by Rick Langenberg:
Campaign launched to reopen Rampart Range Road
What if floods and rock slides pound the area this summer along Hwy. 24 and in the Waldo Canyon burn area, with the likelihood of the main thoroughfare getting shut down again?
Is an alternative route available that doesn’t require a two and a half hour drive, or more notably, is there an emergency “trigger point” in place so the city can prepare itself for more disaster scenarios?
What if the fire dangers increase across the state and the local community can’t rely on outside resources? Can the region fend for itself?
What if the current drought persists and Woodland Park’s annual water yields from lakes outside the area continue to decrease? Do the taps run dry in the near future, or should officials take action now to save and store more water.
These questions and more were raised last week, as the city of Woodland Park released its lengthy Waldo Canyon fire after-action report. This evaluated the city’s performance in such areas as communications, planning, emergency management, public safety, fire responses, evacuation procedures, public information, medical needs, mass care and other concerns in handling the most destructive blaze in the history of Colorado. About 5,000 residents in the Woodland Park, Crystola and Ute Pass area were evacuated, while the main core of Woodland remained on a stand-by evacuation status for more than a week.
The report gave city officials mostly a good grade, especially in conducting regular meetings with residents, having good interagency cooperation and using modern technology. But the report cited a laundry list of areas of needed improvements, including better mapping and evacuation marking systems for citizens, increasing resources at city hall, having more emergency outlets for pet owners and getting city employees to participate more in the planning process with better computer equipment and designated duties.
A meeting in the Woodland Park council chambers will be held on Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. to further discuss details of the report, which will serves as a road map for how the community responds to future disasters. However, the report is just one subject that is dominating conversation among city leaders, who are worried about dealing with another Waldo Canyon fire disaster this summer. More specifically, several elected leaders are raising red flags about such issues as flooding, water resources, fire safety and emergency access.
Rampart Range Road Campaign
As a stop-gap measure, city officials last week announced that Woodland Park plans to make a formal request to the U.S. Forest Service to reopen Rampart Range Road, between Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. Both City Manager David Buttery and Public Works Director Bill Alspach described this as a key recreational corridor and as a much needed alternative route. This road has been completely shut down since the Waldo Canyon fire, a development that has shut off a key spot for hikers, skiers and boat aficionados. “We need to reopen this recreational corridor,” said Alspach. “This is an important area for our residents and for visitors.”
Since the Waldo Canyon fire, this road, which provides direct access to the Rampart Range Reservoir, has been shut down. Informal talks have occurred between city officials and the Forest Service regarding changing this situation, with no real positive developments.
As a result, local officials now want to put a little more pressure on the feds and plan to make a formal request and possibly get some lobbying help from neighboring entities. “We will see what happens, but we really need to reopen that road,” said the public works director.
Besides serving as a vital recreational area, Alspach notes that Rampart Range Road could provide the area with a needed alternative route between Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. And with the topography of Rampart Range Road, he sees this route as able to withstand the flooding problems inside the Waldo Canyon burn area. He said alternative routes, besides U.S. Hwy. 24, are being explored.
One harsh lesson officials learned from last summer’s fire hinged on the importance of U.S. Hwy. 24 and the impacts of having this thoroughfare shut down for an extended period. For nearly 10 days last summer during the fire, residents desiring to travel between Woodland Park and Colorado Springs had to endure a two and a half hour one-way trip through Canyon City or near Denver to make the journey. Moreover, the road closure killed local commerce and put a huge damper on the summer’s tourist and gaming season.
The idea of reopening Rampart Range Road got met with positive responses by the city council last week.
But some leaders are asking if this enough.
During last week’s emergency disaster discussion, Councilwoman Carrol Harvey also questioned if the city has a “trigger point” in evaluating the possibility of future floods on U.S. Hwy. 24. Harvey spoke somewhat from personal experience as last week she got stuck in a huge Hwy. 24 traffic delay from a rock slide near Waldo Canyon. Some have suggested these types of scenarios in the Waldo Canyon area could become a frequent occurrence.
According to the public works director, the city will put emergency plans into place when it receives more than a one-quarter inch of rain per hour. “That is our trigger point,” said Alspach.
Besides lobbying for the reopening of Rampart Range Road, officials will evaluate emergency access points in the Green Mountain Falls/Cascade area, according to Alspach.
And last week, Woodland Park Police Chief Bob Larson updated the council on ways it can impose more fire restrictions if necessary, without having to rely on the county.
According to most reports, the summer of 2013 will emerge as another challenging time in grappling with more fires, with predictions of a dry winter and early spring. Plus, the issue of limited water resources is making several council members quite nervous.
The council last week agreed to allocate 90 single family water taps for 2013 out of its supply bank. The council also learned that it has enough H2O resources to serve a future allotment of 835 water taps for single family homes prior to reaching a population cap. But Harvey continued to grill officials on what she believes are alarming reports regarding the ongoing drought in Colorado. “We are in dire straits,” said Harvey, who questioned if the city has a backup plan.
She was referring to reports that certain reservoirs and lakes, which furnish water to cities in the Front Range, including Woodland Park, are falling well below 50 percent capacity levels. As a result, the amount of water Woodland Park could receive from the shares it has purchased from these lakes will definitely decline.
However, Buttery and Utilities Director Kip Wiley cautioned that this is only one part of the city’s water equation. But at the same time, they indicated that if the state’s drought continues, the city may have to alter its water policies. “If we get a long-term drought, we would be looking at things differently,” said Wiley. “If we have 90 taps sold (this year) it would be great,” announced Mayor Dave Turley, who believes the city is well poised to handle its immediate water situation