No FEMA assistance for Gilpin County

We’re on our own in Gilpin it seems

By Roger Baker

Halloween was indeed a scary night for those of us in Gilpin County government, since that’s when we found out that the County has been rejected for Individual Assistance (IA) for the recent heavy rain damages by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

This being the 21st century, we found out through a tweet at 8:14 that night.

Gilpin County staff – particularly Emergency Manager Steven Watson – had been regularly talking to and meeting with FEMA personnel, and as early as September 25th (the rain, remember, started on September 11th) FEMA officials were up here touring the County to look at both public and private impacts from all that water.

We were therefore encouraged to see, on October 8, that Governor Hickenlooper named Gilpin County as one of the counties added to his original disaster declaration, by Executive Order D2013-026. But just being added to the Governor’s emergency declaration, we found out, wasn’t enough for FEMA, and so the evaluation process continued.

Just the day before Halloween, several of us from Gilpin County government trekked down to Aurora, along with our peers from Denver and Arapahoe County, to discuss procedural matters with FEMA and Colorado Office of Emergency Management staff. So the denial of IA for Gilpin came as both a shock and a disappointment. The denial letter (once we finally received it) said that “based on the results of the joint federal, state, and local government  Preliminary Damage Assessments, it has been determined that the damage to the residences in Broomfield, Denver, Gilpin, Otero and Pueblo Counties is not of the severity or magnitude to warrant their designation under the Public Assistance program.”

All of us in government recognize that there are procedural safeguards in place for such programs, and that there are thresholds to be met before certain programs go into effect. We recognize, too, that lines need to be drawn, even though (like county boundaries themselves) those lines are often artificial.

Still, telling a homeowner in Gilpin County whose driveway was washed away that his or her loss isn’t eligible for federal assistance, while a similar situation directly across the highway (in Boulder County) might be, is a tough argument to make.

We’ll continue to put political pressure on when we can to see if we can get this decision reversed; a representative from Congressman Polis’ office was present at our Aurora meeting and offered her assistance, and the Commissioners were able to raise the issue again with Doug Young, senior policy analyst with Governor Hickenlooper’s office, on Tuesday.

Still, it’s frustrating. Most of us have now started worrying about snow. And while we hope we never again have the sort of disaster that requires FEMA activity in our County, another 7-foot snowfall would probably see us once again asking for state or federal help.

And of course, if there’s not enough snowfall, we run the risk of catastrophic wildfires. Those wildfires, in turn, increase the chance of locally heavy flooding after spring rainstorms. And so it goes…

Given all the dangers, it’s always wise to be prepared for such emergencies without having to rely on government at any level. The American Red Cross was sponsoring a workshop on community preparedness this Wednesday, November 6, which I hope lots of local folks attended.

The fire mitigation grant program is moving ahead as well: homeowners in “communities” can receive funding to complete defensible space modifications that will help protect individual homes. Details on that program can be found at the County website,

Individuals and governments, working together, can provide the greatest level of preparedness and protection, and also the most efficient emergency response. But no system is perfect. We just found that out.

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