By Joseph Lekarczyk
In the interest of full disclosure, let it be known that the author of this article is married to the Mayor.
Date Line: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
No one should have to be told the situation in Lyons is mercurial. Things, situations, and information are changing daily; sometimes hourly. This makes it a little challenging when it comes to putting out a “weekly” paper. But here goes.
Last Thursday, September 26, in a special Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting at LifeBridge Church (before the weekly 7 p.m., community update meeting at the same location) it was decided that Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen would have the authority to close Bohn and Meadow Parks for the sake of public safety (which she did the next morning). Further, a $270,000+ contract was approved to allow work to continue on the repair and recovery of the wastewater treatment plant (this work is now ongoing). And because of the overwhelming outcry of residents and business owners, it was decided that the Town would attempt to allow the turning on of the electricity and gas to households and businesses the following week, on a neighborhood by neighborhood process if, any only if, the resident and/or business assumed full responsibility for damages if a fire were to start as a result (since there is limited ability for the Lyons Fire Protection District to fight fires with their present capacities). This was announced at the community update meeting a short time later. The next morning Xcel Energy informed Simonsen that this would not be the case. The gas is their utility, and Xcel is not willing to turn on any gas, until there is adequate fire protection. So there you are, things change. Quickly!
This brings us to the regular BOT meeting Monday, September 30, meeting in the Longmont Civic Center (at Third and Kimbark). After roll call, the pledge of allegiance, and a moment of reflective silence several residents inquired during audience business inquired as to an update on possible utility service (see paragraph above), about placing port-o-potties in the Evans/Park Streets area south of the river, and if it were possible to construct a temporary road with culvert to allow residents access to a few isolated houses in that area so they could get trucks in to muck out the homes and begin removal of furniture, etc. The Board said they would instruct staff to look into those requests.
Acting as the Liquor Licensing Authority, the Trustees approved a change in Oskar Blues’ liquor license from a brewpub, to a hotel/restaurant. Back as the BOT, they then approved the consent agenda, consisting of the September 23 special BOT meeting minutes, the September 26 special BOT meeting minutes, and a resolution of support for Boulder County’s proposed Rabbit Mountain connector trail to Lyons.
An emergency ordinance concerning “theft of utility service” was passed, which would make it a crime for people to: cut off Xcel locks on gas meters and/or turn on the utility, flush toilets or put liquids down any drains (toilets, showers, tubs, sinks, etc.) in Lyons, without prior authorization from the Town. The penalty could be as high as $1000, depending on the circumstances. So the present situation in Lyons, for all those who have either chosen to stay in, or return to their homes, or are back in town for the day to get things out of their home, is: NO FLUSHING! NOT A DROP DOWN THE DRAINS! The problem continues, basements and buildings (like the fire station) in the lower areas, which were dry, are now starting to get raw sewage backing up into them. This redirects the Town of Lyons Public Works crews from doing repair work on the wastewater treatment plant to cleaning up your mess. So cut it out! Use the port-o-potties, and dump any cleaning water or other liquids in your yard. Period!
Under general business, the Board approved a resolution concerning contracts for professional services for financial reporting, debris management, and recovery management. This will allow Simonsen the authority to approve a contract for these three areas only without calling a special emergency meeting, in the event that the price tag exceeds the present $100,00 limit.
A discussion about waiving building permit fees was held. The Trustees seemed willing to listen to different options, but Town Staff indicated they needed more time to address different aspects of the plan, and would prefer to continue the discussion until the next BOT meeting on Monday, October 7. It was so moved.
Mark Browning gave a detailed update of the newly formed Library District. The long and short of it, according to Browning, is that although this is probably the worst time ever to be asking voters for a tax increase, the District felt that it is the right of the voters to say yea or nay on the issue. Therefore, the question will remain on the November mail-in ballot (which should actually be in your mailbox around mid-October). If the ballot measure somehow passes, Browning indicated to the Board that some of the tax money raised by the District could be used to help save, and fund the recovery of the Depot Library (thus freeing up Town funds for the other Town recovery projects), since understandably the plans for building a new library and/or salvaging the Depot Library will be well down the priority list of the Town’s recovery plan. Browning also indicated that, “The Library District Board has suspended its planned Fall Capital Campaign to match a $250,000 anonymous donation toward a new library. Both the Library District Board and the anonymous donor feel that community donations should be directed to flood relief for the time being, and now was simply not the time to be asking for large donations for the library project. The capital campaign may be reinstituted at a more appropriate time.” So, the work for the Library District Board now begins in earnest, but if the measure should pass, at least they’ll have a good starting point, and if it should fail, Browning noted that it could be brought back for another vote down the line.
Economic Development Commission (EDC) Chair John O’Brien reported that a committee has been formed to set up a business recovery fund, which will be similar to the revolving loan fund, for which the EDC recently got FDA approval and funds. This new fund will be from private donations, and will be administered by a group of Lyons locals put together by EDC, the Lyons Area Chamber of Commerce, the Lyons Economic Gardening Group, etc. The terms and interest rates will be determined by the group, and O’Brien indicated that said terms would be well below anything currently available to borrowers. In some cases, maybe even interest free over the first couple of years, and without the dreaded “balloon payment.”
Lyons resident Ed Keen, who was recently appointed liaison between the Town of Lyons and the many volunteer groups and contractors that are assisting in the clean-up/recovery phase, gave an update on the progress being made in the hardest hit areas of the flood. Team Rubicon has been conducting assessments of homes (nearly every house has been assessed), creating work orders (equipment and man power needed for each house), coordinating the various teams: Isra-Aid, Christian Aid Ministries, Salvation Army, Team Home Depot, Southern Baptist, Samaritan Purse, LifeBridge Church, the Billy Graham Ministries, and many others (will try to get a complete list soon), and tracking and documenting the work done, to apply it as the Town’s “in-kind contribution” to the FEMA disaster relief money. Keen reported that as of Monday afternoon, 154 homes and businesses (not including any of the homes in the two trailer parks, which have been visited by Team Rubicon) have been visited by SafeBuilt, 83 homes and businesses have been “mucked out” (either completed or in the process), and that the free debris removal (and there are huge mounds of debris outside of scores of homes) will begin later this week, or early next week. Mayor Julie Van Domelen reminded everyone that, “this is a dangerous and unhealthy situation; there is Ecoli in the water, and mold spores in the air; everyone going into the area should wear masks and boots.”
During Trustee reports, Trustee Dawn Weller, who has been coordinating with the Disaster Assistance Center at the Twin Peaks Mall had nothing new to report (except that things are beginning to wind down, and some of the various agencies will be moving out of the mall). Trustee Sandy Banta reported that the Town will try to power up the electricity in the Main Street, Broadway, and High Street area on Wednesday. Trustee Kirk Udovich has continued to liaison with the LifeBridge Church, and secured the facility for a Tuesday (October 1) business community update meeting. Trustee Dan Greenberg has been working with the library committee, and is trying to find a way to keep more citizens in the loop. Trustee Connie Sullivan has been heading up the organization of the afore mentioned business community meeting, and warned this meeting was a way to start a dialog, not solve the problem. And Trustee LaVern Johnson has been visiting the center at the mall, was interviewed by a Boston radio show called “Here and Now,” and reported that Parks & Rec is planning to hold some sort of Halloween and Christmas Parade for the kids to buoy community spirit.
Mayor Van Domelen has been “looking at the larger picture, i.e. infrastructure, mucking out houses, business recovery, and human/social services (housing, food, health), and how to integrate needs with resources.” She reported that the Lyons Community Fund has now received over $225,000 in donations for the Essential Needs Fund. She also laid out some of the stark realities of the financial situation the Town now faces. This FEMA money is not free; it comes with a 75/25% match (the County and State may help out with half the match, but that still leaves 12.5% for the Town). It was also mentioned that the Colorado Office of Emergency Management informed the Town that Lyons would have to deplete it reserves completely, including the 3% set-aside by TABOR, before the state would step in to help financially. This startling revelation (which County Commissioner Cindy Domenico, who was in the audience, said she would look into) caused Banta to exclaim, “that would bankrupt us!” Van Domelen figured that the 12.5% would equal roughly 140% of the Town’s funds and reserves. So, if the 43+ million dollar recovery price tag (just for municipal owned infrastructure, streets, bridges, pipes, lost equipment, parks, etc., this figure doesn’t include Town owned buildings or moving the river back, nor does it include private citizens’ losses) that Town Engineer Jim Blankenship has calculated, is in the ballpark, you can see what the elected officials and Town Staff are up against. And this at a time when the Town’s sales tax revenue source (our business community) is taking such a drastic hit. That’s why it is so vital that all the volunteer work being done by various groups be documented by Team Rubicon. Van Domelen said in her experience, “economic shocks follow natural disasters.”
Administrator Victoria Simonsen informed the Board that she had met with FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers about returning the river to its pre-flood channel, and that the City of Longmont has, or will be submitting a request for a permit to restore the river. It is not clear who will pay for this, but it is not something that FEMA will finance. Simonsen mentioned that the National Resource Conservation Group might be the source for funding.
On that note, the meeting was adjourned. There will be another community update meeting Thursday, at the LifeBridge Church at 7 p.m. The next BOT meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 7, in the Longmont Civic Center at 5:30 p.m.