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Wildfire mitigation to be multi-year effort, Aspen city manager says

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

The request on the Aspen City Council’s table at Tuesday’s work session was for $130,000 to jump-start wildfire-mitigation efforts around the city.

But that midyear budget price tag primarily covers planning efforts associated with a five-year, $680,000 program aimed at reducing Aspen’s exposure to wildland blazes, city officials told council members, adding that the cost estimate is very preliminary.

“It’s a long-term program,” said City Manager Steve Barwick. “It’s not going to happen overnight. But it’s extremely important that we do this.”

During the meeting, utilities-project coordinator Will Dolan and others pointed out the city’s susceptibility to wildfires. They laid out a four-point plan of attack to get the multiyear program underway:

• Construction of evacuation routes through Aspen Grove Cemetery.

• Community outreach and fuel clearing, primarily in the Knollwood subdivision, including the Eastwood Road area, on Aspen’s east side.

• Approving utilities easements on Red Mountain, along existing easements for water and electrical lines, to create “fuel breaks.” Barwick stressed that they aren’t comparable, in terms of size, to formal fuel breaks one might see during wildfire fights.

• Installing emergency backup generators at most of the city’s water-pump stations to ensure that water continues to flow to hydrants and taps in the event of a power outage.

Councilman Adam Frisch asked whether the fuel-clearing effort would mean removing trees near houses, a point of past controversy since the city has restrictions in place to prevent property owners from removing trees willy-nilly.

Parker Lathrop, a firefighter with the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, said the program would not involve removing healthy trees from the local landscape. He said the brush and overgrowth around trees would be targeted as a way of keeping the trees themselves from igniting.

Councilwoman Ann Mullins asked if the city’s partners in the program — Pitkin County, Holy Cross Electric, the Aspen Valley Fire Protection District and the U.S. Forest Service — would be sharing the $680,000 cost. Officials said no; that rough cost estimate represents the city’s share in the program. The other agencies will have their own budget toward the combined effort, but the city stands to bear the greatest financial burden for wildfire prevention within its borders.

“There’s a lot of work to do here, and we’re going to be talking about this for years to come,” Barwick said.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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