Flooding, drought, wildfires, winter storms and hazmat spills were ranked some of the highest hazards for Albany County during its Hazard Mitigation planning process this spring.
Per federal regulations, the county must update its Hazard Mitigation Plan every five years to keep it current with new and completed projects. The county is updating its plan this spring, with hopes to have a new five-year plan adopted later this fall.
More than just response and recovery to a natural disaster, mitigation is a way to reduce the seriousness of a man-made or natural disaster before it ever occurs.
Aimee Binning, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said during the Hazard Mitigation Plan workshop Monday morning the county wanted input from special districts and stakeholders to ensure as many projects are identified as possible.
“The Hazard Mitigation Plan is important for a lot of different reasons, one of them being the projects that we identify are what will be funded through hazard mitigation grants and makes us eligible for hazard mitigation grants,” she said.
Present at the workshop were members of the city and county fire departments, the Wyoming Department of Transportation, law enforcement officials, as well as representatives from Rock River, the city of Laramie and Albany County. Additionally, members of local action groups like Albany County Clean Water Advocates were also in attendance.
Michael Garner, planning program manager with Denver-based CDR Maguire Emergency Management, said studies by the Federal Emergency Management Agency found that without the variety of “local champions” involved in the process, the mitigation strategies are less likely to be effective.
“A plan really doesn’t accomplish anything if you don’t have a strong planning team, if you don’t have people who actually own that plan and want to see it implemented,” he said. “A plan by itself just paper on a shelf.”
The last public meeting before CDR Maguire submits the finished plan for a public comment period, Garner said they were looking for project ideas and input for each of the county’s potential risks.
When the last plan was implemented, the county listed a total of 44 projects, many of which have been completed. Some are ongoing, including public education, identifying disaster shelters around the county and working with communication companies to improve gaps in service in wildfire-prone areas.
Looking to the next five years, the county is creating an updated list of projects to fit under four goals, including reducing potential injuries from disasters, increasing public outreach and reducing impact disasters have on public and private infrastructure.
Some members of the public expressed a desire to see projects concerning increased semitrailer traffic along Wyoming Highway 230, especially after two spills occurred in April.
One of the suggestions Jamie Egolf made during the meeting was to reduce the speed limit along the winding section of the state highway.
“When those tankers come flying out at 70 miles per hour and try to slow down when they get to the hairpin curves, it isn’t easy,” she said. “Even after our meeting at Woods Landing, I was standing outside, and I saw tanker truck come flying past. ... They don’t slow down.”
Another member of the public and Albany County Clean Water Advocates, Marian Erdelyi, expressed concerns the mitigation plan would not include contamination of the Casper Aquifer as one of the county’s biggest threats, because “with no water, this is all irrelevant.”
Garner said aquifer mitigation projects would be included in multiple sections depending on how the aquifer would be potentially contaminated, including hazmat as an example.
Egolf pointed out the county and the city have information in their respective Casper Aquifer Protection Plans that don’t always have matching information, which can make it harder to mitigate potential concerns.
Other public comments and project ideas included better signage for emergency response on rural roads, increased public education and better stormwater drainage to reduce flash flooding.
Binning said it was important to try to add any potential projects that fall under the umbrella of each goal to take advantage of available federal grant funding.
“Every single year the state does not spend all the money that we’re eligible for, and that’s not a good thing,” Binning said.
Town of Rock River and Rock River Volunteer Fire Department representative Rick Stricklin noted, however, the reason a lot of the funds are underutilized is that the “cumbersome” application process for the federal grants is “just a nightmare” to get through.
Even once the regional plan is formally adopted by the city and governing bodies in Carbon and Albany counties, which constitute Region 3, Binning said the plan is a “living document” that can be adjusted and changed.