Plan would target $10M for fire, flood mitigation

April 16, 2013
photo - A mudslide closed U.S. 24 after the Waldo Canyon fire in this photo from last July. Photo by GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
A mudslide closed U.S. 24 after the Waldo Canyon fire in this photo from last July. Photo by GAZETTE FILE PHOTO 

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach will announce a plan Wednesday to take $10 million out of a record-high rainy-day fund to pay for fire and flood mitigation in some of the city’s most vulnerable areas. The request will go before City Council at its informal meeting on Monday, with the first vote scheduled for May 14.

Laura Neumann, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the city’s general fund reserve received a healthy and unanticipated boost last year from an increase in sales tax revenues, bringing it to a record $46.4 million. If approved, the $10 million appropriation and a few other emergency expenditures will leave $33 million in reserve.  That’s about 13 percent of the overall general fund — less than the 25 percent recommended by the Governmental Finance Officers Association.

But Neumann said if there’s ever a reason to dig into the reserves, fire and flood mitigation is it.

“The reserve is intended for emergencies versus paying for things we can’t afford,” she said. “So it’s being used for its very intent.”

The announcement should come as a relief to residents like Karin White, whose Pinon Valley home backs up against the slopes of Ute Valley Park. White and her neighbors had done plenty of mitigation work on their properties, but wondered how successful their efforts would be with tinder-dry vegetation looming over their back yards.

“I can do all the fire mitigation in the world, but unless the city does it on what they own, it won’t do any good,” said White.

The plan on how to spend the $10 million is preliminary, pending the outcome of several studies and expert recommendations. As of Tuesday, this was how it broke down:

• $ 1 million for forest management and mitigation of wildfire fuels, such as removal of dried-out vegetation, in city-owned areas prone to wildfire. Included are Cheyenne Canon, Bear Creek Canyon, Garden of the Gods, Blodgett Peak, Ute Valley Park and other targeted neighborhoods.

“We think $1 million will go a great distance to mitigate the chance for a catastrophic fire in the wildland-urban interface,” Neumann said. “The public’s been hoping we’re going to do something in this regard, and we’re taking a big stand by investing $1 million.”

Neumann said it’s a labor-intensive process, and people will be hired on a contract basis to do the work.

• $3 million for a Camp Creek retention basin. The Camp Creek channel was built in the 1950s near Garden of the Gods and Rockledge Ranch, and a number of homes in that area are in a 100-year floodplain, Neumann said. The project will capture water in retention ponds to prevent flooding in an area where the potential for runoff has been exacerbated by last summer’s Waldo Canyon fire.

“So this is a priority project,” Neumann said.

• $5.8 million for flood-mitigation projects targeted by a regional study being conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, in conjunction with the city, El Paso County and Manitou Springs. Neumann said the study should be released in the next few weeks, and the city anticipates that hydrologists will make Camp Creek and Douglas Creek priorities. With money already set aside for Camp Creek, the $5.8 million would be used to fix the five-mile North Douglas Creek concrete channel in Oak Valley and the northern part of Mountain Shadows, and the 2.5- mile stretch of South Douglas Creek in the southern part of Mountain Shadows. Neumann said the project recommendations could change, depending on the hydrologists’ final recommendations.

• $100,000 to contribute to a comprehensive scientific study of the Waldo Canyon fire, as recommended by the state’s two U.S. senators. Neumann said the study is expected to cost $700,000, with the county, state and U.S. Forest Service also chipping in.

“It’s an overarching study that just looks at the different ways we look at mitigation,” Neumann said.

• $100,000 to improve training and response to fires. Neumann said the recently released after-action review of the Waldo fire pointed out a number of areas that needed improvement, including training and coordination among various jurisdictions. The money will be used for training, joint exercises and improvements in the Joint Information Center.

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