FEMA awards $10 million grant for Breckenridge dam improvements
BRECKENRIDGE — The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded a $10 million grant to the state of Colorado last week to help fund modifications to the Goose Pasture Tarn Dam.
The funds come as part of FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, which is meant to help minimize the risks of possible dam failures.
“The thing with any dam emergency is that the likelihood of anything happening is low, but the potential impacts are so high,” said Brian Bovaird, the county’s director of emergency management, who lauded the town of Breckenridge and other stakeholders for pushing for upgrades. “The fact that Breckenridge and the state dam engineers were so proactive is huge, because the worst-case scenarios are catastrophic. … They’re leaving no stone unturned. If something happened, the impacts would be countywide. Once those repairs are done, we’ll be in a great place.”
The dam — south of Breckenridge proper and north of Blue River — is classified as “high hazard” by the state, a categorization that has little to do with its condition but rather the potential loss of human life and property in the event of any type of failure. According to FEMA, a failure likely would impact more than 2,000 residences and businesses in the Breckenridge area below the dam, along with major damage to roadways and the community’s existing water supply.
The dam does need some work to help put the minds of Breckenridge residents at ease. The need for upgrades began to emerge in 2015, during a high moisture year when town-run monitoring stations started to see significant rising water levels, according to Steve Boand, a state hazard mitigation officer with the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. As a result, stakeholders decided to implement reservoir storage restrictions in 2016.
Breckenridge also moved forward in seeking federal funding to address concerns. The $10 million from FEMA will cover more than half the costs of the project. The rest already has been budgeted as capital improvements by Breckenridge, Boand said. The work on the dam is scheduled to begin later this year and will lower the spillway by 4 feet to help protect the dam and everyone in its path.
“It takes the pressure off the dam itself, and the really important aspect is it will pass a greater flood flow through the dam downstream, which protects the embankment and everyone who lives downstream,” said Boand, who noted that the change also would bring the dam up to meet new state standards put in place after widespread flooding in 2013. “The dam will always be on the state’s high hazard dam list. … But this will reduce the likelihood of anything actually occurring.”
In addition to protecting residents and their property, officials also noted that being proactive in hazard mitigation makes sense financially.
“This comes from a predisaster mitigation grant,” said Mike Slater with FEMA External Affairs. “That looks at projects that might not yet be affected by a disaster, but where some investment and work could help to prevent what could become a larger disaster. For every dollar of predisaster mitigation that gets spent, it saves an average of $6 in disaster recovery costs. It’s definitely money well spent.”
Construction on the project will begin later this year and is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2022, though Boand said it could take until 2023. Breckenridge will lower water levels in the reservoir during construction seasons to facilitate the work.
Boand also praised Breckenridge officials and staff for their work getting the project in motion, and he said he’d point to their efforts as a paradigm for the state’s other dam and reservoir partners in the future.
“The town has shown a great capacity for planning and engineering,” Boand said. “They’ve been great partners because they have done all the engineering work to move this project forward along with the environmental compliance work needed for FEMA review. I really commend Breckenridge for their foresight. … We’re going to use them as a model project to help other dam and reservoir owners succeed.”
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