Grand County " Interim committee drafts bills to help communities cope with beetle kill
A special legislative committee formed last year has been searching for beetle-kill solutions in the high country.
The committee has produced seven draft bills that may be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes, according to the group’s chairman, state Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Summit County.
The group consisted of bi-partisan senators and representatives from Jefferson County to Grand Junction who have been listening to testimony about the issues and at one point took a field trip to Grand Lake to see the worst of the beetle-kill devastation.
“Everyone thought it really is a disaster waiting to happen,” Gibbs said, “one lightning strike away from a real challenging situation.”
While there, the state lawmakers saw how some subdivisions have successfully removed trees. The group also went on to visit the Confluence Energy pellet plant in Kremmling to see how some businesses can make good of the problem.
Their charge was to find ways the state can assist in preparation for wildfire fighting in the wildland-urban interfaces and to address the bark beetle epidemic.
As leaders at the state level are “waiting for the federal governments to step up and take care of some projects,” Gibbs said, “We’re taking issues into our own hands.”
The first bill the group brainstormed is called “Incentives to Harvest Bark Beetle Timber,” which is similar to a Colorado Forest Restoration Act bill passed last year.
The draft bill adds more funds for providing a 5-year exemption from business personal property taxes for qualified businesses that remove trees killed by bark beetles if such businesses assist in forest restoration efforts.
Another draft “State Match for Emergency Fire Fund” would create an emergency fire fund that can be used for tree removal.
“It sets up fund for counties to put more resources on the ground to help with thinning projects,” Gibbs said.
Another draft bill from the committee focuses on Community Wildfire Protection Plans and would assist Colorado communities developing the plans by establishing guidelines for them. Plans already developed, such as Grand Lake’s, the Fraser Valley’s and Grand County’s, would be grandfathered in.
“If there’s not one in place, the likelihood to receive state and federal funds is zero-to-none,” Gibbs said. “Communities really have to have those plans in place.”
One draft law would extend and add money to an already approved bill that provides communities with matching grants for high-risk wildfire mitigation. As much as $10 million would be attached to the bill for grants.
The other three draft bills that came out of the committee focus on wildfire fighting. A “Good Samaritan Law for Volunteer Firefighters” protects volunteers from criminal liability in fighting fires.
As much as 67 percent of fire districts in the state employ volunteers, but volunteer numbers are decreasing.
Another draft bill provides incentives for volunteer firefighters. The bill would create a fund from the state that lets volunteer firefighters or districts write off in state taxes the costs related to training. They could also apply for rebate and reimbursement of the cost of firefighting equipment as well as training.
And since in state statute there are conflicting guidelines about who oversees certain fires, a ” Wildland-Urban Fire Chain of Command” law was drafted to eliminate the confusion. The law would make it official that whichever fire-fighting agency showed up first would be in charge until the jurisdiction of the fire could take over.
“It sounds real basic, but it’s really important,” Gibbs, a firefighter, said. “There have been conflicting issues on who is in charge of (fires).”
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