TONTO BASIN, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - It isn't every day you see kids riding in a military truck to get to and from school. But that's what's happening in an area known as Tonto Basin in Gila County because of flooding. Residents in the area are split on whether they need a bridge -- one that still has a long way to go to get funding. 

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"Mazatzal Casino in Payson donated it," said George Ewing, speaking of the 1966 Army 5-ton that isn’t part of a military brigade anymore. Ewing volunteers his time to pick up kids and adults alike, and drop them off because the recent wet weather has caused the Tonto Creek to flow. The area is about 90 minutes away from Phoenix. 

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"When the flow gets bad it knocks pickup trucks sideways," Ewing said. 

The U.S. Geological Survey said the creek is higher than 6 feet in some areas.

Ewing said the levels are about 10 inches away from being too dangerous to cross in the truck and suspects the levels could reach that high as early as tomorrow with the snow melt.

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Gila County has the design ready and a location picked out for a bridge over Tonto Creek, the only thing they need is $17 million in funding. The project manager told us once that is secured, they could begin construction in about six months.  

"I think they need to rethink the design because it's too much money," said Laci Sopeland. Her third grader, Layla, is an 8th generation resident in Tonto Basin.

"She loves it, we look forward to it," Sopeland said of how her daughter feels about riding in the truck. "It's like a treat."

When the creek is dry, people just drive right through. When there’s rushing water, they’re stuck.

"Every couple of years, the creek floods like this, and we just live with it," Sopeland said. 

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Some say a bridge is needed. But Sopeland and others worry it would change their beloved rural community for the worse.

"We’re very thankful for George," Sopeland said. 

"If I wasn’t doing it, somebody else would," Ewing said. 

Award-winning journalist Lindsey Reiser is a regular contributor in the evenings on CBS 5 News at 10 p.m.

Copyright 2019 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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