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GOP blocks funds for Colorado wildfire recovery

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Steep, burned hillsides in the Waldo Canyon burn area need more treatment, but Congress this week cut critical funding for watershed protection and restoration. Photo courtesy PSICC.

Partisan budget bickering continues

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Some of Colorado’s elected officials in Washington, D.C. are fuming over the latest partisan budget maneuvering, which included a move by the House GOP to cut funding that would have helped fire-scarred areas in the state protect their watersheds.

“It was wrong for the House to remove Colorado fire recovery funding from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act,” Democratic Congressman Jared Polis. “Colorado experienced the worst wildfire season on record last year and our communities deserve a helping hand. If the House had passed the Senate disaster relief funding measure  this money would already be on its way to Colorado.”

Monday night, Polis offered a motion that would have allowed consideration of the amendment on the floor of the House during a session of the Rules Committee, but it was defeated on a party line vote of 9-4. The emergency funding measure passed the House Tuesday by a vote of 241-180.

The funding would have been particularly important in Fort Collins, where the High Park fire has threatened municipal water supplies. Polis led a November 30 letter to House appropriators urging inclusion of the funding in this year’s emergency disaster package.

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet also expressed his disappointment that the U.S. House of Representatives excluded critical funding for Colorado wildfire recovery efforts in a bill to provide disaster resources for Hurricane Sandy.

“It is extremely disappointing to see the House of Representatives move forward with a bill that does not include critical resources Colorado needs to recover and protect its water supply – resources that were included in the Senate bill that received bipartisan support,” Bennet said. “While eastern states should have the resources they need to recover from the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, this summer, Coloradans also endured devastating disasters – catastrophic wildfires in the midst of one of the worst droughts in decades.”

“It’s frustrating when you hear people talk about how they’re fiscally responsible while they are creating a set of conditions that are inevitably going to cost more money and much more pain. If we don’t deal with these problems now, we could be facing as much as five times the cost to deal with future flooding and damage,” Bennet added.

Damage to Colorado’s watersheds from last year’s wildfires has increased the risk of flash flooding and road washouts and compromised clean drinking water supplies. To mitigate these effects, the Senate in late December passed a disaster aid package for Hurricane Sandy that included $125 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection program that Senator Bennet, along with Senator Mark Udall, helped secure. However, the House of Representatives failed to vote on the bill before adjourning its session on January 2.

The federal EWP program is designed to support efforts to restore eroded watersheds and damaged drinking water infrastructure. The EWP program falls under the jurisdiction of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Natural Resources and Forestry, a subcommittee Bennet chairs.

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