Summit County has its first Federal Emergency Management Agency pre-disaster mitigation grant, and officials are putting it to use on roughly 48 private acres in the Keystone area.
The grant is designed to cover creating defensible space on private land, Summit County emergency management director Joel Cochran said. He applied for the grant in 2009, and it took roughly two years to become part of a state application package, be reviewed by the federal agency, and for money to come through to the coffers.
Cochran selected the Ski Tip Focus Area of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan for the grant. It's being matched 25 percent with the county's 1A wildfire protection fund. According to Summit County's assessment, that area, which is currently being treated by Proper-T-Solutions, contains more than $228 million in structure value.
"We're using $98,000 to protect $228 million of property," Cochran said, explaining that the contract actually only amounted to roughly $77,000.
Cochran also selected the Keystone lands because of local buy-in.
Keystone Property Management office manager Rebecca Volker coordinated communication with property owners to facilitate their cooperation, even though they wouldn't have to pay anything. As the county and Keystone property owners awaited the money, they narrowed 500 acres of identified area to 48 acres, ensured right of entry on the properties and marked trees in preparation for the contract to begin. It is scheduled for completion prior to Thanksgiving.
One area in the project, Keystone Gulch along Soda Ridge Road, also suffered a 16.6-acre wildfire on June 2 this year, so it's "perfect timing for doing this work," Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs said.
"This is a great example of collaborative governance," Gibbs said. A federal agency is funding private disaster mitigation, the county applies for and will manage the grant, Volker's property management company is facilitating local buy-in and Colorado State Forest officials are overseeing work on the ground.
"Our forest health challenges are too big for one entity to handle on their own," Gibbs said. "(Collaboration) is what we'll need in the future to deal with forest health problems the size of Rhode Island."
Cochran championed the FEMA grant as a bright spot on an otherwise blighted federal entity.
"They're a federal entity that's used to dealing with emergency typically on the back end," he said. "Now, they're putting resources on the front end and hedging their bets."
Taking a look at pre-disaster mitigation isn't new for the federal agency, though, Cochran said. Much of it began in 2000, with the Disaster Mitigation Act. Counties and states were required to identify their own disaster hazards and a plan for addressing them. Summit County's was completed and adopted by the Board of County Commissioners in 2008.
"That created the ability to apply for (pre-disaster mitigation) grants," Cochran said, adding that he'll likely hold off on applying for another FEMA grant until this project is complete and its successes and failures are evaluated. However, he does plan to reapply.
"Nationally, folks are looking at Colorado. The forest health situation isn't going away," Gibbs said.