Surviving the Waldo Canyon Disaster

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by Rick Langenberg

 

 

Community forums to give local business operators a needed hand.

Can your business or nonprofit still obtain relief money from the devastating Waldo Canyon fire of last summer?

Are you prepared for future disasters, resulting from a huge burn scar near a major thoroughfare, and what will you do if Hwy. 24 closes again for an extended period due to floods?

What can area agencies and business development groups do to help you obtain loans, insurance and better defense plans?

These questions and more will become the focus of a community forum, slated for next Tuesday morning (April 23) at Gold Hill Theater, entitled “Surviving and Thriving After the Waldo Canyon Fire.” The forum, sponsored by Park State Bank & Trust, the Colorado Springs Small Business Development Center, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and other groups will occur from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The panel forum format will feature experts in business insurance, finance and loans, marketing and emergency preparedness. “When it comes to the next disaster, it is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when,” said Mike Perini, a marketing consultant for Park State Bank and a number of companies in the area, in discussing the forthcoming forum. “This is part of a big push to really help the businesses and people in Teller County in recovering from the Waldo Canyon fire and to plan for future disaster events. It is a major business outreach effort.”

According to Melinda Truscelli, the director of business and community development for Park State Bank, the forum will provide business and nonprofit operators a detailed look at the financial resources available to them in recovering from last summer’s fire and in preparing for future disasters.

In the last few months, elected leaders and officials in Teller and El Paso counties have echoed one overriding message: Prepare for the worst this summer due to the potential impacts, stemming from the Waldo Canyon burn scar. Residents, through a series of mitigation meetings, have been advised to develop immediate evacuation plans and prepare for utility outages, highway closures and the prospects of getting stranded. Already, some intensive mitigation projects have started in the lower Ute Pass area and west sections of Colorado Springs to fend off potential flood water and protect property owners near the Waldo Canyon burn scar.

For local businesses, these pending impacts can be even more devastating, especially with the closure of Hwy. 24. Plus, the highway situation is even more compounded by a recent decision not to open Rampart Range Road as an alternative route between Woodland Park and Colorado Springs (see related story).

As a result, local residents and business owners have raised many concerns about the summer of 2013. “This could really help a lot of businesses in the area and answer a lot of questions,” said Truscelli, in describing the purpose of next Tuesday’s forum. “We see this as a real service to the community.”

She said Park State Bank & Trust has developed a strong alliance with the Small Business Development Center. Unlike previous disaster meetings, this one is more tailored to local businesses and nonprofits throughout Teller County and will cover a diverse range of subjects. And besides featuring business, financial and insurance experts, the forum will allow community leaders to provide updates on the region’s immediate and long-term plans for disasters.

One of the more pressing goals of the meeting, though, deals with advising business folks how to complete their paper work for qualifying for potential Waldo Canyon fire relief funds. According to Truscelli, May 7 is the submission deadline for business operators who may qualify for these funds. Truscelli believes that a lot of business folks aren’t aware of these funding programs, which will be outlined during the meeting.

Business owners also will get a first-hand glimpse into how to obtain zero-interest small business loan packages in preparing for future disaster events. And there is always the challenge of developing a defense strategy for your business, when the doors are closed from a flood, fire or huge storm, or if you are temporarily evacuated.

The meeting also will provide an opportunity to put Teller County and Woodland Park more on the radar when it comes to preparing for future disasters. To date, Woodland Park and Teller County has been out of the loop regarding the recent slew of mitigation forums. This emerged as a major complaint during the Waldo Canyon fire relief effort, with Woodland Park not receiving nearly the amount of media attention that Colorado Springs got.

Woodland Park Mayor Dave Turley has expressed a big interest in establishing a dialogue with the U.S. Forest Service and other regional entities involved in the flood mitigation work. “We all want to make sure we are on the same page,” said Turley, “We are upstream (from the Waldo Canyon burn area). “We aren’t in the direct line of impacts. But what happens to that highway (U.S. Hwy. 24) is critical to Teller County. We want to be in the plans if that road would get closed.”

The Waldo Canyon forum is free to the public. However, registration is requested to reserve your seat at: http://tinyurl.com/cssbdc. For further information, call Park State Bank & Trust at 686-5259 or Perini & Associates at 651-5943.

Disaster preparedness is becoming a hot topic in the region, with no shortage of forums and informational sessions for local businesses and homeowners within the next month

Besides the Park State Bank forum, a meeting is being organized by the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce. As of press time Monday, a date hadn’t been set, but plans were in the works for a forthcoming forum that would feature insurance representatives and business disaster experts.

Chamber president Debbie Miller stated Monday that a future meeting would be held to further assist local businesses regarding steps they need to take to better prepare for this summer, such as developing proper insurance plans, reviewing their current policies and handling the prospects of business interruption. Chamber representatives are quite optimistic about the summer of 2013, with bullish predictions regarding the tourism season in the Pikes Peak region. But at the same time, the possibility of fires and flash floods has triggered many concerns. And besides these meetings, the flood mitigation meetings for lower Ute Pass and Colorado Springs residents, mostly sponsored by the El Paso County government, will continue. Meetings are scheduled on April 15 and April 24 in the Manitou Springs City Hall. Plus, an earlier scheduled meeting for Chipita Park and Cascade residents will be held on April 22 at the Ute Pass Elementary School. These sessions all begin at 6:30 p.m.

The initial series of flood mitigation meetings kicked off on April 8 for Green Mountain Falls residents and attracted a large crowd of more than 100 people.

Residents were warned about potential run-off from the hills north of U.S. Hwy 24 and that they may have to react quickly, when it comes to flash floods. “What we are looking at is about six times the amount of water and stuff coming off the burn scar compared to what you’re used to,” said Patty Baxter, of the El Paso County Office of Emergency Management, according to a report in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

But in the last week, key mitigation projects have already begun, orchestrated by private companies with the help of federal dollars. Some of these have occurred in Cascade and in the western part of Colorado Springs. They are aimed at preventing flooding and Hwy. 24 closures, when the area gets pounded by big rain storms.

Emergency officials, though, worry that time is not on the side of local residents. But luckily, the region has reaped many financial benefits with the U.S. Congress approving nearly $9 million worth of emergency watershed protection dollars to help combat flooding and erosion problems in the Waldo Canyon burn scar. Current planning studies, coordinated by the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, will determine how to prioritize projects. However, at last week’s forum at the Ute Pass Elementary School, El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark stressed the urgency of facilitating these study results and spending these emergency funds prior to December. Otherwise, she fears the emergency money can’t be used.