Emergency evacuation plans sought
by Rick Langenberg:
Even with a potential infusion of nearly $9 million for flood prevention money, get ready for 25 and 100-year storms invading the Ute Pass this summer.
That’s the message of key emergency service officials, who are starting a major educational campaign this week as part of a “Flood Awareness Month.” The forums kicked off on Monday night with an informational session for Green Mountain Falls residents. Additional meetings for Ute Pass homeowners are scheduled for Tuesday (April 9) at the Ute Pass Elementary School and on April 15 and April 24 in the Manitou Springs City Hall. These sessions all begin at 6:30 p.m. Another meeting is slated for the Glen Eyrie Castle Great Hall in Colorado Springs on April 11. And this is just the beginning of a large-scale campaign, with officials from El Paso County, the city of Colorado Springs, the Coalition for the Upper South Platte and other entities planning to go door to door to get residents to start making emergency plans for this summer. The educational meetings are expected to extend throughout the month of April.
The goal is to educate residents about the difference between flood watches and warnings and discuss community and individual evacuation plans. “There’s a tremendous effort to get people to think of their own plan,” said Dave Rose, public information officer for El Paso County. “There’s a lot of concern that people’s natural instinct will get them into trouble.”
Unlike other storms, the best avenue of escape from flash flood water is to head to higher ground, rather than to search for the quickest exit from the area. Serious preparations must begin now for those residents who reside in flood plain zones in the Ute Pass.
Officials fear that a relatively minor rain storm this summer could trigger flash floods along the Waldo Canyon burn scar, comparable to substantial 25-year floods. For example, a strong autumn rain storm last September, fueled huge floods that seriously damaged many properties in Cascade and nearly drowned a motorist and left the Ute Pass Elementary playground under water. Despite valiant efforts by the Forest Service and local agencies, emergency service officials faced a losing battle against Mother Nature due to the scarred Waldo Canyon terrain.
Already, emergency officials are gauging ways they can determine in advance when a fairly substantial rain storm invades the area.
Some residents in the impacted areas will be provided with sandbags.
Besides learning where to flee from floods, residents will be advised to prepare for associated disasters, such as frequent closures of Hwy. 24, the loss of utility services and common services, and even the prospects of not returning to their homes for an extended period. Also, the issue of insurance coverage is becoming a controversial topic, with many homeowner in the Waldo Canyon burn scar, or in nearby areas, complaining they are getting the shaft due to complex regulations and a tremendous amount of red tape. In addition, business owners are looking for advice regarding how they can obtain extra funds through grants regarding impacts they incur from direct floods or economic fallouts from these events.
At a previous meeting in Green Mountain Falls, many residents were warned to expect the worst this summer. Local officials and emergency experts told residents to expect to see Hwy. 24 shut down for extended periods and to consider buying emergency power generators and to start making evacuation plans now.
On the upside, relief is on the way, at least on paper. The U.S. Congress approved a $40 million-plus watershed protection relief package, with an estimated $8.8 million going to the Waldo Canyon burn area. And last week, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities signed a memorandum of understanding that would clear the way for spending $6 million over the next five to 10 years, in an effort to restore the Waldo Canyon burn scar and to protect watersheds in the utility’s water system. Springs Utilities will fund the work, while the Forest Service will manage, assist and support the project work. The partnership is being touted as a unique partnership.
But many relief officials wonder if the money can be used to do projects in time for what many predict will become the worst flood season in the Ute Pass in recent memory. Already, hundreds of volunteers have been working against the clock to do reseeding, planting trees and building structures to curb erosion. However, as evident from the devastating Hayman fire of 2002, these restoration projects take several years before tangible results are evident.