The list of local governmental entities across Colorado that have officially declared states of emergency continues to expand as a result of the coronavirus epidemic.
As of March 19, Park County announced that it, too, was officially declaring a state of emergency because “the costs of responding to and recovering from the COVID-19 virus will likely be greater than the county’s available resources.”
The primary motive for the declaration is to eventually procure federal or state reimbursement for the costs of combating the viral pandemic, and the basic crux of the declaration is almost purely financial.
During a state of emergency, Park County utilizes a Comprehensive Emergency Operations Plan that provides county agencies and personnel with general guidelines and principles for planning, managing and coordinating during times of crisis.
Because extraordinary times sometimes call for extraordinary measures, the emergency plan contains interesting language with regards to the county’s scope of authority during a state of emergency.
Provisions within the emergency plan, for example, which fall under the “Emergency Authority” portion of the document, state that the “Park County Board of Commissioners may take extraordinary measures during a large scale incident or disaster. All physical resources within the county, whether publicly or privately owned, may be utilized when deemed necessary … ”
More specifically, the document asserts that extraordinary measures taken by the Park County Board of Commissioners during a large-scale incident or disaster might also include, but are not limited to:
1. Declaration of a local state of disaster
2. Wage, price and rent controls and other economic stabilization methods
3. Curfews, blockades, and limitations on utility usage
4. Rules governing entrance and exit from the affected area(s)
5. Other security measures
The emergency plan also states that the Sheriff may exercise the same powers on an appropriate local scale, as provided by the Colorado Disasters Act of 1992.
The seemingly far-reaching emergency authorities and enforcement rights granted to the county, combined with a statewide stay at home order recently mandated by Gov. Jared Polis, could conceivably spark concerns from local citizens with regards to their personal rights and freedoms.
Park County Emergency Manager Gene Stanley, however, provided a multi-pronged explanation as to why local residents have little to fear in terms of enforcement and emergency authorities at the county level.
“Because our population is so spread out, and because Park County residents have done very well adhering to social distancing measures, less enforcement is required here than in many other places,” Stanley said.
“I drove from my office to Fairplay the other day, went south on Highway 9, and hardly saw a single moving automobile along the way. So I just don’t anticipate that any drastic enforcement measures will be necessary here.”
Stanley reinforced the idea that the recent declaration of a state of emergency in Park County is primarily an economic tool to obtain financial reimbursement for the cost of fighting the pandemic. He also stated that the process of obtaining financial reimbursement was, frankly, quite cumbersome.
“First of all, there is paperwork galore in the process of obtaining financial reimbursements,” Stanley said. “Secondly, documentation must show specifically the financial damage done to the county. It starts with the president calling a state of emergency, and also involves Homeland Security and FEMA, and then finally those funds have to trickle down from a national level to the states, and eventually to county and district levels.”