RED LODGE — Many in Montana want to know where the homes that fell into the state’s waterways during the historic flooding of June 2022 are today.
Montana Disaster and Emergency Services officials say some washed up onto sand bars, but most are disintegrated and long gone, with pieces pulled from Montana creeks and rivers and piled at one of six debris sites.
The entire cleanup project is expected to clear up to 100,000 cubic yards of debris and take a few months. Crews began work in mid-April, and about 6,000 cubic yards of debris has been removed.
Park City resident Mike Kinsey’s home toppled into the Yellowstone River last June and was carried five miles downstream, lodging on a sand bar.
“It was pretty dramatic when it left here," says Kinsey describing where his log home used to be. “This is where the house sat and this was the very back of the house. These are my water lines going out to where my house was out here. Other than a miracle, I don't know what I'm going to do here.”
Kinsey is a veteran who built his home with telephone poles and a chainsaw over four years. It was his primary residence, and he now lives in an RV on the property.
Several other homes were also ripped from river banks in the historic floods. Unlike Kinsey's, most disintegrated, and personal belongings washed away.
“It's a lot of debris,” says Jake Ganieany, Montana Disaster and Emergency Services bureau chief of recovery and mitigation.
Most of the home debris is destined for the landfill, but vegetative debris is set for incineration.
“We’ll burn it down to almost nothing. It's really clean and efficient, and we can burn several hundred thousand cubic yards of debris really quickly,” says Ganieany.
But with spring water levels rising, time is a factor in removing that debris.
“We also have rock and sediment that came down that has caused less river channels,” says Ganieany.
After working closely with various agencies, Ganieany says permitting is in progress and crews are gearing up to remove that rock and sediment.
“We’re doing this as quickly, safely and efficiently as we can,” says Ganieany. “That will help avoid future flooding impacts.”
Bridges and culverts that crumbled into the raging waters are also being drug out. CTC Disaster Response does the actual removal and Debris Tech does the removal monitoring. The two traveling contractors specialize in disaster recovery around the country and have debris removal down to a science, charging the state by the cubic yard.
Right now, Ganieany says the price tag is $3 million, but it could go up. The project is 75% funded through a FEMA public assistance grant and 25% funded by a non-federal cost share, but ask any flood victim and they’ll tell you, you can’t put a price on memories lost.
“This was taken in 1997. You can see all these cottonwoods. This one was still in the yard when the house went. That one and this one over here, they all went that night,” Kinsey said while looking at an old photograph of his property.