You know that it is April in La Plata County when you layer your clothing just to walk down the street.
Mother Nature seems to move front and center in the springtime. We thank her for the beautiful big snows of winter and we wonder what surprises she has coming for us.
A big shout-out to our road and bridge crews who cleared county roads this winter. They put in long hours making sure buses could safely deliver children to school, that ambulances could get to homes and that the rest of us could get to work or market.
As the snow has melted, we have seen potholes and washboarding appear after the pounding of freeze and moisture.
From Doyle Villers, our road maintenance superintendent, I report that we are catching up on roads that need to be bladed.
The highest traffic roads and those in worst condition are prioritized over less traveled roads, although the crews plan to get to all of them. So we need to be patient and realistic.
The road maintenance budget took a big hit this winter and crews will do the best they can.
As Doyle told The Durango Herald in a March 20 article, problems are compounded when we can’t afford to fix summer’s potholes because of winter snow costs.
County property tax revenue is down $15 million since 2010, which strains our ability to provide needed services to La Plata County residents, and road maintenance will feel the effects this year.
In anticipation of Mother Nature’s surprises, emergency management, sheriff, and other staff are doing what they can to prepare for the impacts of water coming off the 416 Fire burn scar.
Many affected property owners are participating in the National Resource Conservation Service’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program to minimize risk to life and property. Under the program, NRCS pays 75% of the costs, with property owners matching with 25%.
After the 416 Fire, La Plata County worked with state, federal and congressional personnel to piece together grants to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for landowners. Sheriff Smith has provided sand bags, available at James Ranch (thanks James Family) and the Animas Valley Grange. Please take only what you need to protect your home and limit to 50 bags.
We thank the state of Colorado for again making temporary radar available to help monitor storms on the 416 burn scar.
La Plata County continues to work with local and state entities on permanent radar. With several agencies chipping in, it looks like the funding is set. We just need a location with power, access and clear views far to the north.
We are thrilled that this important safety equipment is on the horizon for our community.
These are some of the county’s efforts to keep our community safe and prepared. Mother Nature is unpredictable and she seems to throw a curve every year.
When emergencies come, La Plata County employees respond.
It’s natural to think of our emergency management and sheriff’s staffs. Crises put them front and center for community safety. The folks you don’t see are the county employees who spring to action to drive equipment, answer at call centers, work at evacuation centers and all the rest who pick up the work that their co-workers had to leave to respond to the emergency.
In truth, this is an area where the budget cuts cause big concern for me as a county commissioner.
Safety will always be a fundamental duty of county government. I see that it takes many county employees to respond to an emergency. But as we manage our budget to keep expenses within fallen revenues, we have fewer employees doing our work.
When the emergency comes, I want our dedicated employees to be able to respond.
Julie Westendorff is chair of the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners. Reach her at (970)382-6219.