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Mudslide buries plans to rebuild mountain retreat center

DCR_11-05-14.inddNearly three years after a fire destroyed the lodge and guest wing at the Camp St. Malo Conference and Retreat Center in Allenspark, and one year after a devastating mudslide rearranged the landscape of the 160-acre property, management and the board of directors of St. Malo, with the assistance of the Archdiocese of Denver, is putting any possible plans to rebuild the property on indefinite hold.

“In light of the significant remediation costs to the property, the ongoing uncertainty regarding the stability of Mount Meeker, and the unknown impact of future water and sediment flows on the property, it has been determined that it is not prudent to rebuild on the St. Malo property,” according to David Holden, chief financial officer of the archdiocese and president of St. Malo’s corporate entity.

Holden told the Denver Catholic Register that the management team “continues to address various property issues and is evaluating options for best utilizing the property going forward.”

To assess the damage caused from a mudslide down neighboring Mount Meeker that was triggered by the Front Range floods in September 2013, the archdiocese hired AMEC Environment and Infrastructure Inc., an internationally-known water resources and disaster mitigation and recovery consulting firm. AMEC has also provided disaster recovery services to the Town of Jamestown, severely damaged by the floods, and delivered hazard mitigation services to more than 70 local governments.

“In comparison to other communities affected by the disaster, St. Malo took one of the most significant hits of any form from the massive debris flow,” according to Jeff Brislawn with AMEC. “Significant and cost-prohibitive work remains in addition to lingering concerns about continued erosion, deposition and the potential for more debris flows on the Cabin Creek drainage. … Smaller rainfall events might even mobilize additional debris.”

Because of continued settlement and sinkholes, he continued, it could take 10 years or more for natural processes to reestablish equilibrium.

AMEC, who’s spent nearly a year on the project, recommended “an exclusion zone” to prevent structures from being built on what they described as “the likely path of a future slide event.”

Despite the risks, they determined there are areas that could be safely redeveloped. Because the Chapel of St. Catherine of Siena, also known as Chapel on the Rock, was not significantly impacted, it can continue to be used. It was spared due to its location high on a rock outcrop.

Months before the Front Range floods in 2013, the Malo management team was actively working on a plan to rebuild the retreat center. The proposed location for a new structure, according to Holden, was in the path of the mudslide that involved a debris flow of rocks, soil and trees, estimated at depths of 15 feet in some locations. The mudslide emptied into a pond and wetland adjacent to Highway 7, before stopping short of the historic stone chapel. On its way, the raging debris damaged structures, parking lots, roads and the environment including the Cabin Creek Trail hiked by St. John Paul II when visiting St. Malo during Denver’s World Youth Day 1993.

The estimated clean-up, remediation and restoration costs, developed by AMEC, stand at $4.4 million to return the property to its prior condition, according to an Oct. 28 statement from the St. Malo board of directors, with only a minimal amount being covered by insurance. That figure is separate from an estimated $500,000 investment by the Colorado Department of Transportation last winter to restore portions of Cabin Creek and sections of the property so the integrity of Highway 7 would not be compromised. It also does not include any allowance for rebuilding structures on the property.

St. Malo does not qualify for recovery assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance program because of its status as a private nonprofit religious organization. Financing from the Small Business Administration was not feasible, and work with other federal regulatory agencies has not yielded funding thus far. Staff of the archdiocese continues to pursue other opportunities to help address the damage done by this natural disaster.

Originally established as a camp for boys in the 1930s, the venue was reopened as a retreat and conference center in 1987 following a three-year closure (see accompanying timeline for additional detail). After a fire destroyed the center Nov. 14, 2011, a conceptual master plan for redevelopment, including dormitories for a youth camp, was finalized in spring 2013. The organization was moving forward with plans, including discussions with Boulder County, when the mudslide began in September, after several days of torrential rain.

“We hope to provide more definitive plans on these initiatives in the near future,” said Father Randy Dollins, board member of St. Malo, adding that the group’s priorities include continuing to look at alternative sites for a Catholic retreat center and youth camp, while preserving the heritage of Camp St. Malo, the conference center and the papal visit sites.

Father Dollins, who also serves as the moderator of the curia for the archdiocese, requested support from the faithful as the group moves forward.

“We ask you to keep this matter in your prayers,” he said. “The wisdom of our future decisions will be enhanced through our common prayer during this time.”

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