Editor's note: This story initially appeared in the Roaring Fork Weekly Journal, our sister paper covering the midvalley. More at www.rfweeklyjournal.com.
A new, $1.8 million fire station is in the works about five miles up West Sopris Creek Road, the culmination of an effort started more than a decade ago. The project is coming together thanks to myriad partners, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District and neighboring homeowners.
Support from U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton didn’t hurt, either.
The station is envisioned to have two bays to accommodate a fire truck and a medical response vehicle, as well as three one-bedroom apartments. The station still needs approval from Pitkin County through a location-and-extent review. The relatively streamlined process is available for projects such as school buildings and fire stations.
An application to the county is expected to be submitted shortly, according to David Myler, who is representing Sopris Mountain Ranch homeowners.
“We can now kick everything into high gear,” he said this week, following the BLM’s recent approval of a 2.25-acre right of way for the station.
A spokesman for Tipton’s office said the congressman and his staff have been working with “local BLM representatives and other involved parties to see that this process was resolved in a timely manner.
“Overall, [Tipton] is pleased with the Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District, state and federal parties involved to collaborate on a solution that will benefit the community of Basalt and the surrounding area,” said Matt Atwood, press secretary and digital communications director.
Myler said he’s thankful Tipton got involved.
“I think Scott touted the public purpose and benefits, and encouraged the BLM to expedite the process,” Myler said.
In a ‘construction-ready state’
Fire Chief Scott Thompson said the effort to build the rural station started in 2007 but was initially derailed by the economic downturn. The interest in the public-private project to improve fire and medical response times never waned, however, and Thompson said homeowners have pledged about $900,000 toward its completion; the other half of the money is expected to come from a Department of Local Affairs grant, he said.
Thompson noted that the project could help lower insurance rates for West Sopris-area homeowners, due to its proximity and shortened response times, but that couldn’t be confirmed by Myler.
The fire station received an administrative grant last year that allowed for engineering, architectural work and property surveys to go ahead.
“It’s in a construction-ready state,” according to Thompson.
Approval from the BLM for a 99-year lease on the right-of-way further teed up the project. Initially, it was thought the approximately 2.25-acre property was within the Sopris Mountain Ranch parcel, Thompson said, noting that homeowners had agreed to donate the land for the station. But investigation unearthed that the property was BLM land.
In a prepared statement, Larry Sandoval, field manager for the BLM’s Colorado River Valley field office, wrote, “The fire district is an important partner to the BLM and U.S. Forest Service in managing wildfires, and this station’s proximity to public land will help with prompt responses to wildfires.”
Sandoval added, “The BLM strives to be a good neighbor and can authorize such uses of public land to local governments when it’s in the public’s interest.”
From old-town Basalt, the response to calls up West Sopris can take as long as 25 minutes, Thompson said. That theory was tested three years ago at a house fire in the vicinity.
Last summer’s Lake Christine Fire is also never far from anyone’s memory, he suggested.
“It’s obvious that the BLM sees the advantages of stopping fires up there,” Thompson said.
Pending county approval, construction is anticipated to start in early summer on the project site, which Thompson noted has unrivaled views.