Residents want more evacuation-route mitigation

Evergreen Fire ask to move money from building fund for that purpose

Deb Hurley Brobst
dbrobst@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/16/21

About 20 Evergreen residents have asked the Evergreen Fire/Rescue board of directors to back off on saving money to build a new Station 1 and divert it instead to evacuation-route mitigation work. …

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Residents want more evacuation-route mitigation

Evergreen Fire ask to move money from building fund for that purpose

Posted

About 20 Evergreen residents have asked the Evergreen Fire/Rescue board of directors to back off on saving money to build a new Station 1 and divert it instead to evacuation-route mitigation work.

Many at the June 9 fire board meeting said they would volunteer to help the fire department apply for grants to pay for the work, hoping the district could hire several local companies to expedite tree thinning and cutting, so residents can evacuate safely in case of a wildfire.

They are gravely concerned about the results of the 2020 Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which states that most of Evergreen is considered at high, very high or extremely high risk for a catastrophic wildfire. It also says that most evacuation routes would be impassible in the event of a wildfire.

MORE: Design/build firm chosen to create new Station 1

Fire board members said after the public comment portion of the meeting that they see building a new Station 1 and wildfire-mitigation funding as two separate issues, and they want to create a working group to look at opportunities to do more mitigation in response to residents’ concerns.

“What I do see is our community has addressed what is a big concern,” board member Chuck Ridings said. “I want to give these people an answer of how we meet their needs and get a fire station.”

EFR has budgeted almost $1 million in 2021 for wildfire mitigation work for a 10-member fuels crew, the district’s chipping program, equipment, grant writing and more.

In contrast, it plans to put $750,000 from the 2021 budget into the Station 1 account. The district has spent $1.5 million for the land, and since 2017, it has saved about $4.5 million for the new Station 1, which will replace the station on Highway 73 near downtown Evergreen.

In response to residents’ questions, EFR does not have a full-time grant writer who can look for opportunities to get the district more money for evacuation-route mitigation.

Fire Chief Mike Weege reminded residents that the fire department doesn’t have the authority to mitigate properties owned by others including government entities. However, EFR has agreements with Jefferson and Clear Creek counties to do right-of-way mitigation, and it is working with Denver Mountain Parks, Jeffco Open Space and more to collaborate on wildfire-mitigation projects.

According to Steve Durian, transportation and engineering director for Jefferson County, the rights-of-way on most of the evacuation routes are about 30 feet wide, when the road itself is 24 feet wide. That means, EFR could cut trees on about three feet of land on each side of roads.

Upper Bear Creek Road, for example, has a 30-foot right of way, Durian said, noting that each road is different, and some have 25-foot rights-of-ways, and on rare occasion, a right-of-way could be up to 40 feet.

Weege noted that clearing the rights-of-way along roads to make them evacuation safe would require property owners to do some clearing, too. There needs to be enough clearance so the tallest tree along a roadway could fall and not land on the roadway.

Ridings said while it appears to some residents that EFR has done little mitigation work, it has done more in the last two years than ever before.

“It’s never been more aggressive on our part to get that done,” he said. “It’s in our strategic plan for the next five years.”

Residents at the meeting wanted more money used specifically for evacuation-route mitigation.

“I believe if we can carve out $2 million from the existing resources I’m told are available to the Evergreen Fire Protection District, we can pursue grants so we don’t miss out on those dollars,” said David Chapman, who spoke on behalf of residents at the meeting. “… What we need is for Evergreen Fire/Rescue to step up and be a leader and start mitigating roads that are paths to evacuation.”

Evacuation-route concerns

Resident Ken Fricke asked the board to find a way to begin roadside mitigation.

“I don’t think it’s currently in your budget,” he said. “If it’s not, it ought to be. I would urge you to find a way to begin the roadside evacuation work … and continue mitigation until it’s done. If you don’t get grant money, find more money in your existing accounts to keep it going.”

“The board is dedicated to safety and evacuation,” Ridings said. “Your concerns are not falling on deaf ears.”

Resident Jean Lancaster asked the board why the fire district can’t hold off on Station 1 and use that money for fire mitigation.

“I don’t understand why there aren’t more tax dollars going to a large overall plan to evacuate Evergreen. … We want to address money going to the fire station, my money and my neighbors’ money. We would like you to spend it a bit differently.”

Weege explained that wildfire mitigation grants take a lot of planning because the application must include specific projects.

Chapman suggested that because unsurvivable evacuation routes were a safety threat, maybe that angle could be leveraged to get additional funding.

The residents and fire officials agreed that more education was needed so residents understand what they need to do to prepare their properties and themselves for wildfire. Some suggested a speaker’s bureau to send people to various groups to educate residents.

“Evacuation starts with you,” Weege said. “You need to prepare to evacuate, have mitigation done, work with your neighbors so you can all get out of your neighborhood. Those types of preplanning will help you get out quicker ahead of that CodeRED (emergency notification call) that tells you that you need to start packing up to get moving.”

Board member John Anderson assured residents that the fire district spends tax dollars wisely, noting that firefighters must be prepared for many types of hazards including wildfire.

“We are a well-thought-out money-spending organization,” Anderson said. “We are in the unenviable position of having to make difficult decisions on what is the right thing to do at the time. You clearly are concerned about the merits of the firehouse. We are spending nearly a million dollars on wildfire mitigation. Should we spend all of our budget on wildfire mitigation? All are hard decisions.”

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