Dec 19, 2013 1:33 AM by Maddie Garrett
What to do with all of the burnt and dead trees in Black Forest? That is the question El Paso County Commissioners and property owners in Black Forest were asking Wednesday night at the County's Long Range Recovery Meeting.
The issue has become a heated and emotional one in Black Forest, with many people fearing that trees that still have green on them and could survive, are being marked for removal. There is also debate on who should be contracted out to remove the trees, and how the removal should be done.
As property owner Terry Stokka puts it, there's a reason people in Black Forest live there and love it.
"It's pretty precious to us - these trees," said Stokka.
People like Stokka want to make sure every tree that's not completely destroyed, is given a fair shot at life, even if it appears charred or burned.
"Let us see what happens next spring and summer, how much rain we get how much snow we get, to decide if that tree is going to live or die, we don't need to be in a hurry," he explained.
County leaders said when it comes to hazardous trees on easements in Black Forest, they'll have to be more strict and take out any trees that pose a threat to public safety. That means trees determined by the National Forest Service to have a 50% chance of survival will be removed.
But it's a different case for private property. El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn is assuring people, they won't go on someone's property and cut trees without written permission. He said the best option for property owners in Black Forest, is to allow the County to come on their property to remove trees under certain conditions, to make sure only trees people want removed are taken out.
"Bottom line, if we're talking about private trees on your property, we are not going to mandate that you cut those down," emphasized Glenn.
When it comes to a contract for the hazardous tree removal though, there is discontent.
"I think that the biggest problem is the way the county is going about this," said Dr. Judy von Ahlefeldt.
Von Ahlefeldt is a landscape ecologist, but also a fire victim in Black Forest. She said she doesn't think the contract process has been open enough to the public.
But for many people, the heart of the issue is deciding if using FEMA to remove the trees is worth it.
"FEMA is very complicated and they've got requirements and they've got deadlines, and those deadlines may not be in the best interest for our trees," said Stokka.
Commissioner Glenn said while FEMA will cover 75% of the costs, the County will still have to match FEMA and come up with the other 25%. A very rough estimate discussed at Wednesdays meeting is a cost to the County of about $1 million.
But along with FEMA's strict requirements, is the way the contract will be worked out. Under FEMA, the tree removal must be done on a "per tree" cost basis, instead of a "per acre" deal. There is also a timeline for when and how to use the FEMA money.
"We need to make that decision on whether or not we pursue FEMA funding and whether or not it's cost effective to do that. Or do we forego that and try to privately contract this effort out and does the county have the proper amount of staff to manage that effort?" said Glenn of the decision ahead.
Some people think it would be better to take care of the hazardous trees locally without the help of FEMA. Von Ahlefeldt said after doing some research, she believes it would be better for the County to handle the tree removal and contract someone local to do the removal on a "per acre" charge that could potentially be cheaper.
"They (the trees) are not an immediate hazard," she said. "So I think there needs to be some other options looked at and that's all I'm asking for."
Glenn said after Wednesday night's meeting, he's not sold on going with a FEMA contract, and neither are the other County Commissioners. However, they will have to make a decision and vote on it soon, at their meeting on December 31, 2014.
He also made clear at the meeting, that if it were to be FEMA that does the tree removal, the County would stipulate in the contract that 85% of the work would go to local sub-contractors, in an effort to keep the money and business in El Paso County.
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