Little money available to rebuild private roads after fire

Larimer County maintains 42 miles of road within the 136-square-mile perimeter of the High Park Fire. More than twice that length – almost 100 miles – are privately owned and mostly unpaved, and nobody insures against damage to infrastructure. So residents, many of whom lost everything on their own property, are left to repair the damage caused by heavy equipment during the fire and by back-to-back storms the week after.

Kyle Ellis’ home was one of the five that burned in the nine-home Pine Acres subdivision on the second day of the fire. But as president of the Pine Acres Road Association, he still brings his Bobcat up from his landscaping business in Fort Collins to protect 8-mile-long Pine Acre Way from severe erosion.

Taking charge. The Pine Acres Road Association in Rist Canyon rebuilt culverts along the 8-mile-long Pine Acre Way using volunteers and donated equipment. Photo by Doug Conarroe

“One of my neighbors has a backhoe, so we donate our equipment and neighbors volunteer their time to do road work,” he said. “We had a work weekend over Sept. 15 and 16, and we’re planning another one on Oct. 6 and 7.”

The July storms swept ash and soil and rocks the size of bowling balls over the road and completely clogged four 10-inch culverts under it, according to Ellis. The association replaced them with new 18-inch corrugated steel culverts from Big R Bridge in Greeley – at a cost of $14 per foot, for a total of $1,300.

The association has also purchased cinderblocks to build retaining walls to keep debris from blocking the new culverts, straw bales and wattles, grass seed, about seven tons of recycled asphalt to fill in the 30-inch deep ravines the heavy rains carved on either side of the road – and rented a dump truck to haul it all in.

“We’re a small association, and we’re pretty much out of money,” Ellis said.

Landowners in Pine Acres are assessed $200 per year for each occupied parcel, $100 for unoccupied parcels. The 21 parcels in the subdivision generate about $2,800 per year, according to Ellis. Normal operating expenses include about $300 per year for electricity to the remote-controlled gate into the subdivision and $600 per year for liability insurance.

Over the past 10 years, the association has spent between $1,500 and $1,800 per year on recycled asphalt to maintain the road surface; about five years ago, the association re-crowned the road to improve drainage.

Other sources of funding
The Larimer County commissioners had considered dedicating $1.5 million to help residents make repairs to the worst-of-the-worst roads in the burn zone. But in August they decided instead to consider expenditures on a case-by-case basis rather than setting up an arbitrary funding limit.

“The Commissioners will hear requests and recommendations for financial assistance as those requests are ready to come forward,” said County Manager Linda Hoffmann. “They will appear on (the weekly) Administrative Matters agendas for discussion and action.”

Immediate assistance is available to both individuals and road associations from Disaster Recovery Director Gary Darling and the Public Works staff, who are working to secure grants from various sources, assess damages, and assist with donated contractor services, Hoffmann added.

“The engineers are surveying the damage and making recommendations on what needs to be done,” Darling said. “We want the roads to be safe, and for the repairs to be done safely, too.”

He has also been working with road associations in Whale Rock, Davis Ranch and Boyd Gulch, which were particularly hard-hit by the fire.

Darling said some of the sources for funds to buy materials are the US Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Colorado Fire Relief Fund, which has collected $1.8 million in large donations from organizations such as the Bohemian Foundation this summer. The statewide fund, administered by The Denver Foundation with a local allocation committee headed by Community Foundation of Northern Colorado Executive Director Ray Caraway, has already made grants to local fire departments and Larimer County to help with debris removal, and is beginning another round of grants.

David Miller, executive director of The Denver Foundation, explained that funds can only be granted to nonprofits, fire departments and local governments, not to individuals.

“We are funding grants to help with intermediate needs, rather than human services needs like the Red Cross or Salvation Army or long-term recovery needs,” he added.

Darling, head of the county’s Criminal Justice division, volunteered to coordinate the effort until a new Disaster Recovery Manager could be hired. Suzanne Bassinger became the county’s full time Disaster Recovery Manager on Sept. 20. The position is funded for one year.

Bassinger, a Larimer County resident with an extensive background in engineering, will be in charge of all aspects of the recovery process, including coordinating meetings for citizens navigating the insurance process, working with the Long-Term Recovery case managers assisting those who have lost everything and the High Park Coalition looking at land restoration, and continuing assistance with private roads.

The county is spending $1.8 million to replace eight culverts on Rist Canyon Road, with another $960,000 set aside for culvert repairs as needed on other county-maintained roads.

Ellis pointed out that even though his association is only fixing up steep and winding Pine Acres Way, their efforts can have a larger impact on other county roads.

“We have to make sure we place the culverts so we don’t divert the runoff back across the road, and keep the debris off Rist Canyon Road and out of the Poudre River watershed,” he explained. “There are some big-picture implications to what we are doing up here at the top of the hill.”

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