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McKenzie Junction phones still down two months after flash flood

Posted at 9:22 PM, Sep 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-25 01:38:12-04

McKENZIE JUNCTION – Landline phone service in this area of Custer County remains down for around 40 CenturyLink customers more than two months after a phone cable was damaged during flash flooding.  The cable was damaged on July 15 when torrential rain over the Junkins Fire burn scar led to flash flooding along South Hardscrabble Creek that washed out Custer County Road / U.S. Forest Service Road 386, under which the cable ran.

“By not having telephone service, my life has been at risk,” said Clara Reida, 81, a McKenzie Junction resident since 1965.  Reida is on oxygen 24/7 and requires multiple medications.  Reida says she had to hire additional caretakers for around-the-clock monitoring for her safety due to the phone outage.  “I had no way to contact anyone for help,” Reida said.

Cell phone service is nearly nonexistent in this part of Custer County, so landline service is crucial.  “We need to simply be able to pick up the phone and dial 911,” said Tammy Burke.  “I have a 99-year-old mother who’s in a (nursing) home in Cañon City and they cannot contact me to let me know if anything goes wrong,” Burke said.  While Reida had VoIP phone service installed, more than doubling her monthly phone bill, Burke’s internet service is not strong or fast enough to be compatible with VoIP, leaving her entirely without telephone service for more than two months so far.  “I have to drive 20 miles and then pretty much spend half the day talking on the phone,” Burke said.

CenturyLink says they aren’t close to a solution yet.  Damage to Road 386 must first be repaired to make it safe enough for crews to get to the location of the damaged cable to begin repairs.  In a statement to News 5, CenturyLink said, “Recent devastating flooding has washed out portions of County Road 386 and the CenturyLink cable.  CenturyLink remains unable to safely access the damaged cable until the road is repaired. Local, state and federal government officials recognize the high cost of repairing the road and mitigating future washouts; however, they have not yet identified a feasible solution.  CenturyLink remains committed to exploring possible short- and long-term solutions in collaboration with government officials and affected customers, including seeking federal funding for the county road under jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service.”

“They really need to get us back in service,” Burke said.  “There just isn’t enough revenue involved in 40 accounts, apparently, to be worth their while,” Reida said.