Summit County officials unsure of plan to provide direct payments to Dillon Valley neighborhood for wildfire mitigation
The plan would allow private property owners to access thousands in county grant funds. But officials are skeptical that such a proposal would be the most equitable approach.
With wildfire danger likely to ramp up in Summit County as summer looms, county officials are debating their approach to a proposed fuel reduction plan in the Dillon Valley neighborhood.
During a May 2 Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting, Dan Schroder, the county’s director for the Colorado State University Extension program, said the project would target 15 parcels of land between Piney Acres Circle and Little Beaver Trail — which includes private and county-owned property.
Schroder said the project would also go towards the county’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals by mitigating wildfire risk in an area that may have less financial resources to protect itself from such danger.
“It’s important that we address the various populations who are under-resourced,” Schroder said.
The project would use funds from the county’s wildfire prevention grant programs, which were approved through a mill levy by county voters in 2008. The grants help neighborhoods pay for fuel reduction, tree removal, improvements to evacuation routes and other wildfire mitigation strategies.
Four of the 10 parcels that are county-owned are protected by a covenant that, according to Schroder, was previously held by a land trust.
That covenant ultimately prevented the county in 2021 from creating a new trail that would have connected the area from Little Beaver Trail to Piney Acres Circle. Residents at the time voiced concern that the trail would disrupt land that the covenant was designed to preserve.
Aftering discussing the fuel reduction plan with area residents, Schroder said they have agreed to support the proposal on the condition that the parcels remain “in a natural state.” But since the covenant was put in place in 2001, Schroder said the forest has amassed dead, unhealthy vegetation.
“So, to help keep the forest as it once was, I believe this project is appropriately placed,” Schroder said, adding that the plan will “clean up” the dead debris and restore it to a healthier state.
Schroder said that while some of the properties closest to the forest may be more affluent, providing subsidies to the area as a whole will help residents who may not be able to meet the grants’ cost-sharing provisions, such as renters.
The county has $711,000 in the bank for its wildfire grant programs, according to Schroder, who said the Dillon Valley project is expected to cost around $15,000 per acre to treat. That would ultimately lead to a total project cost of between $200,000 and $250,000, Schroder said.
While Commissioners showed support for mitigation efforts in the area, they also voiced unease with blanket payments for all parcels which they said were not guaranteed to go towards lower-income households.
“How are we determining low income?” said Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence. “Some of these homes, one of them is a $2-million-dollar home. A couple of them are million-dollar homes.”
Commissioner Tamara Pogue said she was “struggling to see the nexus between this proposed project and our diversity, equity and inclusion goals.”
Pogue said that while she understood the plan may provide benefits to nearby rental properties that may house lower-income residents, she’s unsure the payments are the best approach.
Pogue said the county could consider wildfire mitigation education for residents, such as ensuring that they have insurance and promoting ways for homeowners associations to be more directly involved.
Commissioner Josh Blanchard said the Dillon Valley area may be at higher wildfire risk, especially due to some of its denser housing. But officials may need to focus payments just for county-owned land, he added.
Schroder said that while equitably funding the project is a “balancing act,” he said he views it as a “community asset” when it comes to fire protection.
“This activity would be an asset for everyone on the egress front. Anyone who is underserved who is living in Dillon Valley would have a greater opportunity to escape,” Schroder said.
Schroder said officials could put a pause on the payment plan so that it can consult with the county’s recently-formed diversity, equity and inclusion advisory council on best practices.
“It absolutely can be done, it’s just nuanced,” he said.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.
Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.
Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.