Officials from the city of Aspen, Pitkin County, the Aspen Fire Protection District and the Colorado State Forest Service are recommending an estimated $4.8 million in improvements to Aspen’s wildfire-mitigation system.
East Aspen and Red Mountain have been identified as high-risk wildfire areas. Making up the bulk of the request is an estimated $3.66 million project — which comes to $4.8 million with contingency costs of 30 percent — aimed at improving water-delivery systems in those two areas.
According to a memorandum to the Aspen City Council, 17 hydrants in the Red Mountain neighborhood and six hydrants in East Aspen neighborhoods produce inadequate fire-suppression flows. Also listed as a weakness is the dependency from water pumps on Holy Cross power lines, which would be threatened in a wildfire. Finally, undersized water pumps and undersized water lines — as well as insufficient water-storage capacity in East Aspen — round out the system’s listed deficiencies.
Assistant City Manager Barry Crook said the city did not consider what surrounding municipalities have spent on fire protection.
“What we’re trying to do is figure out what we need to do and how much it’s going to cost us to do that,” Crook said. “What somebody else spends, I presume they’re reacting to their circumstances.”
David Hornbacher, the city’s director of Utilities and Environmental Initiatives, added that there are about 1,800 residents and more than $1.5 billion in property value for structures on Red Mountain.
He said the cost of improvements compared with what it’s helping to protect, in terms of human life and property value, is very small.
Should the City Council support the proposed upgrades, it will need to determine which residents will pay the cost.
With approval, the city would bond for the money up front on a 25-year amortization basis, and interest charges would ultimately dictate the total cost. Either the water utility would fund these costs through rate increases, or property owners would seek to establish a local improvement district, the memo states.
Options for rate increases include spreading the cost of upgrades to all customers, having customers in the affected service areas pay the entire cost or a combination of the two.
Other future improvements proposed include the creation of a $35,000 neighborhood wildfire-mitigation program, easement fuel breaks/anchor lines and evacuation routes. In order to make way for evacuation routes through their properties, the owners would need to give consent and a formal easement. According to the memo, there is an ongoing dialogue with residents. The city has looked at the following neighborhoods: Mountain Valley, Knollwood and Mcskimming.
The neighborhood wildfire-mitigation program would provide a collective group of property owners with resources to mitigate risk to property. Past programs have been based on a voluntary property-by-property patchwork of fuel removal, which has seen minor success, the memo says. The program will kick off with a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. on June 11 at the Fire Department.
The cost for the next step of the project — which is for final planning and design and has been included in the final $4.8 million estimate — is $200,000.
Also in the request is the option to explore further legislative options. Both the county and the city have building codes to ensure structures are ignition resistant. A risk-assessment map was created and implemented in 2007. In the near future, the memo states, the city would like to update the map and risk areas and amend the 2007 ordinance.