Conversation with the Gilpin County Commissioners

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Updates on County issues and projects

By Patty Unruh

County Commissioners Connie McLain and Gail Watson met with a small group of Gilpin County residents in an informal setting at the Gilpin County Community Center September 26. McLain is Commissioner for District 2 and Watson for District 3. Gilpin County Assessor Anne Schafer was also present.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss county issues and projects. Participants discussed such matters as flood damage, maintenance of private roads, help for the disabled, regulations on ATVs and bicycles, and housing needs.

FEMA Assistance for Flood Damage

Watson told the group that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) representatives were in Gilpin County on September 26, along with state emergency services representatives. Watson said that 15 Gilpin homes were toured that had apparently sustained flood damage.

“Now we wait,” she said. It may take about two weeks to hear about emergency funds for those homes.

If a resident’s home has been damaged, Watson advised, that person should file a case documenting the damage, including photographs. She explained that a case will not be activated until there is coverage. FEMA provides public assistance, which means funds for public roads and for cities such as Black Hawk and Central City, and for counties. On the other hand, individual assistance includes funds for private property. It was her opinion that the State and FEMA representatives seemed compassionate.

The participants noted that Gilpin residents were more fortunate than many in neighboring counties. “With the loss of life in other areas of the state, our needs are not as urgent,” Watson said, but noted that when the first freeze comes, more damage may be found than at first was apparent.

She added that with the floods, the county has authorized free well test kits for residents needing them.

It was noted that several faith-based organizations have been assisting with disaster relief, including Nechama, a Jewish disaster response agency from Minnesota, Catholic Charities, and the Southern Baptists.

Julie Holt, manager of Taggert’s convenience store, asked, “With all the road closures because of the flooding, can we get better communication on which roads are still closed? Everyone is coming into the store asking. We hate to give the wrong information.”

Resident Bruce Diehl suggested the easiest way for a person to get current road information is to call dispatch.

Watson informed the group that the county is trying to put more money in the budget for electronic signs that would be posted on the roads. She also said it was her understanding that the road in Coal Creek Canyon was supposed to open again in about two weeks.

Maintenance of Private Roads

A couple of the residents brought up a related issue with roads that needed repair in the county. Patricia McIntosh is a health care provider for several Gilpin residents. McIntosh was accompanied by two women for whom she provides care – Orionna Hall and Barbara Doyle. She spoke about roads that disabled people lived on that needed maintenance, including roads in the county that were private roads. She expressed concern that emergency medical services or fire trucks had difficulty getting to disabled residents who live on unmaintained roads

“Can this be researched to see how these roads can get turned into county roads?” McIntosh asked the Commissioners, making the point that those roads would then be maintained.

The opinion was offered that it was a choice for the disabled to live where they do. Doyle replied that a person may move to Gilpin County when they are able bodied and then become disabled. McIntosh agreed, saying “You’re stuck, but you can’t move.”

Diehl commented, “It’s hard to decide which roads to fix. A lot of county roads are not county maintained, but they’ve got a name. An example is Paradise Valley. It’s a road in the county but is not county maintained.”

Diehl said he understood that the county was mixing wood chips with dirt, which he felt contaminated the dirt and did not help with stability. He said it would be best to put rock down first, and possibly a French drain. He also said they were mixing chips fifty-fifty with salt, “and it gets really slippery.” He also noted that the county had purchased a new wood chipper and felt they should sell an old one.

Watson suggested seasonal maintenance as an option, if the county could afford it. “We could go by in the summer, put down rock and road base, and grade it. That would last well most of the year.” She said the Commissioners had been having discussions about the roads and that Community Development Director Tony Peterson would probably know their status.

Handicapped Access

McIntosh, Hall, and Doyle questioned why there is no automatic door opener button for the handicapped on the first floor of the Justice Center where the Social Services office and the courts are located, noting that handicapped people frequent the Social Services office. Watson and McLain remarked that they believed there was a button upstairs by the Sheriff’s Office but hadn’t realized there was none downstairs. Discussion revealed that there is an elevator at the Justice Center, but it does not always work.

ATV Usage

Holt questioned Commissioner McLain whether anything had been passed in the State Legislature concerning ATV use on county roads. Presently it is not lawful to operate unlicensed ATVs or other motorized vehicles such as dirt bikes and scooters other than as off-road vehicles. McLain responded in the negative, saying, “No, it’s too big. All we can do is plate them.” She said neighboring states like Wyoming and Arizona allow ATVs on the road, so out-of-state ATV riders don’t get ticketed.

Holt related a recent situation involving some elderly friends of hers who had been ticketed by a deputy for driving their ATV on Wedgewood. The couple was fined $50, but when they went to court, the charge was changed to riding without insurance. The fine the judge imposed was $500 plus costs, but he waived half of it because the couple was in the process of getting insurance. They hadn’t brought enough money to pay the fine, so the clerk advised them to go home and get the money and pay the fine so they wouldn’t be held in contempt.

Hole was indignant on their behalf and felt the ticket was unjust. She said the couple drove cautiously and a warning would have been sufficient. She said she took up a collection at Taggert’s and raised $200 for the couple’s expenses. Holt concluded, “If it happened to a 70-year-old couple, it could happen to you.”

One person replied, not unsympathetically, “If you break the law and get caught, you get a ticket.”

Holt hoped to get something passed so that ATV use would be allowed on county roads and questioned whether the County could find out how other states are handling ATV usage. McLain responded that the County has been checking on that for the past two years. She also suggested that an ATV group could be organized and meetings held.

Bicyclists and Auto Traffic

The talk turned from ATVs to bicycles. Some felt that bicycles impede traffic more than ATVs. They complained about bicycle races on busy local highways, noting the danger from lack of ability to give bicyclists the clearance required. McLain remarked that it is not possible to stop races on public roads, and Watson added that whenever the Colorado Department of Transportation constructs new roads, they now must make bike paths.

Some expressed the opinion that regulations were needed on bicycles, including requiring license plates and insurance. However, bicycles are not considered motorized vehicles, as ATVs are.

McIntosh said, “There’s no easy answer. Bicyclists know the roads are not safe. They are getting carbon monoxide poisoning from the cars.”

Bicyclists were not the only persons to generate complaints. Motorcyclists, it was noted, often drove dangerously, particularly “young speeders.” Watson agreed. “I had two motorcycle accidents in front of my house in a twenty-minute period,” she marveled. “But they weren’t young!”

Housing Needs

Holt also brought up the issue of housing needs for seniors in the county. She had attended the Commissioner’s meeting on Tuesday, September 24, where an assessment of housing needs had been discussed. She asked how many units were being planned, and McLain responded that the County was hoping to build fifteen units on land near the Community Center.

She said, “We’ll try to put them back in the trees behind the pool. We did a survey and everybody is excited.” She advised that the project will not be done with Federal funding. “The Feds is not a good way because they will control everything.” She concluded by saying that the County had already got plans drawn.


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