The Evergreen Fire Protection District board is considering changes to its training facility project in an attempt to placate residents and avert a recall election.
During a special meeting Nov. 20, board members reviewed a list of requests presented by resident Lynn Rehkopf, who has been negotiating with the board and Fire Chief Mike Weege. Residents Michelle Parker and Tanya Kaanta also have been participating in the discussions.
“What we are going to do is mitigate this building to make it acceptable to people living the closest, and to head off a divisive recall,” said board member Charlie Simons.
In the months since the fire board announced plans to build a training facility at Evergreen Fire Station 2 in Bergen Park, Rehkopf has been among residents protesting its location near homes and a school.
Several weeks ago, a group of residents initiated a recall of fire district board members Charlie Simons, Jeff deDisse and David Christensen. Recall petitions for board President George Kling and member Charles Dykeman also have been filed, but have not yet been certified by Micki Wadhams, a Denver paralegal appointed as the election official for the process.
However, Rehkopf and other residents have decided to try working with the district board and Weege rather than continue objecting to the plan to build the facility at the fire district’s Bergen Park campus.
Even though she is not in favor of a training facility near her home, Rehkopf said that a recall is not in the best interest of the community.
High on the list of Rehkopf’s and other residents’ concerns is the fire district’s plan to use mineral oil to produce smoke during training sessions. Rehkopf has asked that lodgepole pine or clean pallets be used instead during live burn training.
Mineral oil particulates have a “hang time” of four hours and may create respiratory hazards, she said.
“This is the big compromise we’re asking. … At this point, the reality is it’s a deal breaker,” said Rehkopf.
“The primary concern has been mixing theatrical smoke with heat,” Rehkopf explained. “If you’re burning wood, people are desensitized to that.”
Rehkopf also requested that the fire district monitor air quality during training sessions — a suggestion that a Jefferson County Planning Commission member made during that board’s review of the project.
“I’ll consult with an engineer about that,” said Weege. “I’m not sure what results we’re looking for.”
Weege restated that there would be only 12 live burn training sessions a year at the facility, and that it would not be rented out to other fire departments.
Agreement in progress
Some of the requests on the list that Rehkopf compiled as a letter of agreement have already been put into place.
“We have agreed to lower the building from four to three stories,” said Simons. “The wall will be 14 feet high.”
The fire district is also in the process of planting large trees at the back of the property for additional screening, Weege said.
He also said efforts would be made to redirect lights away from nearby homes during training sessions, as requested.
“I can’t say we’re never going to have lights shining in the field,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to face them south and southwest.”
Other points of the agreement include notification to homeowner associations when live burns are scheduled and for saw training to be moved to the south side of the facility.
Simons agreed with the request to keep open communication between the fire district and residents.
“We got in this mess because we didn’t go to the community with the process,” said Simons.
During the discussion, some board members and firefighters expressed concern about residents attempting to micromanage training.
“We are on an extremely slippery slope right now when we allow the community to make decisions about when and how we train,” said firefighter Evan Soibelman.
Weege and board members also discussed the costs of the requested concessions — and the recall.
The trees being planted cost $15,000, Weege said. Raising the wall from 8 to 14 feet to provide additional screening will cost an additional $50,000, he added.
The recall of board members would cost the fire district approximately $70,000, said board President George Kling.
“I have a feeling that no matter what we do here, the recall is going to go on,” said Dykeman. “It has made me very sad, depressed and mad. I am very disappointed in the community.”
“Frankly, I don’t understand what we could do to get the recall to stop,” said Simons.
“There’s a group of people who just plain don’t want the building,” said Rehkopf.
“It’s for their benefit,” replied Dykeman. “We have a responsibility to maintain a level of training. Does (anyone) really think that the five of us are going to do anything to endanger the community?”
“All we can do is try our best,” said Rehkopf. “You’ve got about five factions of people,” she remarked.
Some residents who are objecting to the facility have asked that the fire district delay the project and explore other alternatives. Others are joining the effort to work with the fire district to lessen its impact. Another group is pursuing the recall of fire district board members, which would culminate in a special election.
Others are stating their objections to the site of the proposed facility, but are not willing to participate in the recall.
The recall petitions have not yet been circulated, said Paul Peil, whose signature appears on the documents. People are waiting for the final two petitions to be certified and also to review Rehkpof’s letter of agreement before moving forward, Peil said Monday.
The fire district board is expected to vote on the list of requests at its Dec. 11 meeting.
Rehkpof’s letter of agreement states that the recall of board members will be halted once they sign it.
“I hope as we go through this process there is a lot of good-faith negotiations,” said Kling.
Contact reporter Sandy Barnes at email@example.com or call 303-350-1042.