Beauty, but at what cost?
For the owners of the Main Street antique emporium A Robin's Nest, it's about $200,000 right now, but that number is a moving target with every new waterlogged discovery they make.
Shane and Robin Allerheiligen spent their Mother's Day wading in a few feet of water that migrated into the 10,000-square-foot basement of their antique mall at Sixth and Main streets. With the water, numerous antiques and collectibles lost their value; that 200-large number is a broad approximation of lost items, lost time, and cleanup and storage costs, Shane says.
While the May 12 flood was an isolated incident — a valve got stuck because of some debris, leading to likely more than a full day of nonstop watering of a large, decorative planter bed near A Robin's Nest — it certainly wasn't atypical for property owners on or near Main Street, many of whom have seen groundwater seep through walls and foundations for years, among other sewer and water woes suffered over the decades.
The history of the antique store flood essentially begins on April 29, when a break was discovered down the block in a planter bed near a backflow device, according to Rob Schoeber, city parks and recreation director.
The break in the city's treated-water irrigation system stayed unrepaired until Thursday, May 9 — record rains made that decision for the city — but it was fixed that day, the system around it was energized with water the next, and it was set to water over the weekend.
Schoeber said, with all the rain, some dirt or perhaps a rock got stuck in the line, locking up a valve and locking on the sprinklers.
"So this particular bed," Schoeber said last week, pointing to the large planter bed in front of Quincy Bar, 609 Main St., "stayed on and it ran for a very long time."
That was Friday the 10th, and the Allerheiligens were open Saturday the 11th, but didn't notice the ceaseless sprinkling out front of their business. Nor did anyone else, as the overflow didn't show at the surface and water just kept seeping into the ground below.
The leak found its way to the nearby basement of A Robin's Nest that night, an outcome the Allerheiligens discovered Sunday morning when they hastily tried to reach someone at the city. City officials responded quickly on the holiday weekend, but there wasn't much more to do at that point.
Some original artwork, 100-year-old furniture, scores of collectibles, as well as thousands of dollars in fixtures and display cases all met a watery demise or were seriously devalued, Shane said.
In the days following the flood, the city's insurance company — the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, or CIRSA — offered $40,000 to fix the situation, $20,000 for the Allerheiligens and $20,000 to their landlord, a remote Denver property owner.
"We probably lost half of our income," Shane remembers thinking.
THE UPLIFT, AND AFTER
The city made major improvements to sewer and water infrastructure as part of the Downtown Uplift project in 2011 and 2012, which brought functional and aesthetic changes to Main Street curbs, gutters, walkways and business fronts. Decades of issues with aging sewer and water pipes in properties in and around Main Street, though, prompted the city to also re-do most utility infrastructure as part of the project.
A notable water main break that flooded three 400-block businesses in October 2010 probably had something to do with the decision as well.
The Persian Rug Co., Page- Parsons Jewelers and New York Moon boutique all were flooded when a crumbling, city-owned waterline burst. The rug company ended up filing a claim for $250,000 with CIRSA, which was denied on the grounds that the city wasn't responsible for the break.
While major issues like that seem infrequent following the Uplift upgrades, many downtown businesses still attest to issues with groundwater and leaks, outside of the infrastructure that was replaced some eight years ago.
Count the Mesa Theater among the most regularly saturated.
"We've been dealing with this every time they turn on the irrigation water down on Main Street," said Brett Strong, owner since 2015 of the performance venue at 538 Main St.
"Whenever they start watering downtown, that's when it happens," he said, "it" being water "just coming through the walls."
The sump pump he has is not close to being able to handle the job, Strong said, and these days he "has a guy" tasked with the everyday removal of about 20 gallons of water.
"I've reached out to them every year," he said of his regular interaction with city officials. "They just hand me around to different people. … Nothing ever gets done."
Steve Jozefczyk, deputy director with the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, can sympathize with soaked downtown businesses.
GJEP's building is just across an alley from A Robin's Nest, and Jozefczyk said groundwater seeped into their basement for years until they decided to do something about it two years ago.
"The source was just completely unknown — all the top professionals in the community looked at it and they all had their own theories, and a few different ways to remedy the problem. But nothing ever really worked," Jozefczyk said.
That was until they hired a contractor who came in and cut some deep grooves in one problematic room, essentially building a drainage ditch into the concrete floor, where water is then forced out by sump pump. The system has worked since then, but there's water in the ditch pretty much every day, Jozefczyk said.
The city recommends the pump route, at a minimum, for properties downtown, Schoeber said, and called the few hundred dollars spent on a sump pump "a good investment."
Since the Uplift, the city reported that there have been two CIRSA claims related to flooding or water damage filed by downtown businesses.
One followed an incident in 2012 when the basement flooded at Main Street Bagels, 559 Main St. That water event was similarly blamed on damage to the city irrigation system and a $3,962 claim was eventually paid out by CIRSA.
The second episode prompting a claim happened in 2016, when water seeped into the basement of Alpha Graphics, 145 N. Fourth St., because of a pinhole-sized leak in a service line, according to Greg LeBlanc, assistant to the city manager.
No CIRSA payment was made on the second claim, but that doesn't necessarily mean the city didn't make some sort of payment to the business, LeBlanc hedged,
LeBlanc said that City Attorney John Shaver and CIRSA are working with A Robin's Nest "to get a full picture of the situation," and Shane Allerheiligen said Friday that he's recently countered CIRSA's initial offer.
Serving on multiple city boards and in other capacities as a volunteer, Shane said he was reluctant to "grab a lawyer and (go) full bore into the city … but they need to do what's right."
He said he had a conversation after the flood with City Manager Greg Caton; their talk encompassed more than what had happened to his business.
"We need to try as a community to find out what we can do to stop this from happening to someone else," he recalls telling Caton.