The destructive hail storm that barraged the Denver metro area in May is likely to be the most expensive storm in Colorado history — more than 50,000 homes and 150,000 cars had major damage.
The eye of that storm was Wheat Ridge. The small suburban city government is feeling the storm’s strain in more ways than one.
About 70 percent of the city’s fleet vehicles — about 95 cars and trucks — were damaged or destroyed in the storm. Roughly half the homes in the city need new roofs and city officials are grappling with what it takes to get 7,000 permits issued and multiple inspections completed.
Several employees are putting in extra hours. Building inspectors have upped their roof inspections to about five an hour or more than 30 a day. One inspector actually had to go to the hospital after falling ill after so much work. Others are staffing the phones and trying to push through weekends of work to approve permit applications.
“It’s a struggle to find out how much more can we be doing, should we be doing? It’s a struggle for a small community,” said Patrick Goff, Wheat Ridge city manager. “I want to even do better than we’re doing but there are certain realities.”
Melissa Okada lives on Depew Street near 29th Avenue. Her windows, siding and her roof were destroyed in the storm. She described the sound as bombs going off during that 20 minutes. Okada said she appreciates the city’s multiple inspections after learning they are trying to protect residents from fly-by-night contractors who have descended to the area from out of state.
“I think the lack of communication between the city and the residents about why the process is taking so long,” Okada said, “that’s been the most frustrating part.”
Wheat Ridge officials are certainly cranking: roof inspections have jumped six-fold in the last two weeks compared to the first few weeks after that May storm, from 170 to 969. Officials have approved about 2,200 new roofs since the storm and almost 1,000 of them were in the last three weeks.
City officials asked counterparts in Lakewood, Denver, even Pueblo, for some employees they could borrow, but the other cities said they were equally as busy, not just with the hail, but with the summer construction season.
So Goff decided to go with contractors and has people flying in as temporary workers, mostly from California. Roof inspection permit fees, which run about $300 a piece, he said, are mostly covering the costs.
Even with the extra help, Goff said they are falling behind. There are about 800 applications waiting for approval in the city’s online system and chief building inspector Brian Tardif said his guys are “working to the bone.” On most days, they are climbing up to five roofs an hour.
“Yesterday, they did an average of 38 inspections, each,” Tardif said. “That’s a lot. They’re working on overload.”
Part of the workload is the city’s requirement that everyone who gets a roof also gets a mid-construction inspection. City officials say this protects homeowners and keeps roofers on track. But it often means a day or two of waiting during these busy times, Tardif pointed out.
“I understand their position, they want to be in and out in a day, but they have to understand our position,” said Tardif, who used to be a contractor. “We work for the homeowner.”
Goff wrestles with all of this back at his office. He is trying to care for his employees, replace his city’s damaged vehicles, make sure residents are getting quality roofs and do it all within the city’s $43 million budget.
“Some days it’s half my day, some nights it’s half my sleep,” Goff said. “It’s part of the job. I’m not complaining."