Woodland Leaders Seek A Tougher Stance With Forest Service

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by Rick Langenberg

 

Are we prepared for another major fire or flood event? And why is the regional office of U.S. Forest Service not responding better to our needs?

These questions were raised loud and clear by several members of the Woodland Park City Council during last week?s regular meeting. Even with a few reassuring words from City Manager David Buttery, the consensus of the council was that town leaders need to get answers to key questions, and more specifically, they must pursue a more aggressive attitude with the Forest Service in dealing with future disasters, opening up Rampart Range Road and trimming trees next to residential areas.

Buttery agreed to update the council regarding its Waldo Canyon Fire after-action plan and its hazard mitigation efforts, but cautioned that it has limited jurisdiction. ?The forest around here belongs to the U.S. Forest Service,? said Buttery.

A meeting, marked by an extremely light agenda, got somewhat heated during the period reserved for council reports, with several leaders outlining some big concerns over emergency preparedness and a future bond election in November (see related story).

Councilman Gary Brovetto, an elected leader sometimes known for his outspoken commentary, went on the offensive and questioned the lack of a more centralized detection system in the Pikes Peak area for a potential disastrous fire. He wondered why a fire detection tower hasn’t been in place on top of Pikes Peak or in another strategic area. He believes the region has good defensive plans for responding to disasters, but still lacks a centralized detection system. And if a huge fire occurs, such as another Waldo Canyon or Hayman blaze, he cited the importance of detecting a blaze of this calamity at the outset.

“We are approaching fire season. We need to make our concerns known”, said Brovetto.

Besides the need for a fire detection tower, the councilman believes the city needs to get more aggressive in demanding the reopening of Rampart Range Road by the Forest Service. “I don’t think we have been forceful enough,” said the councilman. He cited this as a critical secondary road between Woodland Park and Colorado Springs, and one that could serve as an ideal alternative route if Hwy. 24 gets shut down due to a disaster. The section of the road between the Rampart Reservoir and Colorado Springs has remained shut since the Waldo Canyon fire of 2012.

Other council members weren?t quite as aggressive in pushing their concerns, but cited a few problems in the emergency preparedness arena. “The weak link is detection,” said Mayor Pro Tem and Councilwoman Carrol Harvey. She asked for an update on the council’s Waldo Canyon after-action report.

In addition, Councilman Ken Matthews expressed concerns about the lack of tree thinning in certain forest sections near residential areas in Woodland Park. He said homeowner groups can do great mitigation efforts, but if the Forest Service doesn?t clean up adjoining areas, it won’t do much good. He said he was told that an environmental study had to be performed prior to thinning trees in certain adjoining areas between neighborhoods and the forest.

Matthews stressed that residents aren’t asking for these trees to be cut down, but merely want them to be trimmed. And with so much of Woodland Park adjoining the Pike National Forest, he wanted to get more guidelines.

City officials, though, didn’t quite agree with the council’s perception of a lack of cooperation by the U.S. Forest Service.

Public Works Director Bill Alspach described the tree thinning and trimming efforts around Woodland Park as second to none in the state. “Our community has a heightened sense of awareness,” said the public works director, in describing the tree mitigation efforts.

He said a huge amount of dollars had been invested in trimming heavily forested areas between Crystola and parts of Woodland Park

And contrary to the council’s perception, Alspach indicated city officials are in constant contact with representatives from the Forest Service. However, he cautioned that their regional office has limited resources.

Buttery echoed similar sentiments and told the council that the city has sent many letters to the U.S. Forest Service pertaining to reopening Rampart Range Road. He also remained quite skeptical about the idea of a fire tower, and believes an overall detection system is already in place. “People burn things in rural areas,” said Buttery, in describing the difficulty of establishing a single tower area that could identify all significant fires.

The city manager agreed to present a report to the city council at its June 5 meeting.