Project Update: I-70 Mountain Corridor, Peak Period Shoulder Lane

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2019 marks the beginning of the construction phase of the I-70 Mountain Corridor Westbound Peak Period Shoulder Lane (PPSL) Project. This exciting project will reduce congestion and improve safety on a 12-mile stretch of the I-70 Corridor in Clear Creek County, particularly on weekends when crowds are flooding to-and-from their mountain adventures and the Denver metro area. This 12-mile section of the I-70 Mountain Corridor – winding through Clear Creek County and towns including Idaho Springs, Georgetown, and Empire – is a critical interstate corridor, but has become a source of frustration for local residents and tourists alike due to weekend traffic, congestion and extended travel times.

For the last two years, CDR has worked with CDOT on a Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) NEPA and design proves including stakeholder engagement, public involvement, meeting facilitation and mediation during the CSS Design Phase of the Project. The final Design Plans and Specifications are under final review, and the Construction Phase of the corridor improvement process will begin in March 2019. CDR will continue to facilitate a Project Leadership Team (PLT), made up of local jurisdictions, CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to oversee the development of a Public Information Plan, construction scheduling and change orders, and the review and monitoring of the design agreements as they are translated into on-the-ground construction decisions.

In addition to the PLT, there will be a Project Information Leadership Team (PILT) made up of corridor stakeholders and impacted agencies. The PILT will develop a robust messaging campaign throughout the construction of the project to assure coordinated, consistent and accurate communication throughout the entire corridor. This team will also lead weekly update “snapshot” calls that are open to the community and will respond to public comment and inquiry.

CDR is committed to providing facilitation support services, process design and community engagement services to CDOT and impacted communities throughout the Construction Phase of the Project. The two-year construction timeline will begin in the Summer of 2019 with the intent to open the new westbound Peak Period Shoulder managed lanes in the Summer of 2021.

Historic Georgetown Inc. Facilitation

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As facilitators, CDR’s Taber Ward and Emily Zmak understand the importance that location plays in a successful facilitation. The location sets the tone, the literal atmosphere, and provides space for effective engagement. And so, for our client Historic Georgetown, Inc., there was no better location to facilitate their Board Retreat and Strategic Planning Session than a historic schoolhouse–complete with chalkboard walls, squeaky floorboards, and windows overlooking Georgetown, Colorado.

Nestled in a quiet Front Range valley, Georgetown is a small mountain community with deep historic roots. The town’s character is tied to its silver mine legacy, Victorian-era architecture, mountain scenery, and, subsequently, the tourism that supports the town today. Tourists flock to Georgetown, often drawn in from the I-70 thoroughfare, and take in the town’s train rides, shopping, historic landmarks, and annual Christmas Market.    

Historic Georgetown, Inc. (HGI), is the premier institution behind preserving and promoting awareness of Georgetown’s historic character. HGI oversees multiple landmark sites in Georgetown, organized public engagement opportunities, supports historic homeowners, and hosts the annual Christmas Market. When an HGI board member asked CDR to facilitate the HGI Board’s strategic planning retreat, it was an opportunity that Taber Ward described as “an honor and chance to contribute to Colorado’s mountaintown legacy and unique, historic import.”   

Facilitating the Board meetings for Historic Georgetown was an exciting opportunity for CDR’s Taber and Emily. Taber has worked throughout the Front Range I-70 Corridor on public involvement projects, and brought a strong understanding of the various challenges faced by Colorado’s mountain communities. Working with HGI was an opportunity for Taber to focus on just one of these challenges: maintaining and preserving historic character. “For me,” Taber said, “it was great to support a town that has been so involved in the I-70 mountain corridor project and invested in protecting the character of Georgetown.  Emily had been with CDR for just three weeks and HGI was her first client project. It was an opportunity for her to support a project start-to-finish, from strategic planning retreat design and one-on-one interviews to facilitation and follow-up. She said, “This project was such an amazing way to on-board with CDR. I was learning something new every minute.”

The Board Strategic Planning retreat resulted in agreement around HGI’s five-year vision, direction, purpose, clarity of roles and responsibilities, and action plan — which is no easy feat for a half-day retreat. The agenda for the day was action-oriented. Through a visioning process, facilitated dialogue, group work, and consensus-building, the Board determined concrete steps for implementing change and enhancing their strengths.

National Highway Institute: Public Involvement and Conflict Management Training

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Following twenty years of developing and delivering training programs for the National Highway Institute (the training-arm of the Federal Highway Administration), CDR has been awarded a new contract to continue delivering two separate training programs in public involvement and conflict management. The courses bring together transportation, planning professionals from state and federal agencies. CDR brings over 40 years of experience this contract with robust conceptual frameworks, practical tips and opportunities for participants to develop fundamental skills. CDR looks forward to continuing our work helping to increase stakeholder engagement, resolve problems and facilitate decision making in the environmental and transportation context.

Introducing Emily Zmak

CDR welcomed Zmak, headshota new Program Associate, Emily Zmak, to the team in the Fall of 2018. Emily brings to CDR a background in active- and post-conflict contexts, in the Middle East, Central Asia, and sub-saharan Africa, and specializes in natural resource disputes. She holds an M.A. in Conflict Resolution from the University of Denver.

Emily has supported several CDR projects, including preparing for a land dispute workshop in Zimbabwe, co-facilitating the Thornton City Council’s Strategic Planning Conference, and public engagement for the I-25 Central PEL in downtown Denver. The stretch of I-25 Central–the same stretch Emily lives along!–has the highest average daily traffic in all of Colorado, and traffic continues to worsen with significant residential and economic development in the metro Denver area. “It’s really interesting to work on a project that impacts my day-to-day life,” Emily said, “and yet have the perspective of a neutral facilitator.”

But Emily’s favorite project at CDR, so far? “I loved facilitating for Historic Georgetown–helping the Board tackle abstract ideas and concerns into actionable items,” she said. “It was super rewarding to help them reach a concrete to-do list.” [See here for more details about the Georgetown project]

Outside of the office, Emily is an avid traveller, a rudimentary Russian speaker, an amateur painter, and an expert at burning dinner. Originally from British Columbia, she is always looking for new places to explore in Colorado–so feel free to reach out to her at ezmak@mediate.org with any recommendations.

CDR Strengthening Organizations Throughout Colorado through Master Planning

adult-3373639_1920Master planning provides a unique opportunity for individuals to think creatively and intentionally about the future of the organization they serve. Additional benefits to master planning include employee buy-in of an organization’s direction, efficient use of resources towards one goal, and  prioritization of tasks. Groups embark in master planning for various reasons, and in each case, the structure and tools are unique to the organization’s goals of the master planning effort.

In 2018, CDR worked with a number of clients on various master planning efforts, and this trend continues into 2019. CDR has facilitated conversations with staff, leadership, supervisors, board members, and elected officials of organizations and local governments throughout Colorado to examine their short and long term goals. As a result, clients successfully identified goals and next steps leading to a successful future.

Thornton Strategic Planning Conference

Several years ago Governing Magazine had an article titled, “The Mayor-Manager Conundrum.” A Google search of “high performing teams” returns 251,000,000 results. These two issues, what we might say external and internal, relate to city councils. Internally, city councils are really just like other teams. Organizational Development practice and management consultants will note that all teams can strengthen performance, no matter their current effectiveness. Externally, councils are unique, not only because of their mandate and how their team was formed, but also because of the issue considered in the Governing article. The article tells the tale of El Paso, TX’s experience with introducing a city manager and the dynamic created between changing administrations and constancy of a city manager. While the city manager gives stability through electoral cycles, the very dynamic of these two inter-dependent roles requires, to perform well, alignment between the political and administrative responsibilities.

This brings us to the Thornton City Council Strategic Planning Conference (SPC). Every year the Thornton City Council and the Thornton City Manager’s office participate in an SPC to review the council’s previous year’s policy and project priorities and goals, to understand current and pending capital development projects and city programs, and to align council’s goals and priorities with the city staff’s plans. CDR’s Jeffrey Range and Emily Zmak facilitated the 2019 SPC, which included strategy design, councilmember/mayor interviews, and facilitation of the two-day conference, and identifying lessons learned for future work. In some ways, the entire purpose of the SPC — to each year bring together the City Manager’s Office and the City Council to consider accomplishments, policies, and priorities — seeks to address the Mayor-Manager Conundrum. The councilmembers focus, as is their charge, on the needs of their constituents and provides clarity and guidance on their priorities. The city’s staff takes the clarity and guidance and translates it into actionable policy and programming for both the near and long term.

The other part — how city councils, like any other team, can be high performing — is something altogether different. But, the Thornton City Council took on this challenge. Councilmembers examined how they work with one another. They considered how they work collectively and how they’re most effective individually. They made a plan that reinforces and builds on what’s working for them and are testing approaches that address areas where they thought they could improve. And this is an ongoing process, just as it is with all teams.

No doubt a two-day strategic planning conference takes significant planning and time from both city staff and councilmembers. But, the external and internal challenges of this – at times unique and at times very ordinary – type of team (city council) can be addressed, resulting in a high performing team.

CO Springs Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services

CDR worked with the Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services (PRCS) Department of Colorado Springs in 2016 to identify the group’s mission, vision, and values. As a result of that conversation, PRCS established a unique values coin system in which employees who express one of the core values, Excellence, Passion, Professionalism, Innovation, and Collaboration, are awarded an “EPPIC” coin. Staff are able to trade the coins in for EPPIC prizes. This system has become an integral part of the department, providing fun interaction between on-the-ground field staff, managers, and department leadership.

In 2018, CDR’s Jonathan Bartsch and Melissa Rary were awarded their own EPPIC prizes after facilitating four strategic planning meetings. CDR met with PRCS leadership, supervisors, staff, and board members over the course of eight months to evaluate the mission, vision, values, goals and objectives established in 2016. Participants provided thoughts on the success of the strategic plan, and identified successes and priorities for the PRCS moving forward. There was an overwhelming support for the EPPIC system, and all levels of staff had consistent feedback of other strategic plan elements.

Historic Georgetown

As facilitators, CDR’s Taber Ward and Emily Zmak understand the importance that location plays in a successful facilitation. The location sets the tone, the literal atmosphere, and provides space for effective engagement. And so, for our client Historic Georgetown, Inc., there was no better location to facilitate their Board Retreat and Strategic Planning Session than a historic schoolhouse–complete with chalkboard walls, squeaky floorboards, and windows overlooking Georgetown, Colorado.

Nestled in a quiet Front Range valley, Georgetown is a small mountain community with deep historic roots. The town’s character is tied to its silver mine legacy, Victorian-era architecture, mountain scenery, and, subsequently, the tourism that supports the town today. Tourists flock to Georgetown, often drawn in from the I-70 thoroughfare, and take in the town’s train rides, shopping, historic landmarks, and annual Christmas Market.    

Historic Georgetown, Inc. (HGI), is the premier institution behind preserving and promoting awareness of Georgetown’s historic character. HGI oversees multiple landmark sites in Georgetown, organized public engagement opportunities, supports historic homeowners, and hosts the annual Christmas Market. When an HGI board member asked CDR to facilitate the HGI Board’s strategic planning retreat, it was an opportunity that Taber Ward described as “an honor and chance to contribute to Colorado’s mountaintown legacy and unique, historic import.”   

Facilitating the Board meetings for Historic Georgetown was an exciting opportunity for CDR’s Taber and Emily. Taber has worked throughout the Front Range I-70 Corridor on public involvement projects, and brought a strong understanding of the various challenges faced by Colorado’s mountain communities. Working with HGI was an opportunity for Taber to focus on just one of these challenges: maintaining and preserving historic character. “For me,” Taber said, “it was great to support a town that has been so involved in the I-70 mountain corridor project and invested in protecting the character of Georgetown.  Emily had been with CDR for just three weeks and HGI was her first client project. It was an opportunity for her to support a project start-to-finish, from strategic planning retreat design and one-on-one interviews to facilitation and follow-up. She said, “This project was such an amazing way to on-board with CDR. I was learning something new every minute.”

The Board Strategic Planning retreat resulted in agreement around HGI’s five-year vision, direction, purpose, clarity of roles and responsibilities, and action plan — which is no easy feat for a half-day retreat. The agenda for the day was action-oriented. Through a visioning process, facilitated dialogue, group work, and consensus-building, the Board determined concrete steps for implementing change and enhancing their strengths.

Zimbabwe Land Commission: Land Disputes

Land is a crucial resource for the development of any country. This is particularly important in post-independence Zimbabwe, Africa, and the subject of long-standing disputes on a national and local level. Mediation can provide an effective way to reduce the high number and different types of disputes in Zimbabwe.

The Republic of Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in southern Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique. The British South Africa Company first demarcated the present territory during the 1890s, and it became the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1923. In 1965, the conservative white minority government unilaterally declared independence as Rhodesia. The state faced international isolation and a 15-year guerrilla war with black nationalist forces that culminated in a peace agreement. The agreement established the independence and  sovereignty of Zimbabwe in April 1980. Robert Mugabe became Prime Minister and later President of Zimbabwe when his party won the elections following the end of white minority rule; he ruled until his resignation in 2017.

Once known as the “Jewel of Africa” for its prosperity, Zimbabwe has struggled to address the agricultural needs of the country. The need to transform land tenure and agrarian structures to provide fair and equitable access to the land remains at the core of the land disputes. Based on political and historical factors related to land re-distributive policies, agricultural land conflicts have severely impacted Zimbabwe’s economy. In 2013, the new Zimbabwean Constitution recognized the need for agricultural re-distribution and dedicated an entire Chapter of the constitution to ‘Agricultural Land.’ Resolving the constitutional questions has helped to clarify the issues regarding land tenure and other land-related disputes.  

CDR’s experience in designing dispute resolution systems in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Liberia provides a lense on common types of land issues. These issues are common in Zimbabwe as well with the preponderance disputes arising due to overlapping boundaries, double occupations (multiple land titles), evictions, illegal allocation of land, lack of clarity regarding gender rights over land, and compensation for state acquired lands. The Zimbabwe Land Commission (ZLC) is dealing with the destabilizing effect of these unaddressed land disputes.

The ZLC was established to “investigate, and determine complaints and disputes” regarding agricultural lands. The ZLC’s broad mandate has been further defined to focus on ensuring ‘equitable’ access to land and expeditiously resolving disputes. As part of a transition from a centralized system, to address at the lowest administration, the ZLC is looking to increase the ability to use mediation at the local level. Chris Moore and Jonathan Bartsch have begun consulting with ZLC on this transition in developing case examples and in delivering a mediation training program in Harare in early March. Next time you see Jonathan, be sure to ask him about his trip!