In Wake of Boulder Fires, Evacuation and Notification Are Key
OURAY COUNTY – The devastating wildfires in Boulder County this summer came up more than once as Ouray County Commissioners heard this week about a Community Wildfire Protection Plan from County Emergency Manager Alan Staehle.
Staehle and Log Hill Volunteer Fire Department member Charlie Carson showed commissioners a freshly printed Log Hill Mesa Residents’ Evacuation Guide and touted two separate but complimentary emergency notification services, one of which they hoped the county might join, assuming they can find the $3,000 annual subscription fee.
Staehle reported on a recent meeting with Anchor Point Group, the fire management consulting firm responsible for San Miguel County’s recently completed CWPP. “They came out here Sept. 22 for a week to look at our problem spots. I wanted them to see Log Hill, Mineral Farm above Ouray, Piedmont Hills,” among other areas. “They understand that this is a real danger in our county. We hope by mid-January to have a comprehensive-enough report for the public” to see, Staehle said.
Staehle noted that a CWPP had been prepared for the Fourmile Canyon area outside Boulder, and the fact that there were no fatalities in that blaze certainly spoke to plan’s value.
The Ouray Fire Protection District is contributing $1,000 to the $40,000 total cost of the plan. None of the money is coming out of county coffers, according to Commissioner Keith Meinert.
The two emergency notification systems, TNS and WENS, could be used to alert homeowners in case of wildfire, Staehle said, and for other emergencies, like mudslides across highways and approaching hailstorms.
TNS, or Targeted Notification System, is a so-called “reverse 911” system. Montrose, San Miguel and Ouray counties are already participating. Anyone with a traditional telephone line has his number automatically in the database. In case of wildfire in a populated region, the north mesa for example, the system would call everyone affected with a voice message.
The system can’t automatically incorporate cell-phone numbers, so Staehle and Carson encouraged the county to put a link on its website for cell customers to sign up. The TNS system is free to the public.
There’s no charge to use the WENS system either, but users have to sign up, and the county would have to pay an annual subscription fee. The Wireless Emergency Notification System works through text messages and emails to smart phones and other wireless devices.
Commission Chair Lynn Padgett had already experienced its benefits as she drove toward Telluride this summer and was warned by WENS about an approaching hailstorm. “Golf-ball sized hail!” she said. “And I was driving a soft top. I got to shelter in time.
“I see this as a real benefit,” she continued. “For fire, too. The question is, can we accomplish it? Or can we tell the public that we can’t do this as a county service? Can we get funding help?”
The board voted to continue the budgetary discussion until their Nov. 8 meeting, “after we know the outcome,” said County Administrator Connie Hunt, “of the vote on the ‘Ugly 3’” amendments.
Kinder Morgan Pays $308,000 Settlement
“I’d like to make a verbal press release,” said BOCC Chair Lynn Padgett at this week’s regular meeting in Ouray. “Kinder Morgan buried a gas line along County Road 17 that resulted in significant erosion damage. This is the narrow, historic railroad grade (west of the river and north of the town of Ouray). Kinder Morgan bonded for the job. And we have just received a check for $308,000 and change, which is what the county engineer and staff estimated would be needed to make the repairs. We’re placing it in an interest-bearing fund specifically dedicated to CR 17. Hopefully, the repairs can start this spring. This is a great outcome. You don’t often get to see a $308,000 check!”
Forest Service Ranger Reports OHV Use ‘Exploding’
The U.S. Forest Service Alpine Ranger for the high country around Ouray reported to county commissioners this week that Off Highway Vehicle use (ATVs, side-by-sides, dirt bikes) has “exploded in the last five years.”
Warren Barker’s job is to patrol the jeep roads “primarily between here and Telluride,” from about Memorial Day, when Yankee Boy Basin opens, through the middle of September, he told the commissioners in his end-of-season report. He monitors the groups with special use permits “like the Range Rover group that filmed up here for two weeks. And the Toyota FJ Cruisers, who were permitted for over 200 vehicles. But they are highly organized; they spread them out. I heard no complaints. They’re a good group.”
He kept watch on the Colorado 500 motorcycle riders, the Imogene Pass Run, the Colorado 400 motorcycle group (“They had some bad weather.”), and the various jeep tour companies out of Ouray, Telluride and Silverton.
Barker said that he had to issue a couple of citations (at $125 a pop) to parents who let their unlicensed children drive unsupervised in the high country. A 14-year-old was involved in a serious accident this summer, he said.
Commission Chair Lynn Padgett said, “We’ve had tragic accidents involving experienced adult drivers this summer. It’s really sad.” The most recent fatality occurred in Governor Basin when a mother and daughter drove their side-by-side off a 300-foot embankment. It’s a problem enforcement officers and county officials have wrestled with for years.
“It’s pretty cheap recreation, really,” Barker said of the ballooning numbers of OHV users. “One tank of gas, 15 bucks, and they can ride all day.”
On the bright side, Barker said that due to the prevalence of quieter four-stroke engines, he didn’t have to issue any citations this season for “exhaust (noise) levels.”
Commissioner Keith Meinert asked about future funding for enforcement on the jeep roads.
“There’s a ton of money sitting there,” Barker said of certain OHV grant programs. “I think the counties might be more successful in getting enforcement money than the USFS.”
Mullings Introduces New Owners of Plaindealer and Sun
Longtime owner/publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer and the Ridgway Sun David Mullings appeared before the county commissioners at their regular meeting this week for, he said, two reasons.
First, in an extraordinary demonstration of humble pie, Mullings apologized to the board for his editorial in the Sept. 29 edition of the Sun. “I blew it,” he said, “and will revisit the issue in this week’s editorial.”
The screed in question had taken the commissioners to task – excoriated them – for what Mullings called “arbitrary actions” and “a taking of property rights” regarding a request to subdivide a 35-acre parcel wholly enclosed by the Dallas Meadows subdivision north of Ridgway. The commissioners had denied the California-based owner’s application to subdivide the property. “These decisions,” Mullings wrote, “test the limits of logic and reason.”
On Monday, though, Mullings came to tell the BOCC that they had in fact been correct, both legally and procedurally, and that he regretted his earlier words.
The second reason for his appearance was happier. “I am as of last Friday (Oct. 1),” he told the board, “a private citizen.” He then introduced Beecher Threatt, one half (with Alan Todd) of the wife-husband team who has purchased the newspapers from Mullings.
“I have every confidence that they are good newspaper people,” he said. “And good community people.”
Commissioner Keith Meinert asked if Mullings was planning to stay involved in the community. “I’m going to apply for a seat on the planning commission,” Mullings answered, tongue firmly in cheek. “I’m joking. I plan to get disinvolved for a while.”
Meinert said, “Thank you for the last 15 years. Even though we haven’t always seen eye to eye.”
“We’ve learned some good lessons from each other,” added Commissioner Heidi Albritton. And with that, Mullings ducked out of the room.