El Paso County leaders must act quickly to avoid losing $1.6 million in federal money for removing burned trees from certain areas of Black Forest.
County commissioners have considered the matter since last summer's wildfire destroyed or damage thousands of trees. The burned trees are considered a safety hazard because they can fall suddenly, and also be consumed as fuel by another fire.
The county wants to remove trees from public property along roads and utility lines. Two out-of state specialists, True North and Ceres, have agreed on contracts with the county to assess the number of trees needing removal, and to manage the actual removal.
Commissioners expect a final vote next Tuesday. The county has budgeted nearly $400,000 for burned tree assessment, while the $1.6 million cost of managing the removal would be paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Commissioners voted on the matter this week, but the vote ended in a 2-2 tie because member Sallie Clark was not present at the meeting.
Kyle Anderson, owner of a tree service business in Colorado Springs, has questions about the county's plan. He said he made an offer to be the county's exclusive burned tree remover, but was turned down.
"We're capable of managing it," Anderson said. "There's no reason to farm it out to somebody that doesn't reside here."
However, Anderson isn't out of the picture yet because FEMA's contract requires that Ceres assigns 85 percent of the tree removal work to "local" subcontractors. The county defines "local" as from Colorado, but Anderson believes it should mean from the county.
Anderson said his concern about the federal government funding a large part of the project is outweighed by what it would mean for his 14 employees.
"It could be a few months worth of work for sure," he said. "I could bring people off unemployment and bring them back on, full-time."
Anderson said Ceres representatives have told him that his business and a second business likely will get some of the removal work.
"I'd like to," he said. "But (there were) no promises and nothing in writing."
Commissioner Dennis Hisey said he realizes a decision on the matter has dragged on too long.
"They want to be able to say the FEMA contract is the cheapest and best way to go, and we won't really know that without taking a complete survey of the trees," he said.
If commissioners vote against the project, Hisey said the county will try to remove as many trees as possible with the money budgeted for tree assessment.
"But that may not go very far," he said.
The original deadline for removing burned trees on public property was Jan. 31, the county said, but was extended to allow for more public input. The county now plans to finish tree removal by July 31 to avoid losing the FEMA funding.
The county said many Black Forest residents want to know if financial assistance is available for burned tree removal on private property. County leaders said FEMA and the National Resources Conservation Service may have limited funds for that purpose.
The county has provided such information at its ongoing series of community information meetings for Black Forest residents.