WALDO CANYON FIRE: GE Johnson takes reins in debris cleanup

July 20, 2012
photo - These are the ruins of Dick and Francine Hansen's house at 2635 Trevor Lane. It was a test site for a cleanup operation run under the auspices of Colorado Springs Together.     Photo by Courtesy photo
These are the ruins of Dick and Francine Hansen's house at 2635 Trevor Lane. It was a test site for a cleanup operation run under the auspices of Colorado Springs Together. Photo by Courtesy photo 

Imagine a football field filled 54-feet deep with ash and trash, and you’ll get an idea of how much debris needs to be hauled out of the fire-torn Mountain Shadows area before rebuilding can begin.

GE Johnson Construction Co. wants to ease the task for homeowners and lessen the impact on traffic in the neighborhood by making debris removal a collective effort. Working under the auspices of Colorado Springs Together, a nonprofit created in the wake of the Waldo Canyon fire, GE Johnson has volunteered to coordinate the removal process for any homeowner who wants to participate.

“Because of the economies of scale and being able to do a number of homes in a single block, we’re expecting prices to be substantially less than other companies can do it for,” said Jeff Thomas, spokesman for Colorado Springs Together.

Some homeowners have begun the process, lining up contractors on their own. And they can continue to do that. But Bob Cutter, founder and chairman of Colorado Springs Together, believes there are advantages to going through GE Johnson beyond the cost savings.

“They’re very good at systematically organizing and working through what is actually a complex set of events that need to happen in fairly good order,” Cutter said Friday.

Company president Jim Johnson has arranged with Colorado Springs School District 11 to use Trailblazer Elementary School as a staging area and place where crews can park.

“Then we’re able to bus them into a particular site,” Cutter said. “We’re trying to minimize the impact on traffic flow.”

Johnson was volunteering with Colorado Springs Together when he offered to coordinate the clean-up. He expects some of his employees to take part in the debris removal, which will benefit the company financially when insurance payments come through, but he also plans to share the job with local subcontractors.

“There are a lot of subcontractors that want to be involved,” Johnson said. “We want to build a little coalition, and just want to shepherd the process.”

Earlier this week, GE Johnson did a trial run at two sites to show what the debris-removal process would look like and demonstrate that it would have minimal impact on adjacent properties. Cutter said the demos also were designed to bring other agencies involved in the cleanup into the mix, including the county health department and the Regional Building Department.

“We wanted to learn best practices — how to best segregate out the steel, how to make sure there was no ash or other debris flying around, and to what frequency we have to wet down the debris,” Cutter said.

One demo took less than a day to complete; the other took a couple of days, because it had been a much larger residence.

Now that the demonstration projects are done, it’s a matter of waiting for homeowners to work with their insurance companies and contact Colorado Springs Together. Neither Cutter nor Johnson know how many homeowners will take advantage of the group effort, but Cutter said he has received 150 to 200 inquiries.

Johnson estimates that 30,000 cubic yards of ash and debris — much of which could contain toxic substances — must be removed from Mountain Shadows before rebuilding can begin. Colorado Springs Together believes that if enough people go through Johnson, the debris removal could be finished by the end of August.

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