A business friendly gobbled up a heaping helping of future speak for El Paso county. It was the yearly State of the Region Address delivered by El Paso County Commisioner Chair, Amy Lathen.

Here is the verbatim from the speech she gave on Wednesday to the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

State of the Region – Amy Lathen – December 5, 2012:

"I want to thank Joe Raso and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance for hosting today’s state of the region. I also want to thank all of the county and city elected officials who are here today. I especially want to thank all of you in our business community who are taking valuable time away from the office, the jobsite and the cash register to come here today.

The state of the region is a much appreciated opportunity to inventory events, accomplishments and challenges as 2012 draws to a close and look forward to the opportunities and challenges just over the horizon in 2013.

For all of us who live and work in El Paso County – this was truly a year like no other because the Waldo Canyon Fire was an event like no other. It was the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. Two people lost their lives, neighborhoods were destroyed, 30,000 of us were displaced, our summer tourists changed their plans and our hearts were broken as we watched the angry flames come over the ridgeline and into the city.

Of course the flames have long since been doused, rebuilding is underway, the visitors are coming back and recovery is top of mind so today we won’t dwell on the fire, but also cannot be ignored.

El Paso County’s incident command center was set up by the sheriff’s office in Green Mountain Falls Saturday afternoon, June 23, 2012. Temperatures were in the 90’s and the flames which had started not far from the popular Waldo Canyon hiking trail were being whipped into an inferno by the wind. Firefighters from throughout the region responded but it quickly became clear that the dedicated funding, expertise, manpower and equipment available only through the federal Type I incident command structure were needed.

Commissioner Sallie Clark, county administrator Jeff Greene and I went to the sheriff’s command center Sunday morning to sign the delegation of responsibility for the firefight to a federal type one incident team. It’s an important and necessary step before national disaster resources can be deployed.
Sunday evening the federal Type I incident team assumed management of the firefight. Working around the clock with firefighters from around the country were county departments and agencies ranging from county highways and fleet services to information technology, public health, procurement and public information. El Paso County’s I.T. with support from Cisco systems, installed the telecommunications infrastructure to provide the Type I incident command center established at Holmes Middle School critical telephone, mobile radio and wifi communications. County administrative staff copied and assembled thousands of pages of tactical and strategy plan documents overnight, every night so teams on each line of the fire would have the latest G.I.S. and hot spot maps, as well as types and locations of available equipment and support services. County procurement manned the phones around the clock to ensure that fuel, spare parts and supplies were available when and where they were needed. County highway department bulldozers, water tankers, mechanics and operators joined
colleagues from Colorado Springs Utilities, the Air Force Academy, City of Colorado Springs, Fort Carson and others.

At the same time the Colorado Division of Local Affairs and Office of Emergency Management asked the county to stand up a Disaster Recovery Center. County facilities and I.T. personnel had 24 hours to re-open, equip and supply the vacant department of human services building at 105 north spruce which served as a one stop location where evacuees could come for immediate assistance with in terms food, clothing, furniture, childcare, mental health counseling, healthcare, assistance with pets, cash and fuel. The list of organizations and agencies who came together at the El Paso County Disaster Recovery Center is too long to read here in its entirety here today but it included representatives from all of the major insurance carriers to answer policyholders’ questions. Verizon and Cisco contributed telecommunications equipment. Regional Building, Colorado Springs Utilities, Care and Share, the Department of Human Services, Pikes Peak Workforce Center, the State Insurance Commissioner, the Red Cross, Peak Vista, Set Family Medical, Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army, El Paso County Veterans Services, Aspen Pointe, City of Colorado Springs, El Paso County Public Health, Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, Housing and Building Association and more.

Nearly three thousand Colorado Springs area evacuees received immediate assistance and valuable information at the El Paso County Disaster Recovery Center thanks to the commitment of volunteers, and the collaboration of businesses, non-profits and government agencies who came together, determined to help.
In its aftermath – the Waldo Canyon Fire has left behind 18-thousand acres of baked and barren mountainous terrain; just add water and flooding is guaranteed. Our first priority was to get information about flood insurance out to all residents living in areas that are now in danger of flooding.

El Paso County’s centennial hall was filled with citizens eager for information about the flood insurance program, efforts to mitigate the risks of flooding and steps toward recovery from this disastrous fire. Once again El Paso County, City of Colorado springs, state and federal agencies joined together to get things done. And speaking of getting things done, one of the outcomes of these meetings was federal legislation to wave, for residents in our area, the 30 day wait requirement built into the national flood insurance program.

Less than three weeks after the fire was declared under control, a common summer rain over an upper section of the burn scar triggered a mudslide forcing closure of Highway 24, destroying the playground equipment and Ute Pass Elementary School, washing out numerous private driveways and flooding basements in the Ute Pass area. With fall classes ready to start, Manitou School District 14 asked the county to help with efforts to protect students from the risk of flash flooding. County public services installed a system of trap bag barriers to protect the school from the kind of flooding that will now become commonplace in the Ute Pass area.

The forest service dropped straw and wood chips by helicopter on parts of the scar but it is only small first step toward what is needed to reduce the risk of flooding off the scar. A critical engineering assessment of the burn scar is underway to will determine the types of flood
mitigation structures, and proper locations of those structures. El Paso County, Colorado springs Utilities, city, state and federal agencies are all working together, meeting regularly with federal and state officials and collaborating with volunteer groups to reduce the risks but we look ahead to spring and summer with mixed emotions, recognizing how badly we need a good soaking rain over most of the county and how desperately we need for the rain to fall over the burn scar just a little bit at a time.

I want to thank the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance for its tremendous support for the extension of the PPRTA. Widening, safety, and drainage improvements on El Paso County’ s completion of Marksheffel road expansion to 4 lanes north from highway 24 is an important improvement for traffic on the eastside of Colorado Springs and the completion of safety improvements on Hodgen Road is another big project completed this year but there were many, many smaller projects completed across the region including 111 lane miles of new asphalt, 110 miles of chip seal treatment, almost 50 miles of gravel roadway improvements, 8 miles of sidewalk plus curbs and gutters and more than 24,000 potholes filled. With voter approval of the PPRTA extension work is already beginning on safety, capacity and maintenance projects spelled out in PPRTA 2 and all of us at El Paso County will be working hard to make sure that PPRTA’s stellar record of ‘promises kept’ remains intact.

One important traffic safety improvement I should mention in the southern part of the county was not part of the PPRTA collaboration – El Paso County’s new pedestrian bridge over B Street replaces a dangerous crossing where school kids had overcome six lanes of traffic and two sets of railroad tracks just to get to school. It was designed and built by the Corps of Engineers working alongside El Paso County traffic engineers. Now that it’s finished, the army has an expanded and much more efficient rail facility to support its mission, kids have a safer walk to school, traffic flows more efficiently and a neighborhood once divided has been sown together. Did I mention it will also play in important role in connecting city, county and Fort Carson trail systems in that area?

We still don’t know if they’ve found oil in El Paso County, but we do know that exploration is being done here. It’s being done in a responsible manner, state and local regulations are being followed, and the industry is getting along just fine with El Paso County. After months of hard work by the local government designee from our county attorney’s office, our development services department and the board of county commissioners, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has agreed to require testing of nearby water wells before, during and after exploration for oil and natural gas and the county has adopted reasonable rules to mitigate damage to our roads, fugitive dust and visual impacts of drilling operations. Working together with the industry and the state hasn’t always been an easy process but it is a highly successful collaboration and is being considered as a model for other areas of the state.

We abide by the 3 rules – reduce, reuse and recycle. So we want to reduce what we buy first, make sure you buy only the amount that you need. Then our second thought is to always reuse it, so anything that comes in here we look to see if it’s reusable. It’s put out on our drop and swap here where anybody is able to come and take it if you need it – free to the public.

El Paso County’s Household Hazardous Waste Disposal Facility is another successful collaboration with industry. The purpose of this county facility is to keep hazardous materials and materials that should be recycled out of our landfills. So far this year it has recycled 154-thousand pounds of old electronics, 68-thousand gallons of paint, 18-thousand household batteries and more than 10-thousand gallons of used motor oil. In collaboration with neighborhood groups, businesses, volunteers and city agencies this facility supports neighborhood clean ups, city-wide Christmas tree recycling, slash and mulch programs and more – all aimed at keeping bad things out of our landfills and junk from piling up in our neighborhoods.
This facility is funded entirely by tipping fees which paid by trash haulers when they use area landfills.

And while we’re getting rid of things – Goats are the best way to get rid of noxious weeds in Bear Creek Regional Park. Not mention their hard work in mowing down vegetation which might otherwise become a fire hazard. In collaboration with the Bear Creek Garden Association, the annual return of the goats to Bear Creek Regional Park may not be as romantic as the swallows return to Capistrano, but it’s become its own attraction for park visitors.

Across the street at the Bear Creek Dog Park, we have another group of four footed park users, and another group of hard working two footed volunteers supporting the facility. Friends of the Dog Park contribute thousands of hours of labor each year to maintain one of the most heavily used parks in the region. Thanks to their ongoing support and a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, 2012 has seen the completion of major erosion control and drainage work in the park as well as new restroom facilities and fencing.

Thanks to a donated modular building – and the hard work of volunteers out in the eastern part of the county, a new outreach center on the county fairgrounds in Calhan is a place where residents on the eastern plains can go to get help from non-profit agencies like Pikes Peak United Way, the Resource Exchange, and the Alzheimer’s Association as well as county affiliated agencies like the Department of Human Services and Pikes Peak Work force center. Thanks to collaboration with many partners the outreach center is up and running with not much more than the cost of utilities.

The county also joined a number of partners in a collaborative effort to make the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex a reality. I hope many of you will add to your calendars on January 23rd the official grand opening celebration for the first phase of the new range. Open to the public but operated by Fort Carson’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Enterprise, this is a ground breaking, first of its kind partnership which had to be approved by the Secretary of the Army. The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Lottery, the NRA and others are partners with the Army and the county in making this a reality.

The presentation of a 2 ½ million dollar Colorado Lottery funds grant to build and improve trails and recreation facilities along fountain creek in the southern El Paso County was really a joint effort between El Paso County and the City of Pueblo. In making the grant, state officials acknowledged that they were impressed by the project because it demonstrated cooperation and collaboration across multiple jurisdictions.

Volunteers play a big part in the ongoing success of our El Paso County fair and fairground facilities are being used by more citizens use year around than ever before.  From popular dirt track car races which are scheduled from May to September to a variety of equestrian and rodeo style events, and even trade fairs and meetings, fairgrounds facilities are used year around.
Volunteers also play a critical role in the in success of El Paso County’s two award winning nature centers located at Fountain Creek and Bear Creek regional parks. Thanks to private fund raising efforts and support from Colorado Lottery dollars, expansion of the Fountain Creek Nature Center will provide classroom, meeting and exhibit space for the busloads of school children who find the nature centers to be an unforgettable learning experience.

Speaking of volunteers and partnerships – our annual Feed the Children event happens this time every year. It’s always been a partnership and collaboration between El Paso county DHS and the faith based community and each year it grows with support from Mercy Springs, Springs Church, the Music Evangelism Foundation, Goodwill Industries and more.
This growing annual event demonstrates once again, that when our community, our citizens, our businesses, our region comes together, and works together we can get a lot done.