Evans: Weld county needs help removing trailer homes contaminated by the September #COflood

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com
Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Evans officials on Tuesday said time is running out before two mobile home parks ravaged in the September flood turn into a health hazard, calling on state and federal officials to help before the issue turns into a “second disaster.”

Last week, the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment confirmed what Evans officials said they have been worried about — that, as soon as the weather warms, the piles of trash, old food, household hazardous waste, construction debris and mold left at Eastwood Village and Bella Vista mobile home parks will putrefy.

Soon, rodents and other animals will be attracted to the waste, and the threat of disease will be imminent, city and county officials say.

“Every day that goes by, spring gets closer,” said Evans Mayor Lyle Achziger from outside of the fenced-in Eastwood Village park, where Evans officials held a news conference on Tuesday.

They estimate removal of the 208 destroyed units between the two parks will cost about $1 million. They say the responsibility to remove the debris lies with the park owners.

But Keith Cowan, the owner of Eastwood Village, said he can’t legally remove the trailers because all of the people living in that park owned their own units.

He said he is also facing a stark financial situation, as he still owes a mortgage on Eastwood Village and won’t be able to rebuild the park because of revised floodplain regulations.

Sheryl Trent, Evans’ director of community and economic development, said there is a legal method the park owners can go through so that they have the right to remove the destroyed units, which is what the owner of Bella Vista has done.

Evans officials applied for a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to remove the private debris, but the city’s application was denied.

“Now we’ve hit a brick wall, because we’ve been denied at every turn,” Achziger said.

He said Evans has appealed the denial.

FEMA very rarely approves of money to be used for debris removal from private property, said FEMA spokesman John Mills.

The private debris removal grant is awarded only in instances where enormous amounts of debris are spread across a great area, causing a widespread threat to public health and safety, Mills said.

Trent said another FEMA program would allow Evans to purchase the mobile home parks to mitigate the hazards, but nothing can be built on that land, and the city must still pay a 25 percent match to purchase the land at pre-flood prices.

Moreover, the city can’t apply for that program for another four to six months, which is too late to address the health hazards, which will worsen as soon as the weather warms, Trent said.

She said that has been the issue with most of the solutions the city is exploring.

Achziger and Weld County commissioners last week sent a letter to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Reeves Brown, executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, requesting a meeting to find a solution to the mobile home park issue.

Stephanie Donner, executive director and general counsel for the Governor’s Recovery Office, responded on Monday, saying she and the Department of Local Affairs are “keenly aware” of health and demolition issues at the two mobile home parks and specifically raised those issues at recent meetings in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We are hopeful our advocacy will provide additional support for Evans’ appeal to FEMA for assistance under the Private Property Debris Removal Grant,” she said.

Donner said the state is also waiting for approval from HUD to implement a plan that would allow Evans to apply for money from a community development grant specifically geared toward disaster recovery.

The plan would allow communities that sustained localized flood damage to get aid in removing debris and structures to avoid slum and blight in those areas, she said in the letter.

State officials will be in Evans for a public meeting on that plan on Thursday.

The Weld health department last week sent letters to the owners of Eastwood Village and Bella Vista notifying them that surrounding neighbors have complained of odor and other issues in the parks, and the department has deemed it a public nuisance.

If the nuisance isn’t removed, the property owners must go before the county’s Board of Health, at which point the legal issues surrounding the units’ ownership could be brought up, said Mark Wallace, executive director of Weld County’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

He said a very last resort would be for the county to contract a company for the debris removal and then try to recover the costs from the property owners.

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