By: Blair Miller , Colette Bordelon , Stephanie Butzer
DENVER – People who have opted into the Boulder County-led private property debris removal program after the Marshall Fire should learn Friday when crews will start working on their neighborhoods, while a handful of property owners who are going through the process on their own are already seeing progress.
Officials from Boulder County, Louisville, Superior and the companies responsible for the cleanup held a meeting Tuesday night to tell residents the latest information and plans regarding when the county’s removal program will get underway following about a month of delays.
“We’re really excited to get started with the large-scale debris removal work and are committed to getting it completed as quickly and safely as we can,” said Superior Town Manager Matthew Magley at Tuesday’s meeting.
Officials are putting together a prioritization schedule that they plan to release on Friday which will show residents where their properties sit within the four-month debris removal timeline, and said they hope to have work underway in the next 2-4 weeks, though they called predicting when heavy equipment will be working on the ground the hardest thing to put an exact date on.
County officials said 791 property owners have opted in to the county-led program.
“But the short answer is we don’t have the hard, fast date for yellow equipment because we have a lot of other work to do in preparation for that day,” said Jeff Maxwell, the director of public works for Boulder County. “And as soon as we know that day, we will make that announcement.”
Maxwell said a big part of determining which properties would have debris removed first included being in compliance with FEMA’s environmental and prioritization requirements for reimbursement, while another component was working to address areas with runoff and storm water issues before other properties with less risk.
“We’ve been working hard to make sure that all of those elements are balanced in the final prioritization schedule,” said Garry Sanfaçon, the recovery manager for Boulder County’s Recovery and Resiliency Division. “…To be really clear, the commitment still is to complete the work in the four-month timeframe. So, although you may not be in the first wave of work, please know that within the four-month period, depending on any weather events, etc., the work will be completed.”
Boulder County and cleanup company officials said they believe each property will take about four days to clean up once crews are able to get on the ground, and said they were confident the effort would “happen quickly.”
But they also said they want to be sure all the preparation is done properly to be sure the actual cleanup goes smoothly.
DRC Emergency Services, LLC, the company contracted for the debris removal work, is conducting individual site inspections at each property, verifying right-of-entry forms, reviewing those requests from homeowners on what should be removed and preserved, and check properties for hazards before the final prioritization list is released.
Officials from the county and will contact homeowners for finalized information on what they want removed, including driveways and other concrete work, have those people sign an assignment of benefits form so the county can work with their insurance company, and have the removal process proceed from there, officials said.
Crews will contact property owners before crews arrive and again after the removal effort is complete.
The debris removal process will then move as follows: Crews will first walk the land to verify right-of-entry forms, pre-wet the site, pull metals out of ash and debris for recycling, remove vehicles, then remove ash and debris. After that, concrete will be removed, starting with the basement walls.
Then, the site will be inspected by a monitoring contractor, the site will be graded, and soil samples will be taken to be sure there is no further contamination.
Then, either county, town or city inspectors will conduct a final verification walk through depending on whether the property is in Louisville, Superior or Boulder County. If the site passes the final inspection, a safety fence could be installed if one is needed, according to officials.
“It’s important because it helps us provide good customer service to the residents – we’re not just going in blindly,” said Maxwell. “We’re inspecting the sites, we’re honoring their concerns and their conditions, and we have to put that all together before the heavy equipment goes out into the field. … We have an enormous team that’s doing this preparatory work.”
The full program is expected to cost around $60 million, according to the county. Superior Mayor Clint Folsom and other Boulder County-area officials also expressed gratitude to Colorado’s U.S. senators and members of Congress for securing a 90% federal match for the work.
Rep. Joe Neguse, the Democrat who represents the district that includes the area that burned and who has introduced more bills in the wake of the Marshall Fire to try to address future wildfire concerns, said in an interview Wednesday that the cost-sharing was a key piece to the community’s recovery.
“Ensuring that the federal government pays its fair share, gives an increased cost share for these fires so that local communities don’t have to shoulder those obligations alone, is incredibly important,” he said. “It means that local communities ultimately won’t go bankrupt having to come up with the money to pay for what are clearly fires that are far out of the traditional norm of what we’ve seen in the past.”
Some private work already underway
Meanwhile, some residents in Boulder County have contacted companies like the Carlyle Investment Group to get the process moving faster.
The environmental remediation and demolition company, which is based in Fort Collins, has several contracts related to the Marshall Fire, said Kyle Baber, managing partner for Carlyle. He said the company is currently cleaning up six or seven properties every week and is able to clear each one in about a day and a half.
In many cases, residents come out to watch, Baber said.
“A lot of people want to come out and watch and see it and get their closure on it,” he said.
For the company, it’s a mix of feeling overwhelmed with the work ahead and knowing their work is giving residents “an emotional boost,” he said.
There are pros to going with a small, local company, Baber explained.
“We found a photo album in the bottom of one of the houses that we saved and turned it over. You kind of lose that in a big county type of program, which is understandable.”
Costs for debris removal for Carlyle Investment Group range from $32,000 to $38,000 per site.
Coal Creek Ranch resident Timothy Lefoley said he chose to work with a private company because he found a group that would help for a “reasonable cost.”
“It’s been a nightmare, trying to figure out how to make forward progress,” he said. “Being in the limbo we’ve been in since the flames came through here on the 30th of December has been excruciating.”
Lefoley’s home, built in 1992, held memories of his daughter Ashlyn, who died in her bedroom in the house when she was 31 years old in February 2021.
“And the most painful part of the fires was coming to the realization that everything we owned is gone, but also everything my daughter owned is gone now as well,” he said.
They were able to flee from the fire with the clothes on their backs, one car, his daughter’s ashes and a portrait of her.
In the past few days, Lefoley has watched the crews work at the site of the burned home.
“I’ve been out here for two days watching the dance of the machinery doing parallettes on the edges of the craters where your house used to be, going through and tearing things apart, and it’s satisfying to see progress being done,” he said.
“It’s part of the healing process to say, ’OK, the old stuff needs to go,’” he added.
Lefoley said neighbors are debating if they should wait a few years and hope construction prices go down before rebuilding, or go ahead and try to do it now.
“Thank God, thank God, we’re getting progress, and we can move forward,” he said.
County officials said Tuesday they had received more than 100 demolition permits for families hiring contractors to do the work alone, but only three properties have so far been completed.
But according to the questions posed during Tuesday night’s meeting, those working through the county are eagerly awaiting similar relief.
But they also said that the people who were opting to go with their own contractors, as opposed to waiting for the county, would help the overall cleanup go more quickly.
“It means that we’re getting a lot of work done. We will have county division superintendents out in the field, ensuring that we’re not slowing down the private contractors, and we will play nice with everyone out there that’s trying to get work done,” said Boulder County Public Works spokesperson Andrew Barth.
The county also has a web page devoted to the program and frequently asked questions surrounding it.
Neal Shah, a town of Superior trustee, said on behalf of the town Wednesday that officials were happy to finally be moving forward with the debris removal process after contracts were finalized and a lawsuit filed earlier this month was dismissed on Tuesday.
“There has been a lot of waiting and finger pointing, so I’m glad all that is behind us now,” Shah said. “More importantly, I hope we can find a way to speed things up and make up for lost time. This is critical important so we can get foundations poured this summer before the cold weather starts affecting construction schedules in the fall.”
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