County announces new steps in reducing threats from flood

Last Tuesday, La Plata County officials announced new measures for handling the threat of flood.

“We’re looking at the new world we live in in terms of the aftermath of the flood,” said Joanne Spina, county spokeswoman.

Specifically, the county related its plan for keeping roads open during flash floods. “We’re neighbors in terms of impacts on the roads,” said Spina. “We’ve really got a good plan in place in terms of putting resources and response personnel in place the moment storms move in.”

In particular, the county has its eye on county roads 250, 501, 240 and 243. In addition to quick response, the county is adding signage to keep motorists from stopping in flood zones. One sign reads: “Entering Missionary Ridge Burn Area. No Stopping or Standing in Flood Crossing Zones During Rain or Snow Melt.”

Spina said the new signs are meant to warn the traveling public “that they’re moving into the Missionary Ridge burn area and that there’s no stopping or standing in flood areas.”

The county also encouraged its residents to be good neighbors and “not have a detrimental impact on neighboring properties,” Spina said. Specifically, officials addressed not diverting debris into public and private spaces.

These announcements come at a time when flood awareness is paramount, Spina said. “There’s certainly a lot more to be expected,” she said. “We’re still in the throes of the impacts of the Missionary Ridge fire.”

Bayfield overcomes water crisis

Bayfield’s 1,600 residents are drinking clean tap water again after four days without. Last Thursday afternoon, a filter at the town’s water treatment plant failed, tainting the town’s drinking water with dirty run-off from the Los Pinos River.

Since last Thursday, Bayfield has been under a state-mandated order for residents to boil their water for at least 10 minutes before use. Since that time, town officials have been busy flushing lines, refilling water tanks, replacing the clogged filter and rewiring the treatment plant to prevent this from recurring. Their efforts paid off, when on Monday, the Colorado Department of Health approved a water sample.

“Everything’s back to normal but with reduced flows due to the high turbidity,” said Robert Ludwig, Bayfield public works director. “Bayfield’s water is back to being treated, and we’re just happy that it has returned to normal.”

In addition to the clean bill of health from the state, Bayfield also completed fixes for the treatment plant Monday.

“We finished with doing some additional wiring which will fix the alarms so that we’ll now shut down completely if something like this happens again,” said Ludwig.

The community pitched in throughout the crisis. School board members bought 3,000 bottles of water for students and staff, Helping Hands and the Red Cross distributed free bottled water last Sunday, and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe loaned the town a 900-gallon water truck for the weekend.

Resort kicks $100,000 into employee housing in Silverton

Twenty Durango Mountain Resort employees who live in Silverton presented a check for $100,000 from the resort to Silverton and San Juan County officials on Sept. 11. The check is the first of two installments prescribed in the DMR Development Agreement approved in San Juan County last spring to go toward work-force housing.

“The best thing is that DMR recognized Silverton’s immediate need for housing,” said Chris Smith, Chairman of the San Juan Board of County Commissioners. “We need to create jobs and put children in our schools now. We appreciate DMR’s efforts and will put the money to good use.”

The money will be used to secure matching grants toward work-force housing in Silverton until the second installment next year, and then will go directly toward construction.

“This is just the first step in a long-term relationship and will help make both the resort and the town more economically viable,” said DMR CEO Gary Derck. “We’re pleased to be working with San Juan County and the town of Silverton and appreciate the efforts of everyone in San Juan County to make both our resort expansion and affordable housing in Silverton a reality.”

Around 20 people live in Silverton and work at DMR during the summer, with the number rising to 50 during the winter season.

The resort’s planned development will take place on 612 acres straddling Highway 550 adjacent to the resort. About one-third of the development lies in San Juan County, with the remainder in northerly La Plata County. In total, DMR will provide for 185 work-force housing units over the 25-year course of the project, with one-tenth of those to be built in Silverton/San Juan County.

Countywide fire ban lifted

Based on the recommendations of Sheriff Duke Schirard and local fire chiefs, La Plata County commissioners lifted the countywide fire ban Monday. The fire ban was originally enacted to minimize the high degree of fire danger that existed in La Plata County because of lack of moisture and extremely dry conditions.

“They felt that sufficient rainfall had dropped in the county to enable the fire ban to be lifted safely,” said La Plata County spokeswoman, Joanne Spina.

Last Friday, officials of the San Juan National Forest and Bureau of Land Management announced that they also had completely lifted fire restrictions. The agencies cited recent rains, cooler temperatures and higher humidities as leading to decreased fire danger.

Although the fire ban has been lifted, residents are still encouraged to exercise caution when burning. Spina said this is particularly important for larger-scale burning. “We’re still encouraging people to consult with their local fire chiefs to ensure that they’re burning safely,” said Spina.

BP boosts Search and Rescue

Even before wildfires ravaged the La Plata County countryside, BP America was exploring the possibility of turning over a surplus Chevy Suburban to La Plata County Search and Rescue. And since the fires, BP has also provided a $5,000 grant to help provide equipment and training support.

“It didn’t take a summer of drama caused by dry conditions and wildfires to know that our local emergency responders are a very special group, and we should look for ways to help them when we can,” says Jeff Spitler, BP’s Durango operations-center manager. “When we determined we were going to have a surplus vehicle that they could use, we were thrilled to turn over the keys.”

The vehicle donated by BP is a 1990 BE-ton heavy-duty 4x4 with 72,000 miles. Search and Rescue will be using it as a command vehicle. The emergency responders plan to keep the vehicle parked at the 32nd Street Fire Station in Durango, using the location as a rendezvous point. Search and Rescue also will use the Suburban to pull their equipment trailer.

“We’re very thankful to BP for this donation,” said Walt Walker, president of Search and Rescue. “The four-wheel drive is particularly important as we’re usually headed out to a trailhead. After it is outfitted with radios it will also provide us much better communication capabilities.”

La Plata County Search and Rescue is a nonprofit volunteer organization formed to assist the La Plata County Sheriff’s Department in search and rescue operations. The group has about 85 volunteer members who respond to nearly 40 calls a year. During the recent fires, volunteers logged 2,700 volunteer hours and fielded 40,000 phone calls on the information hotline.

-compiled by Will Sands





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