Jeffco seeking residents ideas for disaster mitigation projects, priorities

County starting process to update plan for mitigating natural disasters

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/18/21

Anyone who has spent much time in Evergreen or Conifer likely knows the area has a long list of needs when it comes to reducing the potential harm posed by wildfires. However, they also likely …

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Jeffco seeking residents ideas for disaster mitigation projects, priorities

County starting process to update plan for mitigating natural disasters

Posted

Anyone who has spent much time in Evergreen or Conifer likely knows the area has a long list of needs when it comes to reducing the potential harm posed by wildfires. However, they also likely recognize there are only limited resources available to dedicate to such projects.

Now residents are getting an opportunity to suggest their specific ideas — and try to make them a priority when it comes to using those resources — as Jeffco begins the process of updating its Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan

That plan, last updated in 2016, deals with all manner of natural disasters faced by the county and serves as the county's roadmap for “reducing the loss of life and property by minimizing the risk of disasters.” The county must have a plan on file and update it every five years in order to qualify for FEMA grants that can be used to fund disaster mitigation projects.

On Jan. 14, Jefferson County held a virtual community information meeting where staff involved in the updating process discussed the timeline for that process and asked for the community to begin offering their suggestions for how the plan, which is published online, can be updated and improved.

“Any feedback you give us and any project considerations you give us are truly being thoughtfully considered and more often than not incorporated into the plan,” said Erika Roberts, who works for Jefferson County Emergency Management.

Roberts said the mitigation plan is the primary guide for what projects the county ultimately is able to secure grant funding for because the county must be able to “point to a project in the plan and say we have thought about it” when applying for mitigation grants.

“If you have a project that is pre-identified in the plan and it's specifically tied to one of your high or mean hazards then that just makes the project much more likely to get approved,” said Scott Field, an environmental consultant hired by the county to work on the plan update.

That could be particularly important going forward because the federal government is now making about 10 times more funding available to communities for disaster mitigation than it had previously through new grants called Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grants.

Among that one of the existing community needs that could be addressed is the lack of safe fire evacuation routes in and out of Evergreen, Field said.

Roberts said one of the other goals the county has as it begins the plan update process is to identify how county agencies can better collaborate and leverage themselves to get those grant dollars.

She said that will likely involve identifying ways to better hold the county and its partners accountable for getting into a position to get those grants.

Among the possibilities being considered by the county is to hire a grant writer who would be tasked with handling the process of applying for those grants. Roberts said two county agencies recently applied for a grant that would fund that position.

“We are looking at sort of the capacity building component for how do we as a county pull together all the county department hopes and dreams concerning mitigation,” she said. “All those conversations are being had and thought about.”

One meeting commenter from Evergreen named John, who did not give his last name during the meeting, said that was welcome news to him and other Evergreen residents who feel the county is not doing nearly enough to address wildfire risk in their community.

He said that he is particularly concerned about the many mitigation steps and projects identified in the 2016 plan that the county hasn't been able to undertake because it has had trouble securing funding.

“I think it all boils down to more community education and maybe staffing up for grant applications,” he said. “But my goodness, with our risk rating and the amount of money that's in that $500 million pool (the federal government allocated $500 million for BRIC grants last year), we should be able to get some significant dollars to start mitigating at least with the evacuation routes so people can get out of the neighborhoods.”

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