Mountains

‘Do it yourself’

By Luke Groskopf Journal staff writer

It’s back to the drawing board for Paul Hollar, Montezuma County’s deputy emergency manager. Hollar asked the Board of County Commissioners on Monday for $2,075 to help pay for a county-wide hazards mitigation plan.

Given its low price tag, the request appeared to be a slam dunk. But Hollar and Sheriff Dennis Spruell ran into staunch opposition from the county commissioners, and in the end, the proposal fizzled without a vote

The money was to be part of a larger $48,600 bid. That total sum would pay a team of professional consultants to survey Montezuma County, analyze its areas of vulnerability to natural disasters, and craft a tailored mitigation plan.

It depends on county size and population, but Hollar said the average plan runs about 300 pages.

The grant was a 75-25 split. The lion’s share — about $36,500 — would have been covered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. For the rest, the Colorado Water Conservation Board would have chipped in $5,000, and the county would provide $5,000 worth of in-kind assistance and the $2,075 in hard cash.

Commissioner Keenan Ertel was the most convinced, saying it sounded like “a good deal.” His concerns about incurring future expenses were assuaged by Hollar, who said once the initial plan was written, it could be updated every five years by county staff at no charge.

The other commissioners were unmoved. Larry Don Suckla, in particular, was vehemently against any taxpayer money being spent.

“I don’t like it. It sounds like a waste. Why do we need someone from Denver to tell us what the hell is wrong with Cortez, Colorado?” he asked. “I’m sure there are 100-year-old men out there who can tell us where it’ll flood.”

Suckla pointedly suggested that the $2,075 be taken from Hollar’s salary rather than from the county’s coffers. He maintained that crafting a hazards plan was the domain of Hollar, as emergency manager, and that paying a team of outsiders was profligate.

Hollar replied that Suckla’s confidence was flattering but misplaced. For the $2,075, he said, the county would be getting 500 to 600 man-hours of expert insight. At most it would take the team a few months to put together the finished plan. Hollar estimated the same project will take him one year.

Hollar said on Tuesday that the hazards plan isn’t off the table entirely; it’ll just have to wait.

“This grant is dead in the water. I’ve let the state know we won’t be accepting it. The plan itself isn’t dead,” he said. “But I won’t be able to start until the fall, after fire season and some other training.”

Hollar has been emergency manager for a little more than one year. Before that, he worked at the Montezuma County Jail. He is responsible for the county’s emergency operations plan, which dictates how agencies coordinate during a disaster. But he called the comprehensive hazards plan a “whole different animal” that requires input from engineers and other specialists. Using a construction analogy, Hollar said he felt qualified to be the carpenter, putting the plan into action, but needed an experienced architect to help design it.

“I understand the commissioners thinking this (plan) is his job and he needs to do it,” Spruell said Wednesday. “But if I have the plumbing break down in my house, I can fix it, but it’ll take me four times as long as it would a plumber.”

With Ertel seemingly in support and Suckla not budging, the motion needed Steve Chappell’s backing to be voted on. In the end he couldn’t justify the expense.

“I have to agree with (Suckla),” he said. “Why reinvent the wheel?”

Several fire and law enforcement officials seated in the audience shook their heads in frustration and befuddlement.

“I think we’re doing a disservice to ourselves,” a resigned Hollar said.

One perk of a hazards plan is eligibility for future mitigation funds, if the plan passes muster with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If a natural disaster involves FEMA, Hollar said, the agency gives 5 percent of whatever it spent during the crisis to the state afterward. Counties with FEMA-sanctioned plans can then draw from that pot for mitigation work, such as culvert widening, bridge reinforcement and creating defensible fire space.

Hollar said aligning his plan with FEMA’s standards will be a case of trial-and-error, requiring much rewriting, whereas the consultants would know how to structure and phrase the document.

“It’s just not efficient,” he said. “But I have to respect (the commission’s) decision.”

Spruell questioned whether creating a detailed, lengthy hazards plan was the best use of Hollar’s time, given the affordable alternative.

“Paul is busy. This (task) will take him away from things he otherwise would be doing,” Spruell said. “It’s just a difference of opinion.”

Dolores County does not have a hazards mitigation plan. La Plata County used its own emergency responders to help make a list of risk areas, but is using grant money to draft the plan itself, said emergency manager Butch Knowlton. The Ute Mountain Ute tribe recently completed its own plan.

lukeg@cortezjournal.com

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