Colorado homeowners living in heavily forested areas would have their properties rated for wildfire risk and possibly face special fees and taxes to help fund fire mitigation efforts, under recommendations released Monday by the governor's wildfire task force.
Gov. John Hickenlooper created the Wildfire Insurance and Forest Health Task Force in 2012 following a devastating fire season. The goal: to investigate how the state could prevent another Waldo Canyon or High Park fire.
"Wildfires have been a part of living in the West ever since people first settled here," Hickenlooper said Monday at the state Capitol. "For several decades, there has been a continuous buildup of hazardous fuels."
That growing risk required a response, he said.
After nine months of work, which included a trip in June to the Black Forest community following a disastrous fire there, the task force of 18 members recommended:
-Spending $3 million over 5 years to expand the state's Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal to include a mapping tool assigning fire-risk levels to properties in the wildland urban interface.
-Increasing prescribed burn programs and grants for wildfire risk mitigation.
-Adopting a statewide ordinance for fire-retardant building codes and defensible space requirements in the wildland urban interface.
-Assessing a fee or tax on properties in high-hazard areas.
Hickenlooper said Colorado Springs has been a model of local response to wildfire issues and the city's ordinances will be included as an addendum to the report - a road map for other municipalities and counties.
"There are challenges around this," Hickenlooper said. "The state has to be a strong supporter, as they possibly can be, to make sure we do provide risk mitigation at the state level even as the implementation will fall primarily to counties and municipalities . We look forward to continuing to work closely with leaders from these different local offices to establish realistic and effective solutions."
Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said the issues with fire mitigation are inherently local - sometimes one-on-one conversations between firefighters and homeowners.
"We've already spent taxpayer dollars, millions in mitigation. I would not support a statewide fee for mitigation," Bach said.
Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies, said any fees or taxes would be assessed on the local level in response to the costs of mitigation efforts for that specific area.
Kelley said other concerns among task force members were that rating houses on a 1 to 10 scale of fire danger - 10 being the highest - could render some properties uninsurable and thus unsellable. The task force also recommended disclosures of fire-risk numbers when a property is sold.
"In the event of high scores . we are suggesting that there be what's called a mitigation audit," Kelley said.
That audit would outline specific ways a homeowner, in conjunction with a city or county, could reduce the risk of wildfire, she said, adding that insurance companies would have input as well.
"We would like to have all of those people at the table when the credentialing or criteria for determining the score is developed," Kelley said.
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