Fire officials want to create a powerful new body to enforce statewide wildfire building standards
Currently, the idea is being proposed as an amendment to a existing Senate bill which creates a new climate preparedness office and expands other disaster recovery programs. But lawmakers are in their last days on the job this year, and moving this forward likely won’t be easy.
“I think local governments are really not happy about the state telling them what their building code should be,” Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno of D-Commerce City said in a recent briefing with reporters from the Capitol.
The proposal for a wild lands code committee came from the wild lands urban interface subcommittee of the fire commission, a group comprised of fire and safety officials as well as local government officials and commercial interests. The group met at Requirement Governor Jared Polis, who tasked the commission with evaluating the best regulatory and “incentive” options for land use planning, development and building resilience in wildfire-prone areas.
The subcommittee envisioned the council taking two years to pass a set of minimum wildfire regulations, develop policies and procedures, and hold public hearings on the proposed rules. It would then determine a timetable for the enactment of the new rules and set deadlines for local governments to comply.
Parts of the proposal are already drawing fire.
The proposal has yet to make it through the legislature, but it is already being pushed back by groups that wield great influence under the Golden Dome.
Kevin Bommer, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, said the organization supports the idea of a new state board that would release model wildfire building and land-use standards and offer incentives, advice and training to towns and villages that wish to adopt them.
“I think it’s great to have votes, but if we’re talking about a council that has enforcement power over local governing bodies, then that’s a loser,” Bommer said.
Colorado Counties, Inc., a nonprofit organization representing county commissioners, participated in the subcommittee meetings where the wildfire code board proposal was developed. Executive Director John Swartout said members of the organization have yet to take a formal position on the proposal and related legislative amendment, but noted that state mandates are often difficult for counties with of a land use authority.
“Having said that, we’ve been working hard to see if we can find an appropriate balance,” Swartout said.
In a statement, Ted Leighty, CEO of the Colorado Association of Home Builders, said the organization is reviewing the proposal to ensure it takes into account the additional costs these regulations could add to home construction, as well as existing efforts by local governments and landlords. to reduce the risk of forest fires.
Some wildfire safety experts, including the National Fire Protection Association, say voluntary actions by individuals and communities are not enough to counter the growing danger of wildfires fueled by climate change and population growth. They plead for the obligation statewide building and planning regulations.
Statewide wildfire regulations could also make Colorado more competitive for some Federal Emergency Management Agency grants that favor states that have passed them, Sen. Chris Hansen said. D-Boulder.
In January, Hansen said Colorado applied for, but failed to obtain, more than $50 million in federal grants.
A handful of states already have mandatory statewide wildfire planning and building codes. Of these, only four wrote explicitly for the wild-urban interface, according to Insurance Institute for Business and Home Security. Across the country, dozens of local governments — including Boulder, which was devastated in late December by the Marshall Fire, now considered the most destructive in Colorado history — have enacted rules aimed at hardening communities against forest fires.
Less strident moves toward statewide wildfire planning and building codes in Colorado have been defeated in the past.
After a devastating 2012 wildfire season that left six people dead and more than 640 buildings destroyed, a state task force advised Colorado is creating a model ordinance for homes built in wildfire risk areas that would either be mandatory in high risk areas or required by local governments. This effort has run out of steam under pressure home builder organizations.
The latter approach would give a wide range of powers to the proposed forest fire code committee. It would certify local officials and contractors to carry out inspections, collect fees and provide technical assistance. Once certified, local governments would enforce the minimum statewide wildfire regulations within their jurisdictions.
The board would also establish a process for reviewing changes to statewide standards. The council itself would act as the enforcement authority in locations without local code officials and in areas ‘unable or unwilling’ to enforce wildfire regulations under the commission-approved proposal. fires.
Council members would likely include fire and emergency services, building code and home construction professionals, land use planning experts and local government officials, as per the proposed recommendation approved by the fire commission.
Even though the proposed new wildfire code board survives the legislative gauntlet largely intact, and even though it was later signed into law by a governor whose administration often favors regulatory incentives over environmental issues , it will have to overcome other practical obstacles. One is the lack of a single, agreed-upon map delineating the boundaries of Colorado’s wildland-urban interface that would outline areas that must comply with new wildfire regulations.
CPR reporters Bente Birkeland and Veronica Penney contributed to this story.