$1.35 million raised for flood mitigation projects in Lake Christine Fire burn scar

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

The landscape on Basalt Mountain showed a stark contrast in October, with snow-covered slopes and fire-blackened tree trunks. Projects are planned to mitigate flooding and debris flows from the fire scar.
Aspen Times file

As the snowpack soars in the high country and rain saturates lower slopes, a pact is being finalized to undertake flood mitigation in the Lake Christine Fire burn scar.

Federal, state and local governments will kick in $1.35 million for about 30 projects in the midvalley, according to Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney. The projects range from small efforts such as a water bar on a piece of property to grading 4 acres above the town of Basalt to make sure water drains slowly, he said. The projects are on both public and private lands.

“The Natural Resources Conservation Service did a preliminary plan: ‘Here’s where we think you should focus your energies,’” Mahoney said.

Now the town’s engineering consultant, SGM, is looking at how to implement projects with input from Eagle County government. The work will be put out to bid this spring. The improvements won’t be constructed before runoff, but they will be designed to help stabilize conditions in parts of the burn scar for the next five to seven years while vegetation grows back, according to Mahoney.

The Lake Christine Fire started July 3 and ended up torching about 12,500 acres of private and state land as well as national forest.

The Basalt State Wildlife Area in the hills above Basalt suffered extensive damage. Colorado Parks and Wildlife constructed check dams, water bars and reseeded large swaths of ground in August to help prevent water spilling down too quickly and flooding lower elevations.

The U.S. Forest Service also has done an extensive assessment of flooding and debris flow potential on the national forest and it has undertaken mitigation work on the land it manages.

Mahoney said the cost-sharing agreement and grant applications were completed as quickly as possible. The federal government will contribute 75 percent of the funds with $1.23 million through the NRCS. The state of Colorado is contributing 12.5 percent at $153,359. Basalt and Eagle County will take care of the 12.5 percent local match that is required by providing in-kind service valued at $153,359.

The construction funds must be spent within 220 days of the pact being finalized. Basalt Town Council will vote on two ordinances related to the intergovernmental agreement Tuesday.

The NRCS will cover another $123,000 in technical administration of the project.

Mahoney said the partial federal government shutdown that dragged from December into February didn’t slow down the process. It simply took time to secure the funds from the federal government, he said.

Even if funding was secured earlier, fieldwork couldn’t have been carried out this winter because of the wet conditions. Much of the burn scar over the Roaring Fork Valley floor is on south-facing slopes where the snow has regularly melted, Mahoney noted. The best scenario this spring will be a slow, steady runoff.

“We’re not out of the woods,” Mahoney acknowledged. “We’re certainly watching it closely.”

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