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Gazette Premium Content Tree removal surfaces as primary issue at Black Forest recovery meeting

By Ryan Handy Published: July 24, 2013

Almost two months after the Black Forest fire, residents are eager to take recovery efforts into their own hands, and are reluctant to let the El Paso County Board of Commissioners be the sole directors of the community's recovery

At a Wednesday night meeting, the county's subcommittee for debris removal and cleanup struggled to define its role in the fire recovery because 85 percent of the burn area is private property. But some property owners came seeking its support in tree cleanup - a subject that dominated the meeting.

Robb Willes, a Black Forest resident, came to the meeting to pitch a plan to clean up the thousands of dead, black trees covering the forest. But, after an hourlong back-and-forth discussion with the 11-member committee, Willes was told that his proposition, which was created by a few residents, was not something on which the county can take a stance.

"The committee will not take on a specific contractor to do this," Commissioner Darryl Glenn said of Willes' plan to hire a company for tree removal.

The plan would require the owners of at least five contiguous parcels with scorched trees to ask for tree removal. Willes hoped the county would help find property owners to participate. Willes also considered working with Black Forest Together, a fledgling nonprofit started by residents to manage a grassroots recovery.

But Glenn remained adamant that, when it comes to tree removal and reforestation, the county will not support specific efforts outright.

"The committee will not endorse the Black Forest Together effort," said Glenn.

Willes declared that "the enemy of the community is the standing dead trees," which will only become greater hazards as time progresses.

"Insurance companies are going to see those standing dead trees as a liability. And that is going to affect everyone's insurance policy," Willes said.

He declared that Black Forest, with hundreds of trees per acre, could be similar to the Four Mile Canyon scar in Boulder County, where property values dropped due to tree damage from the 2010 fire, Willes said.

While Willes asked for a comprehensive community plan for tree removal, the county doesn't want to force the hand of individual property owners, said Commissioner Amy Lathen.

"We as a county are not going to go in and tell them that they have to take down trees," Lathen said.

Homeowners seem to want different things from the county, Lathen said. Some have asked for assurances that the county will not force them to remove their trees; others have asked the county to make sure everyone removes the trees.

Willes and others ultimately left the meeting to attend a Black Forest Together community gathering where they intended to make the same pitch for mass tree removal.

That left Lathen, Glenn and the subcommittee to ponder how they will vet similar proposals. The committee may host a symposium where everyone with a forest cleanup or rehabilitation plan can present it.

"I see the county as a support role to the community," Lathen said. "This community knows what they want, they are fiercely independent, yet really together. We do not wish to go in there and start dictating bureaucracy. We want to get out of the way as much as we can and let people recover."

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