stormwater management. Some of these concerns were assuaged when the developers reduced the number of proposed units from 13 to eight. In minutes from a Jan. 13, 2020 Planning Commission meeting, comments on the subdivision from nearly 20 members of the public are paraphrased, and over half of those comments mention water as a concern.

At that meeting, property owner Sheri Griffith described how a retention pond in the Rancho Nuevo subdivision plan would drain onto her property if it overflowed, which, she said, it would do if it were allowed to fill with sediment and debris over time.

“Who’s going to police it?” she asked in 2020. “Does the county police it? Does the HOA police it? Do I go up? I have no authority to make them clean the pond, to dredge it… my only recourse is a civil lawsuit against the HOA. The developer is gone–they’re long gone, developing something else, so it’s innocent parties that get the brunt of that.”

Current residents of the Rancho Nuevo subdivision said they’ve reached out to the developer about the drainage plan and flooding.

“[We] have been met with silence, or being told the same thing repeatedly: that the county approved it all, and has signed off on it, and therefore no improvements will be made,” Goldsmith said.

When it rains it pours

The Moab Sun News was not able to contact the developer or the county engineer, Dave Dillman, before press time. The County Building Inspector, Bill Hulse, said he’s generally responsible for building inspections, not stormwater management; but he also said that the subdivision was compliant with code at the time that it was inspected and approved, and that unless the county is alerted to a code violation, it has no way of knowing about or controlling alterations made to properties after the final inspection. It’s the responsibility of a home buyer to look for issues during the “due diligence” period of a home purchase, Hulse said.

Hulse also noted that with the dramatic rain events of the past two years, following years of drought, officials are getting calls from all corners of the county from people with flooding problems. During dry years, he said, people may fill in drainages or change landscaping without realizing that those changes affect water flows in wet years.

Roads Department Director Bill Jackson, who gave a report at the Nov. 15 meeting, said his staff have spent a lot of time addressing flood damage this year; he conservatively estimated the department had moved 1100 tons of flood debris from roadways and detention basins.

“It’s an unprecedented amount of water,” Hulse said.