After a work session focused on Sangre de Cristo Electric Association’s (SDCEA) wildfire mitigation plan and what it means for trees in town, the August 22 regular meeting of the Board of Trustees circled back to the topic of trees more than once during the evening.
Public Comment Focuses on Trees After SDCEA Wildfire Mitigation Plan Work Session
Buena Vista local Pearl started public comment by describing a “quick internet search” she completed to find potential grant opportunities for other types of wildfire mitigation such as burying power lines. She cited an article by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which indicated there was over $3 billion in mitigation grant money available.
“It can take a century to raise a grove of mature, deeply rooted trees, and only a day to cut them down,” said Pearl, who encouraged the board to support the concept of a one-year moratorium.
Danielle Shelton expressed concern over how tree removal could increase flood risks. She encouraged the process to be data-driven and to consider every way tree removal can have an ecological impact.
“How can we all work together to make this the best possible outcome for everyone,” asked Shelton.
Barb Zucker spoke about the positive benefits of trees, such as reducing pollution and providing habitat for wildlife. She asked SDCEA to put the project on hold for one year to consider other potential solutions.
During the work session, SDCEA was hesitant to agree to the wait due to possible liability issues.
Tom Fox asked the Board to focus on the process of how decisions were made and encouraged everyone involved to remember their common ground.
“There’s going to be decisions that are going to be made, and they may not please everybody,” said Fox. “But if we can approach it by treating each other with respect and coming from that common ground, I think the decisions will be good.”
Trustees Further Discuss SDCEA Wildfire Mitigation Plan
At the end of the regular meeting, the trustees expressed frustration over a lack of information from the electric utility company during Trustee/Staff Interaction.
“To me, the frustrating thing is that there isn’t a plan,” said Mayor Libby Fay. “We don’t really have any insight on what it is they’re planning to do.”
Fay suggested this lack of information is what has led to panic and rumors throughout town about SDCEA’s plans, including rumors that trees on James Street would be removed.
Fay also acknowledged the importance of keeping an open line of communication with SDCEA about the plan.
Public Works Director Shawn Williams spoke to the complexity of the problem, agreeing with Trustee Rice’s earlier comments about how burying lines could also have a negative impact on trees. Williams said it was important to collect the data and assess feasibility to determine the best course of action.
Williams also said there was a potential for relocating some trees depending on their age or importance.
Town Treasurer and Interim Town Administrator Phillip Puckett emphasized the importance of details and the need for more, even down to what will happen with remaining tree stumps after trees are removed.
The Trustees and Town Legal Counsel Jeff Parker agreed that it would be best to expand upon the conversation in a future executive session to consider the topic from a legal perspective.