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Natural Disasters

Friday, January 24, 2020

City, feds team up on air tanker base at COS airport

Posted By on Fri, Jan 24, 2020 at 5:23 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and the city of Colorado Springs announced on Jan. 24 they would team up to build a permanent air tanker base at Colorado Springs Airport to fight fires in the Rocky Mountain Region and the West.

Mayor John Suthers hailed the announcement, noting increasing forest fire activity.

“We want to do everything we can to protect our beautiful state and our residents," Suthers said in a release. "As wildland firefighting continues to be a priority for western states, we continue to embrace our leadership role and we look forward to completion of this vital asset."

The project, the base and a ramp will cost $20 million and be shared by the airport and the USDA. The USDA has budgeted $37 million for Aviation Safety Modernization Projects.

From the release:
The one-and-a-half-acre base will initially house six reload pits for any type of contracted airtanker, including Very Large Airtankers that can hold more than 5,000 gallons of retardant—making it the largest base in the region, with the ability to serve a 600-mile radius. The base will support even the largest airtankers and will allow multiple airtankers to reload at once. This will allow an increased amount of retardant to be sent to a wildfire faster and with greater efficiency. It will also help the firefighters on the ground and protect communities from the approaching threat of wildfire. By being able to service aircraft of all sizes and capabilities, the base will also reduce the total number of flights needed to fight a wildfire, reducing the risk to additional flight crews and other regions.
Not connected with that announcement but worth noting is that the so-called "supertanker" that carries 19,200 gallons of water or retardant also is based in Colorado Springs. It recently was called upon to assist in battling fires in the Amazon.

“This project is a perfect example of how we can work within all levels of government to promote shared stewardship,” the USDA's Acting Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien said in the release. “I am excited to see it unfold and to see what it will mean for supporting communities during peak fire year activity.”

The tanker base will serve a 600-mile radius, which includes Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska. The base will also provide support to southern Montana, southeastern Idaho, eastern Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, western Iowa and western Missouri.

The release also noted the eight-acre ramp will be located near the airport’s main 13,500-foot runway and adjacent to the U.S. Army-operated ramp. During the winter months, when the Forest Service is not using the ramp, the airport will use it as a de-icing area for commercial aircraft. Groundbreaking is slated for spring, and the project is expected to be completed in 2021.

Of course, hosting an air tanker base doesn't guarantee that air tankers will be on-hand when they're needed. During the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, the Forest Service had only nine tankers under contract, compared to 44 a decade earlier.
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Friday, July 27, 2018

Manitou Springs declares local disaster after flooding

Posted By on Fri, Jul 27, 2018 at 9:24 AM

The aftermath of a storm July 23 in Manitou Springs. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • The aftermath of a storm July 23 in Manitou Springs.

In spite of the July 23 flood event that resulted in around $1.5 million in damage — about 15 percent of Manitou Springs's general fund — Mayor Ken Jaray wants everyone to know the city is still "open for business."

But Jaray says the aftermath of the storm, which dropped more than 2 inches of rain and hail in 30 minutes, inundating the streets with debris and damaging infrastructure, is more than Manitou Springs can handle alone. He's declared a local disaster emergency, which will allow the city, residents and businesses to be eligible for state and federal relief funding.

Jaray says tourists are as welcome as ever in Manitou Springs.

"We didn’t want people to think that with that declaration that somehow we were not operating normally, and we are operating normally," he said at a press briefing July 26. "We did it because it opens the door for funds, but it wasn’t to dissuade anybody from coming to our town."

Major issues after the July 23 flooding "include Serpentine Road repairs, Schryver Park parking lot, park and bridges, Soda Springs Park, Pawnee Avenue, storm water system repairs, street and bridge repairs, facility repairs, and sediment and debris removal throughout the City," Jaray said in a statement. "We do not have current estimates of the cost to local residents and businesses."

Monday's storm shared some eerie similarities to the catastrophic flooding in 2013 after the Waldo Canyon Fire, which resulted in almost $14 million in damage to city-owned infrastructure, according to Crystal Abeyta, the city's grant administrator.

But since then, the city has completed a range of flood mitigation projects, helped along by state and federal grant flooding, that alleviated much of the danger to residents and businesses.

In 2014, Manitou received $580,000 in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief funding for projects such as a $78,000 wall to protect the foundation under City Hall. The National Resources Conservation Service also awarded over $500,000 in grants to Manitou for flood mitigation and repair projects in 2015. The Department of Local Affairs gave Manitou $643,300 to hire five employees to help with flood projects for two years.

In 2015, the city received $4.9 million more in CDBG Disaster Relief funds, allowing it to replace a damaged pipeline, install a new culvert at Serpentine Road, put in a new culvert under Manitou Avenue at El Monte Place, replace an aging and undersized water line in the Peak View Subdivision for better fire protection, and complete a project in Williams Canyon to protect downtown from flooding.

The city's also received relief over the years from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Manitou Springs Police Department Chief Joe Ribeiro says those projects helped save the city from a repeat of 2013's devastation, even though there was more precipitation this year.

"I think what we saw yesterday was on the scale or larger than the 2013 floods," he says. "If you recall, in 2013, we didn’t have any of our mitigation work done. The Williams Canyon [mitigation project] really did its job in my observation, and it made a significant difference."

Shelley Cobau, the city's public service director, was instrumental in obtaining much of the grant money for the city's dozen or so flood mitigation projects. She says that despite a couple of floodgates that didn't work properly, the "facilities functioned as designed."

"We had a debris net up in upper Williams Canyon that stopped tons and tons and tons of wood and debris from reaching Manitou Springs," Cobau says. "Businesses were just cleaning up water instead of mud and other detritus from their businesses."

There were still some issues. Cobau says a floodgate on Canon Avenue didn't work because of a problem with its structural design, so engineers are planning to fix it. Another gate didn't appear to function because a car was parked over it, one of Cobau's crew members told her. A third gate on Park Avenue also needed adjustments to compensate for road elevation, Cobau says. And some storm drains were clogging.

Much of the federal funding to repair flood damage came as a result of presidential disaster declarations. Ribeiro says the city is in talks with partners at the state who say there's a good chance the damage this year is extensive enough to warrant another presidential declaration, or at least one at the state level.

Ribeiro stressed that the city was committed to making sure flooding wouldn't affect tourism. He says the police department works closely with businesses to make sure they're safe for visitors who may not be used to storm events like Monday's.

"The analogy I use is we treat it a little like an airplane," Ribeiro said. "You get on the airplane, the crew on that airplane’s responsible for your safety. We ask the business community and our residents to help out in that sense, that if a flood warning’s issued and things are going on, that they help people who aren’t from around here to know where it is, what it means to go high and get away from the creek, what the siren means when it’s going off."

Here's the full text of the city's resolution declaring a local disaster:

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