OVPP lends itself to county COVID recovery plans for future

Mid-term planning well under way

By Katherine Nettles

Behind the scenes of any major, multi-departmental (and multi-jurisdictional) response system is a large network of commanders, and it seems the Gunnison Valley’s vision in creating the One Valley Prosperity Project (OVPP) several years ago has made the process much easier to establish under the duress of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since Gunnison County officials issued a state of emergency in March to respond to the healthcare crisis, an Incident Command structure formed quickly to address mid- and long-term recovery on both community health levels and those of economics. The Incident Command has appointed Gunnison County community and economic development director Cathie Pagano, who also participates in the  One Valley Leadership Council (OVLC), as the section chief for the recovery team.

Pagano began getting staff teams together from all the local municipalities and the ICELab last month, and said much of the foundation for this work had already been laid before disaster struck. The OVPP had previously identified economic resiliency, affordable housing, community health and equity and youth issues, among others, as priorities for its work. “We have a lot of structures in place now that were not there before OVPP, so that should be helpful,” Pagano said at the outset of the response.

“My role as section chief is to communicate the needs of our community members, businesses and institutions to the Incident Command, OVLC and elected officials. The Recovery Team is reaching out to the business community (through the ICELab and chambers of commerce), to the medical community and community institutions (WCU, REI-J, utilities, municipalities, etc.) to understand their gaps and needs,” Pagano explained.

The Recovery Team includes Anton Sinkewich, city of Gunnison community development director; Carlos Velado, Mt. Crested Butte community development director; Andie Ruggera, city of Gunnison senior planner; Hillary Seminick, Gunnison County senior planner; Mel Yemma, town of Crested Butte planner; Marsha Thorson, Gunnison Valley Family Practitioners practice manager; and Brad Wheaton, Gunnison County Health and Human Services economic security specialist.

The Recovery Team is working with the ICELab and chambers to connect with the business community. Team member Sinkewich participated in the sector groups meetings last week as they developed the proposed reopening plans. The sector group meetings have been led by Darcie Perkins at the ICELab and Ashley UpChurch at the Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce.

“We are also working directly with staff from Gunnison County Health and Human Services to track the needs of our community members relative to food, housing and utilities security. There are various ways that elected officials and OVLC can help to resolve and address community needs and the Recovery Team is attempting to filter and direct that information appropriately,” said Pagano.

Beyond health and economics, this team is also working as a liaison to facilitate clear and open communication between groups and the public.

“We are working closely with Joni Reynolds, director of Health and Human Services [Public Health] to communicate the needs and issues that we are hearing and identify opportunities for resolution or further clarification. Joni has worked hard the past week to review the proposed reopening plans for various business sectors with the medical staff and the recovery team,” said Pagano.

Communication between these stakeholder groups and incident command/public health has been critical in recent weeks, and the recovery team is also working with the One Valley Leadership Council to develop a mid-term and long-term One Valley Resiliency plan.

Pagano presented the first draft of a mid-term stabilization plan to commissioners on April 30. The plan will create several different hypothetical scenarios that might occur depending on community health outcomes. The goals include getting schools ready to open by fall, restarting tourism and ending the summer “with viable downtowns.”

She said, with no true end to the threat of COVID-19 in sight, it has to be acknowledged that there will be economic impacts to businesses and employees in the fall and in the winter.

“Part of this planning includes scenario planning to address issues we know will arise, identifying future funding needs, programming and policy recommendations,” Pagano said. Some of the potential recommendations are at the municipality levels, she noted. “For instance, are there zoning changes that can make it easier for people?” She mentioned Crested Butte’s consideration of creating a pedestrian mall on Elk Avenue this summer as an example.

Pagano said her team is working in the short term to build a business data dashboard with economic information to be updated regularly, perhaps on the county website. “This will help get a baseline on where people are now, in two months, in six months,” she said.

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