Breckenridge residents irked over ‘defensible space’ proposal
summit daily news
BRECKENRIDGE ” The town’s defensible space proposal ” and how it might be enforced ” has some Breckenridge property owners frustrated with the prospect they’ll have to pay to cut down the very trees they were once told to protect.
More than 40 residents visited Breckenridge town hall Tuesday afternoon for lively discussion on the future of their landscaping and wildfire protection.
The aging forest and spread of mountain pine-beetle infestation have made the possibility of catastrophic wildfire reasonable enough for council to consider the proposal. The idea behind defensible space is to create buffer zones between structures and forests.
“We do this because we feel very strongly about where we live,” said Councilman Eric Mamula, adding that the town’s intent is not to be punitive.
Potential costs for the removal of living and dead trees have been estimated from $400 to $30,000, depending on the number of trees and accessibility. The proposal’s requirement for property owners to take action within a year has raised concerns ” with town officials as well as residents ” as the economy struggles.
Other residents have said that with 95 percent of lodgepole pines expected to die, the existing pine-beetle ordinance should be aggressively enforced rather than the proposal, which would require cutting of live trees.
However, because so many of the trees are 90 or more years old, even green trees pose a threat.
“They’re just as dangerous to us as the dead ones,” said Captain Kim Scott with the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District, adding that most of them have less than 10 percent moisture.
Richard Sosville of Christie Heights subdivision said he “paid so much to build within trees” town officials advised him to keep, and he will now have to remove many of them. He said fire district representatives have already assessed his property and that he was “treated well.”
“I would have preferred it to have been better planned or anticipated,” Sosville said.
Officials with the fire district said the defensible space will help protect homes, residents and firefighters ” and will also help to keep the fires on the ground, where they may be extinguished more easily.
The likelihood of a wildfire in coming years is high, said fire chief Gary Green, who attended the work session.
“We will have a fire,” Green said. “I can’t tell you that it’s going to devastate the Upper Blue valley … If we protect as many homes as possible, we’ve done our job.”
If approved, the proposal would take effect over about four years. The priority of affected areas, and when they’ll need to comply, is to be available at the March 10 council meeting.
All properties in the town would be subject to the ordinance, though some may not need to create any defensible space. Property owners required to remove trees would have to pay a $45 permit fee.
Council is not expected to vote on the proposal at the next meeting, and some of the members have said they first want to see what sort of impact it will have on property owners.
Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron received a round of hearty applause at the work session when he said he didn’t want to hold people to arbitrary, bureaucratic requirements.
“I’m not going to buy into it until I’m comfortable with how prohibitive it’s going to be,” he said.
Bergeron said in a phone interview Wednesday that he supports the concept of public safety, and he trusts the advice of firefighters and foresters.
“I also want to get a feel for how it’s going to affect homeowners,” he said. “If it costs $5,000 and saves $5 million over the course of devastation, it’s a small price to pay. But still, if every homeowner has to pay $5,000 in this economy, that’s something I’ll be looking a lot more closely at than two or three years ago when we were all fat and happy.”
He also said he supports an appeal process, which town staff are considering.
Other council members also expressed concern with the burden on homeowners.
The town recently completed a fuel break in the Discovery Hill neighborhood and is working on further mitigation. In addition, the town will be creating defensible space around all town property containing structures.
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