Disaster Declared In Green Mountain Falls/Lower Ute Pass

Official scrambling for emergency aid

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

The town of Green Mountain Falls has joined Manitou Springs in declaring an emergency disaster, stemming from the July 23 storms that ravaged the community and destroyed miles of roads.

Vigorous clean-up operations ensued this week, but they amounted to a lost cause in many cases.

Last week, the board of trustees held a special meeting and declared an official disaster, similar to the edict issued earlier in Manitou. This opens the door for possible federal and state funds, but nothing is guaranteed.

“It is a state-wide event,” said Jason Wells, the Interim Town Manager of Green Mountain Falls, in describing the process for securing disaster monies.

Late last week, Wells indicated the town hall office has received a never-ending laundry list of complaints regarding damaged roads, culverts, driveway access entries blocked and impassable surfaces and much more. 

His desk on Thursday morning was bombarded by handwritten notes, with a town office besieged by calls.

“We have to look at the big picture,” admitted Wells, who said some of the big road improvements were delayed to handle individual requests. Late last week, the crews did tackle such main gravel thoroughfares, like Spruce, which earlier looked like a 4-wheel drive-only forest service route.   

On the upside, the town may be eligible for assistance. 

The town was recently contacted by Mark Boley, the South Central Field Manager of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“This is an official request for damages that may have been incurred by the town of Green Mountain Falls to public infrastructure, residences as well as businesses. The purpose of this request is to determine the magnitude and scope of this event not only for the town of Green Mountain Falls, but also for the region and state as a whole in the event there is an opportunity to qualify for state and federal assistance,” stated Boley.

Wells said that no dollar figure has been finalized, but he conceded the damage was significant for infrastructure and private losses.   

The town assembled emergency crews of six workers from El Paso County and also relied on assistance from Colorado Springs Utilities and the town of Fountain, along with its own employees.

But now, the town is back to handling the work with its public works crew, consisting of only one full-time worker and a part-time employee.

The floodwaters carried decomposed granite and other sediment down the steep hillsides that surround the town, causing debris to build up in drainage areas and around homes and businesses, according to many reports

“Really the biggest priority has just been pulling in as much outside resources as possible,” said Wells.

As for response to the work by local residents, Wells admitted the reaction has been mixed. “It really depends on whom you talk to.  If you can’t access your driveway, it is pretty tough,” said wells.  

“We have 13 miles of dirt roads and they were all damaged,” said Green Mountain Falls Mayor Jan Newberry in a report in The (Colorado Springs) Gazette. “Some roads were considered impassible for the first couple of days until we got people out there working on them.”

Roads and properties that were damaged the most were sections of Belvidere, El Paso and Ute Pass. Several roads, and mini-alleys were completely destroyed and shut down for  indefinite periods.

“We are hoping for some dry weather,” said Wells. With an annual budget of only $600,o00 and limited manpower, he contended that the town faces a daunting challenge.

In Manitou Springs alone, the damages are estimated at well more than $1.5 million.

Manitou Avenue, which was closed early last week, just northwest of the traffic circle at Ruxton Avenue, will remain shut down for several months. Crews are faced with the tasks of repairing  damaged culverts, along with the sinkhole, has made the road unsafe to drive, according to officials from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

 The big question hinges on whether both Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls can qualify for disaster funds. State officials met with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) last week.

If the storm’s damage exceeds the $7.7 million range combined in uninsured private and public losses, the prospects look possible for federal aid. County officials are optimistic about meeting this threshold.   

“If the state goes forward with its disaster declaration and it is accepted by FEMA, it could make available federal funding sources to assist in putting things back together as well as some possible state funding that is tied to emergencies,” said David Rose, a spokesman for El Paso County.

That could amount to a big bonus for Green Mountain Falls and Manitou Springs.