Wildfire mitigation, health projects get DougCo funds

Mike McKibbin

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By Mike McKibbin/NewsBreak Denver | Aug. 8, 2022

[DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLO.] — Wildfire mitigation and health-related projects by Arapahoe Community College received about $5 million in federal pass-through money from the Douglas County Commissioners Monday.

The commissioners approved $2.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money for a community wildfire mitigation program run by county wildfire specialists.

The county received more than $68 million in COVID-19 pandemic-related ARPA money. The commissioners set aside $3.7 million for wildfire suppression and mitigation.

Two temporary employees will run the program through the end of 2023 to oversee fire mitigation work on private lands.

In June, Steve Dwyer, a deputy building official, told the commissioners that two-thirds of the county's 544,000 acres have significant wildfire risk, including 377,000 acres of privately-owned land.

He added 84% of the county population — 282,000 people — is estimated to be in the wildland-urban interface. That's where development meets forest land and private property fire risk is highest.

Project costs split

Landowners would work together and with the county to reduce fire fuels on their properties. According to senior wildfire mitigation specialist Jill Welle, the county would pay up to 75% of the project costs and each landowner the remaining 25%.

The money would also allow the county to seek other grants for programs like tree branch chipping, defensible space, and hazardous fuel reduction projects.

The Colorado State Forest Service oversees a matching reimbursement program. Welle said the proposal would match 25% of individual project costs.

"Cash match is often problematic with some of the larger projects," she added. "Or you have some of the homeowners associations that are cash-strapped and have limited funds" for mitigation projects.

"I have no doubt this program will significantly mitigate wildfires," Commissioner Abe Laydon said.

Lab relocation, mobile health lab get money

The commissioners also approved a $1.25 million request from Arapahoe Community College to help relocate its robotics and automation lab from Littleton to the Douglas County School District's Legacy Campus.

The college was also granted $300,000 as partial payment for a mobile health laboratory to help train certified nursing assistants, medical assistants and emergency medical technicians. A 45-foot-long trailer would allow students in Douglas County to get hands-on training and help address staffing shortages in the healthcare field.

Also approved was a $350,000 request to help the college expand scholarships, internships and student support for the county's intellectual and developmental disabilities communities.

"I think that's an amazing opportunity to help people be more self-sufficient for $350,000," said Commissioner Lora Thomas.

Visit the county's ARPA webpage for more information.

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