Mancos town board declares Western Excelsior fire a disaster

Thursday, July 6, 2017 5:42 PM
The Western Excelsior fire continues to smolder with some flames on May 9, the day after the fire.

During its June 28 meeting, the Mancos Town Board voted to join the Montezuma County government in declaring the Western Excelsior fire as a disaster.

On June 19 the Montezuma County commissioners voted to declare the May 8 fire, which destroyed the Western Excelsior Corp. mill in Mancos and caused the loss of more than 100 jobs, an emergency economic disaster.

The town board voted to make a similar declaration, in the hope it would open up more state assistance. Western Excelsior hasn’t indicated whether it will reopen the mill.

Just as he did at the commissioners’ meeting, Montezuma County Emergency Manager Paul Hollar spoke about why the fire qualifies as a disaster and the benefits that could come with it.

“There is, as we’re finding out, a huge domino effect,” he said. “It’s not just Western Excelsior.”

He said most Mancos businesses have been affected by the loss of the mill, and the emergency declaration would help the county’s request for emergency economic assistance from the state. That request is under review by the Colorado Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Since the fire was listed as an economic disaster, Hollar said any state assistance would likely come in the form of small-business loans and grants to boost the Mancos economy. When board member Cindy Simpson asked whether individuals affected by the fire could receive assistance, he said he didn’t think so.

“This is not your normal disaster,” Hollar said. “We’re kind of learning as we go.”

He said that since the fire has been classified an economic disaster, any government aid would focus on helping the town’s economy recover.

Interim Town Administrator Heather Alvarez told the board that some local organizations, including Mancos Valley Resources, have hosted fundraisers to provide assistance to former Western Excelsior employees. She mentioned the upcoming Mancos Film Festival, scheduled for July 15, as one example.

Hollar also mentioned that Western Excelsior has provided severance pay and job search assistance to former employees. “We live in a great community, where everybody’s helping,” he said.

Some board members agreed.

“We still have decent safety net stuff,” Simpson said.

The board members – Mayor Queenie Barz, Mayor Pro Tem Fred Brooks, Craig Benally, Lorraine Becker, Michele Black, Ed Hallam and Cindy Simpson – voted unanimously in favor of the declaration.

They also scheduled a business-owner meeting about the declaration for 2 p.m., July 11, in Mancos Town Hall. All affected business owners are invited to attend.