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There are good fires

Gary Lindstrom

A good friend of mine from Iowa wrote tonight to ask about the fires. He wanted to know what happens after the fire and what the recovery period might be for the forest. He is much like many others throughout the nation who feel a direct connection to Colorado and our forests.

I have lived in Colorado for 32 years and have never seen anything like this. I can’t ever remember fires in this number or size.

I have lived in the mountains for 28 years and have never seen a forest fire of more than a few acres. They are saying the Hayman fire is 20 miles long and 14 miles wide. That is a huge area.

One thing I pointed out to my friend is that fire is actually beneficial to the forest. Yes, good for the forest. Not good for people, but good for trees and wildlife habitat.

In 1970 when I first skied the Big Burn at Snowmass at Aspen, I was totally blown away by the size of that area. I was told a huge fire around the turn of the century had burned that entire area of the mountain. I remember how neat it was to traverse the side of the mountain for long distances without trees or trails to deal with. Truly a wide open space.

Most of us remember the fires in Yellowstone National Park in the late 1980s. Many Summit County firefighters traveled to Wyoming with their trucks and other equipment to help control that fire. Most of the men and women who went recounted that all they could do was watch the forest burn. The National Park Service and the Forest Service at times were heavily criticized for letting the fire burn. There was a big debate about whether the fire was a good thing for the forest or a bad thing.

And the debate continues to rage.

There have been books and television documentaries about the Yellowstone fire. The proponents of not fighting forest fires will say burning is nature’s way of rejuvenating the forest. All of the undergrowth and old-growth trees are burned away to allow new growth to occur.

They will point to the fact that the wildlife returns to the area within a few days to continue to use the habitat. The grass and wildflowers actually grow back much more healthy than before. Trees begin to start to grow almost immediately.

The fire will actually cause seeds to explode and begin to revegetate almost within days of the fire. Without the shading and growth of the vegetation that has burned, the sun and the water have the opportunity to nurture the new growth.

To see the difference we only have to look at clear-cut areas. In the time I have lived here, I have seen the clear cuts in Summit County remain void of trees and thick growth. Some of the clear cuts I have witnessed still are not vegetated. Where there have been fires, the land has already begun to replace itself with new, thick growth.

I know it is a tragedy for the people who have lost their homes and possessions. People who build their houses in the woods should always consider the potential of losing everything to a forest fire.

I think we need to consider that forest fires are events that sometimes occur naturally. It is difficult to believe that houses occur naturally in the forest. Think about it.

Gary Lindstrom is a Summit County Commissioner and regular columnist for the Summit Daily News.SHA seeks sales tax increase

Jane Reuter

HOUSING

SUMMIT COUNTY – County residents likely will be asked to approve another tax increase this November. But this one won’t affect local property tax bills.

The Summit Housing Authority (SHA) is asking for an increase of .15 of 1 percent in the sales tax, an amount that would generate about $1.2 million annually – enough to make the SHA a self-supporting agency, continue its current programs and create more affordable housing than it’s capable of doing now.

The tax “amounts to a penny-and-a-half out of someone’s pocket when they make a $10 purchase,” said SHA Director Gordon Ferris. “We believe it’s a nominal, reasonable request and it’s not painful for anyone to pay a penny out of their pocket. People drop pennies on the floor all day long and don’t pick them up.

“We feel this is crucial to our mission. We hope the citizens in Summit County will be generous enough to pay (that tax) to make sure we can address the lack of affordable housing for the working folks in Summit County.”

The SHA recently hired a polling company to survey Summit County residents about potential taxes. Those surveyed were asked if they would support a property tax, an impact tax – such as a new construction fee – or added sales tax. Sales tax got the most support.

“Property tax was just “no way,'” Ferris said.

Last fall, voters approved property tax increases benefitting the school district and the Lake Dillon Fire Protection District, which significantly increased tax bills for many residents. Some local officials have since theorized residents are “taxed out” on the idea of additional property taxes. During that same November election, voters also approved a sales tax increase of one-quarter of a cent to support Summit County transit needs.

Ferris said the SHA needs the added funds to become self-supporting. Now, it is funded by the county, towns and ski areas, with the authority picking up the remainder of the tab. But that joint funding agreement ends with this calendar year.

The SHA still is a few steps from getting that question on the ballot.

A Colorado House Bill passed this year enables multijurisdictional housing authorities to access revenue streams, such as sales tax. While the SHA partners with several jurisdictions on its funding and many of its projects, it currently is not a multi-jurisdictional housing authority. It’s working to become that way.

That means asking the local town councils and county commissioners to participate in a multijurisdictional authority, which the SHA will do this summer. If they agree to jump on the bandwagon, the SHA can ask voters for tax revenue.

In addition to providing programs that benefit low-income renters and first-time homebuyers, the SHA works to buy land on which it can build affordably priced projects. That’s an aspect of its programs with which it has always struggled, Ferris said, and one that could be solved with the funds provided by the proposed sales tax.

“Because of the high cost of land and construction in Summit County, our hands are tied in that we need more subsidy money to make projects work than what is available traditionally through the state and the feds,” Ferris said. This tax increase “would provide subsidy money for the new development or acquiring existing properties we’ve been pretty much locked out of the ability to do because of high land and construction costs.”

Gibson Heights, an affordable housing project now under construction in Breckenridge, was realized only with a $1 million subsidy from the town of Breckenridge.

“That’s a lot of money for 40 units,” he said. “We’ve identified it takes from $10,000 to $40,000 a unit to build truly affordable housing in Summit County. The state, through the HUD federal funds, will only go to a maximum of about $8,000 per unit. So we need the subsidy money to accomplish our mission.”

In addition to asking the councils and governments to sign onto a multijurisdictional housing authority, Ferris plans to spend the next few months educating local residents about the SHA’s programs and its mission.

Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at jreuter@summit daily.com


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