January 24, 2014

Estes Park official sees roads to recovery

ESTES PARK – With U.S. Highways 34 and 36 and Colorado Highway 7 back in commission, it’s easy to forget that Estes Park experienced one of its most damaging and expensive natural disasters just four months ago, and still faces millions of dollars in repair work. Despite the challenges ahead, Town Administrator Frank Lancaster has reason to believe that with a little help from its Northern Colorado neighbors, Estes will go beyond recovery and into growth in  2014.
 
Question: Can you give us a brief update on the flood repair and what remains to be done in 2014?
Answer: Most of the town is back up and running but there are a few areas that still have concerns.  The floods had major impacts on the stream channels in town, including Fish Creek, Big Thompson, Black Canyon, and Fall River.
Restoration of these stream corridors is a complicated, high-priority project. Much of the area damaged is private property, and it falls on the property owner to make the repairs, however what they do on their property may affect neighboring properties as well.
The town is helping coordinate specific restoration coalitions on each stream to help master plan the restoration and help find funding to assist property owners. This will be in two phases: First, immediate protections are needed along the streams to prevent further damage from the spring runoff. Second, long-term repairs to the stream corridors will be needed.
Of all the stream corridors in town, the Fish Creek corridor needs the most attention. There is a temporary road along the stream, but we will be working in partnership with the county, the Estes Valley Recreation and Parks District and the Upper Thompson Sanitation District to do permanent repairs and restore the utilities in the area. This is our No.1 recovery priority at this time.
 
Q: What was the biggest challenge in your role as town administrator during such a tumultuous year? Did you ever consider stepping down?
A: As the town administrator I wear many hats during a disaster. Clear and timely communication with all those affected is crucial. We had daily briefings for citizens at town hall. Also, Estes is unique in that so many of our residents are only here part time and it was important to keep them as informed as those who are here in town.
We streamed all the meetings on the Internet and used social media extensively to reach out to all our citizens. During the incident, the town quickly initiated the incident command system. Having trained staff in very specific roles to respond to the incident made my job much easier. Staff stepped up, and are the reason the response went so well.
It’s important to remember that most of the responders were also affected by the flooding. As the town administrator I had to make sure we were addressing their needs as well so they could provide services to the public.
Certainly, stepping down never crossed my mind. It’s times like this when local government can either shine or crash and burn. Estes Park is an amazing community and a great place to live. I would not want to be anywhere else or doing anything different through all of this. We chose to become public servants to have an impact and make a difference, and there is no better opportunity to do this than when the community is in crisis.
 
Q: Can you describe how you felt when the highways into Estes Park reopened?
A: It was a huge relief.  We came back quickly from most of the physical damage, but as a destination community that depends on our guests for our economic health, access to our community is critical.  Having the governor set the goal for opening Highways 36, 34 and 7 by Dec. 1 and then exceeding that goal was amazing.
 
Q: What are your goals for Estes for 2014?
A: Initially, we were afraid that the loss of the roads accessing town would have a major fiscal impact. We built a very conservative budget with the idea that, as things turn around, we can build things back in.
The future is looking bright and I believe we will bounce back very quickly. We are looking forward to some great things in 2014. We have a major traffic-improvement project on tap that will invest almost $17 million in improvements to the downtown traffic flow. We will be working on the design for that project this year, as well as finalizing design on a new parking structure for our downtown guests.
Our new events center will be opening this spring, providing a venue for a number of new special events and entertainment opportunities for our guests. All our great events are still on tap and the flood isn’t slowing anything down. From the Stanley Film Festival to the Rooftop Rodeo and the Scottish/Irish Festival, we are ready for a great 2014.
 
Q: Will construction of the proposed wellness center help you achieve your economic goals for the town?
A: We would like to expand our economy so that we are not so seasonally dependent. This has been improving slowly over the years. The Anschutz Wellness Center, if approved by the voters, could help address that need. It also will create a number of good professional jobs for the community that will help attract families to live and work in Estes Park. The core of our economy will always be as a mountain destination, but we can expand on that beyond the traditional vacationers into areas such as wellness travel, high-altitude sports training and backcountry sports.
We also are a great location for telecommuting professionals who want a laid-back mountain lifestyle, yet still be within 90 minutes of Denver International Airport and 60 minutes to Boulder and Fort Collins.
 
Q: How can the Northern Colorado business community support Estes as it continues to recover in 2014?
A: Estes is a great place to come visit and it’s right in Northern Colorado’s back yard.  National Geographic has identified Rocky Mountain National Park as one of the top worldwide destinations you need to see. Sometimes we forget that. This is also a great place to do business, and not just for tourism. Businesses can reach out to the 2 million-plus visitors that come here each year.
Northern Colorado has so much to offer as a region, and much more than any of the individual parts have separately. We need to keep this in mind and not think too parochially. As a destination, we have the art in Loveland, breweries in Fort Collins, rafting on the Poudre, Colorado State University, University of Northern Colorado and University of Colorado – and, of course, Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.
By working together we can continue to grow as a vibrant, diverse and economically strong region that is truly world class. That’s what will help Estes Park continue to flourish.

ESTES PARK – With U.S. Highways 34 and 36 and Colorado Highway 7 back in commission, it’s easy to forget that Estes Park experienced one of its most damaging and expensive natural disasters just four months ago, and still faces millions of dollars in repair work. Despite the challenges ahead, Town Administrator Frank Lancaster has reason to believe that with a little help from its Northern Colorado neighbors, Estes will go beyond recovery and into growth in  2014.
 
Question: Can you give us a brief update on the flood repair and what remains to be done in…

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