La Plata County officials will have a greater say in how major wildfires are managed now that a new agreement has been reached between the county and the state.
The La Plata County Commissioners approved the agreement Tuesday after a year of negotiations, said Sheryl Rogers, county attorney.
All other Colorado counties are entering into the agreement, as well, but La Plata County lawyers heavily were involved in negotiations along with lawyers from Boulder, Hinsdale and Summit counties, said La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith.
The agreement gives county officials equal authority with state officials to hire and dismiss the incident commander, Rogers said.
In addition, county sheriff’s will maintain jurisdiction over public-safety decisions, such as evacuations, road blocks and emergency communication with the public, Smith said.
The 2012 State Line Fire near Bondad demonstrated the need to update the working relationship between the county and state officials during a large fire.
The state sent the county a bill for about $250,000 because of the damage the fire caused and the expense of fighting it. The county was not involved in fire-management decisions, Smith said. The county negotiated to reduce its share of the cost.
The cost of the fire motivated lawyers to revise an agreement that had been in place since the 1980s.
“We sit at the decision-making table,” Smith said.
County officials still are responsible for providing staff, bulldozers and water tankers but now will have the ability to negotiate expenses.
“We get to help to control the costs as we move through the process,” he said.