BISBEE — The Bisbee City Council moved forward to make Old Bisbee safer from wildland fires by approving a grant application for $66,000 submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Mayor David Smith and Council members Anna Cline, Joan Hansen, Bill Higgins, Joni Giacomino and Gabe Lindstrom gave unanimous support for the grant and the group Old Bisbee FireWise (OBF), during the meeting Tuesday.

OBF, a volunteer organization formed to reduce the risk of wildland fires and protect property, seeks a fire prevention and safety grant from FEMA to begin work on an 11-mile-long firebreak around Old Bisbee, said Danielle Bouchever, one of the 100 members of OBF.

The fire break will be around 66 feet wide, and will provide an interface between wildlands and private and public property.

Bouchever explained the Arizona State Land Department has an inmate crew trained in clearing such areas. They will rake dried leaves, clear brush, and trim trees if needed. It will take the crew about 44 days to clear the 86 acres targeted for cleanup.

Bouchever and Stephanie Peavy wrote the in-depth federal grant at no cost.

Al Anderson, chairman of OBF, emphasized the program for fuel reduction was voluntary. It would be up to the property owner to agree to the effort.

“We’ve been accused of being fear-mongers. We’re not going to come in and cut down your trees as some have suggested,” added Anderson. “But the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management has wanted to get this done for years. Old Bisbee is rated the highest fire risk in the state.

“We have their support in this. ”

Many property owners have already begun the task of clearing their yards of debris, cutting back bushes, and trimming trees to protect their homes, spending hundreds of hours on the task, he continued. The city has been supportive of the cleanup, and has picked up loads and loads of debris.

Though this is a good first step, there is much to do to make Old Bisbee more secure from fire, said Albertson.

The fire suppression system in Old Bisbee needs to be upgraded. New hydrants and water lines are much needed. So, more grants are being researched to remedy the situation.

OBF member Ann Carl said, “This grant buys us time. The fire department needs help with this project.”

A public meeting will be held Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Central School Project, she told the council. This will allow people to learn of the program, the risks and ways people can prevent the spread of wildland fires.

Councilman Gabe Lindstrom asked what would happen if a property owner refused, and Albertson said simply, “It doesn’t get done.”

When asked by Mayor David Smith what the city could do to help, Albertson replied, “You can continue picking up the brush. And the city could enforce its code, clean up yards, and take care of abandoned homes.”

Other lands included in the firebreak area are owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper Queen Branch, Arizona State Forestry and U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Petition objects to contract

On another matter, the council addressed a petition submitted by Donna Pulling on Nov. 20 and signed by 122 residents who “objected to the outsourcing of the operation and maintenance of the wastewater treatment plant.”

Pulling pointed out a number of people spoke out against contracting with Jacobs to manage the plant and its problems, but the council approved the contract, anyway.

Smith said the matter was at rest since the contract was approved.

The council went into a two-hour closed session to evaluate the performance of City Manager Robert Smith.

When the members returned, Mayor Smith said the council would hold a retreat on a Saturday in February to develop a strategic plan for the city. Three months after the retreat, the council will evaluate the city manager based on the strategic plan.

INFO

What: Old Bisbee FireWise meet and greet and potluck dinner

When: 5 p.m., Saturday

Where: Central School Project, 43 Howell Ave., Bisbee

Info: Attendees must RSVP. For more information, visit www.oldbisbeefirewise.org/ or contact Al Anderson at OldBisbeeFirewise@gmail.com or 520-227-6504.

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