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By Randi Pierce
Two organizations working in Archuleta County have received Secure Rural Schools funding to further fire-mitigation projects within the county that satisfy the strict parameters of the funding.
Since fiscal year 2008, Archuleta County has been saving Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act Title III funding, with $170,506 available, including the 2012 portion of the funding, which will make its way to county coffers in 2013.
But, while the money sits in county coffers, staff has found it difficult to spend the funds due to the narrow parameters set forth for the funding:
• Carry out activities under the FireWise Communities Program, a program offered by the National Fire Protection Association.
• Reimburse a participating county for search and rescue, and other emergency services, that are performed on federal land and paid for by the county.
• Develop Community Wildfire Protection Plans.
A further bump in the road for the county in finding eligible projects for the funding is a deadline of Sept. 30 to “initiate” projects without having to return the funding to the federal government.
Because of that, county staff has been in contact with FireWise of Southwest Colorado and the Mountain Studies Institute (working in conjunction with the Upper San Juan Mixed Conifer Working Group), to find eligible projects.
Between the two entities, funding requests totaling $174,305 were made.
The FireWise request is as follows:
• $51,990 to fund the Archuleta County FireWise Coordinator for two years, at 55 hours per month, as well as to fund mileage, supplies, contribution to the regional program director, and professional development.
• $15,900 to institute a chipper rebate program that would reimburse homeowners a portion of the cost of renting a chipper or having a mitigation company provide chipping services.
• $28,000 to create demonstration sites along the Stollsteimer Watershed that demonstrate wildfire mitigation practices.
• $30,000 for Stollsteimer Watershed right of way mitigation to create fuel breaks along road rights of way, as well as improving the ingress and egress, sight distance and service as a mitigation demonstration area.
• $30,000 for the development of Community Wildfire Protection Plans.
The Mountain Studies Institute request, for $18,415, would be matched with other funds for a total of $125,710 to be used in addressing forest and watershed health through forest restoration activities.
But, because the totals requested for both entities were above the amount saved by the county, the commissioners approved lesser funding amounts for three of the FireWise programs, funding as follows:
• FireWise coordinator, $51,990.
• Chipper rebate program, $15,900.
• Stollsteimer Watershed demonstration site, $26,735.
• Stollsteimer Watershed road right of way mitigation, $28,733.
• Community Wildfire Protection Plans, $28,733.
• Mountain Studies Institute, $18,415.
“I think anytime we can do anything that provides defensible space around people’s homes, we need to do it,” said Commissioner Steve Wadley, adding that water, too, is at a premium and increasing watershed would be beneficial.
With the approval of the funding comes a 45-day comment period which was anticipated to open Wednesday, Sept. 26, with the posting of the comment period on the county’s website, www.archuletacounty.org.
That comment period is anticipated to end on Nov. 12 (in order to end it on a business day).
Comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to P.O. Box 1507, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147.