Groveland residents cleaning up the mess left by the worst flood that many in the town have ever seen said on Friday that more money should to be invested in upgrading water infrastructure and clearing out a creek that overflowed during the storm a day earlier.
“Something’s wrong,” said Patti Beaulieu, manager of Helping Hands Thrift Store at 18730 Highway 120. “We’ve had a lot of rain before but it’s never done anything like this, and now it’s happened two years in a row.”
Beaulieu said the last flooding in the town occurred on Feb. 11, 2017, though not nearly as bad as the flood on Thursday afternoon.
Last year’s flood caused some water to seep into the store she manages, which donates all proceeds to charitable causes, but none of the merchandise was damaged and all Beaulieu needed to do was pressure wash and sweep the floor.
This time, however, about three to four feet of water surged into the store’s storage facility and destroyed all of the furniture that was for sale.
The water pushed most of the furniture toward the back of the building and left behind a thick layer of debris, such as mud, sticks and gravel.
“The power of that water running down the street, it might as well have been an ocean,” Beaulieu said.
Ron Selvey, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors, said he was putting sandbags outside the store when water rushed at him so fast it knocked one of his shoes off. He had to hold onto a pole to keep from getting swept away.
The store plans to begin clean-up in earnest on Monday and has already heard from about 50 volunteers who are willing to help.
Beaulieu and Selvey both remarked about how the community has come together after the storm.
“It’s pretty catastrophic, but we’ll clean it up, hose it out, and be back in business in about two weeks,” Beaulieu said. “One thing about Groveland is everybody helps each other out.”
The people of Groveland also came together during the massive 2013 Rim Fire that significantly reduced the visitor traffic to and from Yosemite National Park, which serves as the town’s economic lifeblood.
More than 20 volunteers were hard at work Friday afternoon inside Mountain Sage, a nursery, coffee shop and community event center at 18653 Highway 120. Earlier in the day, 16 volunteers from two branches of AmeriCorps also helped dig trenches around the nursery to divert water in the event of another major storm.
Chelsea Garcia, owner of the coffee shop, said the water was about six to eight inches deep throughout the building at one point Thursday afternoon. She’s hoping she can get the store open again sometime next week to capitalize on the typical boost from people being out of school for Spring Break.
“I could be operational if I get an OK from the county,” she said. “The biggest loss is the loss of business, especially at a time of year when we’re already seasonally slow.”
Regina Hirsch owns the building that’s been in her family since 1869.
Hirsch’s grandfather, George Laveroni, was born in one of the rooms of the building that used to be a home before it was converted into a business. Her grandmother, Mary Laveroni, who has a park named after her in the town, also lived for a time in a house next door that also flooded.
Groveland Creek, which was the primary cause of the flooding, runs behind the Mountain Sage just before crosses under Highway 120 and then heads east behind the businesses on the other side.
Hirsch said her father, Gary Wilson, told her that both houses have never flooded prior to Thursday’s storm. They have fire insurance for the structures, but not flood insurance.
“I think the county could do more restoration work on the creek and help with a stormwater management plan for the town,” Hirsch said. “I’m so thankful that no one got hurt, but we have to learn a lesson.”
Hirsch said she sees the damage caused by increasingly intense storms in places like Montecito and Ventura through the work she and her husband do with their other business, Sierra Watershed Progressive, which deals with water management.
District 4 County Supervisor John Gray, who represents Groveland and other South County communities, visited Hirsch and other businesses in town that were affected by the flood to see how the Board of Supervisors could help.
Gray said he’s working on a proclamation for a state of emergency to help secure state funds for repairs throughout the county. He anticipates the board will hold a special meeting next week to approve the proclamation.
The board approved a similar proclamation after storms in January and February last year that caused more than $8 million in damage to county roads. Gray said it was too early to tell how much the county will need this time, but it could be in the millions based on the damage he’s seen.
“With the proclamation, we can get some emergency funds for repairs like we did last time,” Gray said.
Gray said he’s spoken to County Assessor-Recorder Kaenan Whitman about providing property tax relief for people with damage over $10,000, as well as Larry Cope, executive director of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority, who will reach out to businesses that were affected to let them know about low-interest loans that are available.
Gray also spoke over the phone on Friday with San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell, who thanked the county for their assistance during a scare Thursday about a possible failure of the city’s Moccasin Creek Dam downstream of Groveland.
“It was a very open conversation and he said to give him a call anytime if I have questions or issues,” Gray said of his chat with Farrell.
Inmate crews from Sierra Conservation Center’s Baseline Fire Camp were working to clear debris from the creek behind Helping Hands Thrift Store on Friday. Gray said that Sheriff Jim Mele has also offered his jail inmate crews to help.
The county has been working since prior to Thursday’s storm on getting a grant for making improvements to the creek and stormwater drainage in Groveland, Gray said. He warned that it’s a competitive process and not guaranteed, but they plan to include pictures from the latest flood to help their case.
“I don’t see where the money is going to come from unless we get a grant,” Gray said. “You try to be proactive, but it’s going to be costly.”
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.