by Rick Langenberg
Green Mountain Falls elected leaders have declared their town a disaster area, allowing it to use emergency funds and to apply for relief monies from the state. The big question is how much money the city can get in dealing with the aftermath of the most significant flood it encountered in decades.
In addition, the town will hold a special forum on Sept. 17 to take the first step in developing something that Mayor Lorrie Worthey says is badly needed: a full-scale emergency response plan to grapple with disasters. “We all need to be together when a disaster strikes,” said the mayor, at a trustees meeting last week. Worthey cited some concerns about communications during the recent flood and would like to see the town compile an after-action report. “All of us need to be on the same page,” added Worthey.
The mayor will get part of her wishes answered shortly.
Through contacts made by Trustee Margaret Peterson, a presentation will be made on Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. by a representative of the Division of Homeland Security in the temporary GMF town hall (10605 Green Mountain Falls Road) to review the city’s current emergency resources and discuss such issues as rapid needs planning, specific responsibilities for civic leaders, the GMF community profile, threat and risk assessment and an emergency plan.
This announcement came, following a detailed analysis last week of the Aug. 22 floods that pelted the Ute Pass and Woodland Park with between four and six inches of rain in a short period, damaging several bridges, flooding businesses and homes and causing much damage to the city’s park, infrastructure and the Gazebo lake area. For the first time in recent memory, Green Mountain Falls’ main west-bound entrance and exit was shut down due to waves of flood waters and dangerous debris. On the upside, most local leaders and residents who attended the Sept. 3 meeting gave the city staff and emergency workers an A-plus in how it responded to the disaster, equated to almost to a 25 or 50-year flood. “It could have been a lot worse,” related GMF Police Chief Tim Bradley. “We didn’t lose anyone’s life.”
Bradley said that his agency tried to summon as many outside departments as possible, when parts of town near Fountain Creek were buried in water. But then when the threat subsided, he said town emergency workers decided to relieve outside agencies in fear of a big flood onslaught in Manitou Springs and the Waldo Canyon burn scar. That onslaught never came, but authorities were preparing for the worst, according to Bradley.
Public Works Director Robert McArthur asked for the council’s support of a disaster resolution, allowing it to obtain monies from the state Division of Local Affairs and to use emergency funds set aside every year. This resolution cited such immediate issues as the damage and needed repair for three bridges, a Lake Street utility diversion structure and the park/playground area at the Gazebo and work necessary for dredging the lake. McArthur estimated the initial damage at more than $50,000 for damages. However, he cited the Lake Street intersection, near The Pantry restaurant, with the destruction of 150-feet of piping, as probably the most significant impact of the flood. No costs were tabulated for that project.
McArthur also announced last week that town officials must have detailed talks with representatives from Woodland Park and the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments to discuss the issue of more definitive Fountain Creek and stream-side guidelines to better contain waters gushing down the Ute Pass in an uncontrolled fashion. “We are going to have this event every 10 years if we don’t do something,” said McArthur. He indicated that Woodland Park’s current Fountain Creek enhancement project, financed mostly by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, won’t alleviate the problems for Green Mountain Falls. “We are going to have to have a serious talk with them,” said the public works chief.
But Woodland Park Mayor David Turley said the two entities can talk all they want, but when you have a storm like the Aug. 22 rampage, good-hearted plans fall short. “I have never seen a flood like that up here,” said the mayor. “When you have a storm like that, Mother Nature is in charge. You are going to have floods.”
Contrary to McArthur’s views, Turley believes Woodland Park’s current project will play a big role in slowing down and controlling Fountain Creek flood waters that stem from Woodland. However, he said city leaders would be willing to discuss this issue in more detail with officials from GMF. The town trustees last week wasted little time in approving the disaster resolution, proposed by McArthur. In essence, this measure affirms the fact that GMF was struck by a serious disaster and needs to spend emergency funds. It also opens the door for the town to receive help from the state Division of Local Affairs. The trustees also believe the upcoming forum on Sept. 17 is a good chance to address a future emergency plan, a subject frequently addressed by the mayor. Worthey has cited the lack of an overall emergency response plan as a critical issue for Green Mountain Falls. She also expressed a few concerns with communications, such as following a system for who needs to get called and when for such events.
But contrary to some of her statements, a few trustees didn’t see communications as a big problem. Instead, they mentioned the fast pace of the flood event. “It wasn’t a lack of people trying to communicate with each other,” said Peterson, who said some elected officials had to worry about making it home that evening.