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Emergency Access Route Info

Emergency Access Route Update

What has changed since January 2024:

o   We have continued to work with the engineering and design team to finalize the Emergency Access Route. The current alignment (See Site Plan below) intersects Highway 74 just east of the original route, and eliminates the tight double switchback, reduces grades significantly, and can be built in 2025 at a lower cost than previous designs. [We investigated a route to the west that was presented in the April 2024 Community update, but found it was unworkable.] 

The current plan has been unanimously approved by Jefferson County Planning and Zoning and the design is working its way through the engineering permitting process now. We are in coordination with the Corps of Engineers and US Fish and Wildlife Service. We do not anticipate any permitting challenges that could delay being shovel-ready by May 2025.

Emergency Access Route

o   What had previously been referred to as the SEAR (Southern Emergency Access Route), will now be called the Emergency Access Route. 

o   The election to ask voters to assume an additional mil levy to build and maintain the road is now anticipated to be a special election in May 2025. This will allow for additional time to explore financing options and ensure we have a shovel ready project when the election occurs.

o   The Genesee Fire Protection District (GFPD) has contracted with Baseline Engineering for final design, which will include Construction Documents – Plans and Technical Specifications.  This work is essentially complete, pending completion of the permitting process.  In addition to the cost estimate that Baseline Engineering will give us, Genesee Foundation has retained Zak Dirt to also provide a cost estimate.  Zak Dirt recently completed the Genesee Water And Sanitation District’s Reservoir #1 and, therefore, is familiar with the topography and makeup of the land around this project.  Based on their estimate, we anticipate that the final cost will be under $8 million

o   Genesee Fire Rescue (GFR) purchased new, state of the art, evacuation modeling software (LADRIS).  Preliminary results using the new model demonstrate the value of the new road in situations where one of our current evacuation roads is blocked or our access to I70 is blocked.

o   Jason Puffett, Genesee Fire Rescue Chief, has left his position with GFR to join Evergreen Fire Rescue as a Division Chief of Wildland overseeing wildfire operations, community outreach and education.  GFPD is very grateful to Chief Puffett for his leadership to move this project forward and for the positive changes he has overseen at Genesee Fire Rescue.

How the route would be used depends very much on the specifics of the wildfire event (see FAQ # 2.). The existence of the Emergency Access Route would give the Incident Commander overseeing the wildfire response much greater operational flexibility.  The potential uses of the Emergency Access Route are:

o   As an alternate or additional evacuation route, especially in a circumstance where our existing routes for evacuation are unavailable to some or all District residents.  Use of the route for evacuation would be an operational decision and depend on the specifics of the fire.

o   An access route for responding emergency vehicles.  Some of our mutual aid fire departments are located to the south of GFPD. This route would provide faster entry to help us respond to a fire, since they could avoid driving the extra distance to enter GFPD. The Incident Commander would also have the operational flexibility to decide that the situation warranted having all emergency responders enter from the Emergency Access Route. This would facilitate evacuation along our existing (and, therefore, familiar) evacuation route.

o   In the event of a wildfire approaching GFPD from the south or southwest, the presence of this route allows fire fighters to make a stand on our southern border.  It is an axiom of fire fighting that fire fighters must have an escape route should the fire get too close.  The Emergency Access Route offers a potential escape route.

GFPD is grateful that Genesee Foundation and its SEAR Working Group have taken the lead in getting us to the point where GFPD is in a position to take over responsibility for final engineering design and funding.  Since GFPD funding relies solely (>90) on the revenue from taxpayers to fund its operational budget, we could not have funded the initial design work.  Will Quinby, a Professional Engineer and Genesee Foundation resident, has donated untold hours representing our interests as he interfaces with the road design contractors.  In addition, the Genesee Foundation Fire & Safety Committee (GFSC) evaluated and recommended a general location for the Emergency Access Road (see their report, Analysis of EAR Matrix on the GFR website). Finally, GFPD is grateful to Genesee Foundation and Genesee Water and Sanitation District for granting easements to GFPD, making it possible to build the road without the need for purchasing the property on which the road would be sited. There are numerous communities in the foothills who have limitations in evacuation routes and ingress of emergency responders.  Fire districts that include these communities have high levels of concerns about life safety and the ability to protect property if there were a wildfire; GFPD is fortunate to have the ability to increase its operational flexibility in responding to a fire in, or approaching, the District without the need to purchase land.

Background and Potential Uses of the Emergency Access Route

The Genesee Fire Protection District (GFPD), like much of the Western US, is at high risk for high-severity wildfires due to overgrown vegetation exacerbated by dry and hot weather, and strong, gusty winds. If an evacuation was necessary, the GFPD currently has limited egress routes all of which rely on access to I70 at exit 256 or 254.  There is the potential for extreme congestion and/or loss of access to the existing evacuation routes for some or all residents of GFPD.  There are a number of ways in which access to existing evacuation routes could be blocked, including a stalled vehicle or vehicle accident, a tree falling on the road, or wildfire crossing a roadway.  In May 2024, I70 was closed for many hours in both directions between exits 254 and 260 due to a truck fire.  This could have led to life safety issue for our residents.  Fortunately, there was no appreciable wind that could bring embers into GFPD starting a wildfire that would require an evacuation.  If we needed to evacuate, some or all District residents would have been told to “shelter in place” because the ability and time to evacuate would be highly limited.  Mutual aid emergency response could also be severely impacted since it would require entry from I70. 

The original evacuation modeling included in our 2021 Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) suggested evacuations times would be two to four hours for most of the approximately 4000 residents of GFPD.  This was the impetus for looking at adding an additional evacuation route that would not feed into I70.  Since publication of the CWPP, GFR has used different software to model evacuations.  Results using this software were presented at the April 12, 2024, public meeting. Preliminary, modeling various scenarios suggests that:

o   The Emergency Access Route will not have a substantial impact on evacuation times under circumstances where access to our current evacuation routes and I70 remain open.  In general, it is preferable for residents to take the usual (familiar) route they use during an evacuation, and it is anticipated that opening the Emergency Access Route for evacuation will only occur if access to the usual evacuation is unavailable for some or all GFPD residents. 

o   The Emergency Access Route has its greatest positive impact on evacuation if our existing evacuation roadways are compromised.  Although the evacuation times differ between the CWPP model and the GFPD model, both illustrate the benefit of having an Emergency Access Route.

One of the biggest concerns with respect to evacuation is that access to the existing evacuation routes is blocked for some or all residents.  This could occur if access onto I70 at exits 254 and 256 were blocked.  The alternative would be to send cars down Grapevine Road, which, due to its curves and lack of guardrails and mitigation, would involve very low speeds and perilous travel.  If access to Grapevine were also blocked, the entirety of GFPD would have to shelter in place – i.e., stay in their homes (see FAQ #25).  There could also be scenarios where a wildfire could cut off evacuation routes for part of the District and those residents would have to shelter in place.  Having the Emergency Access Route would offer operational flexibility in that it provides the opportunity for an alternative evacuation route.

IMPORTANT: The Incident Commander for the fire will decide whether the Emergency Access Route will be used for evacuation.  Residents have no way of knowing whether it is safe to take the Emergency Access Route.  DO NOT take the road unless directed to do so and DO NOT wait for access to the road to be opened.  In other words, unless directed otherwise, take the route you usually do to leave the community, and evacuate as soon as possible.

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