Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wildfire funding nixed by House

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2013 at 6:42 PM

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  • File Photo

A congressional bill almost made life a lot easier for those suffering the ongoing fallout of Colorado's wildfires.

If approved, the bill would have provided $125 million for emergency watershed protection in fire areas. The Senate approved it, but the House nixed it.

Sen. Michael Bennet was among those who fought for the funding to be included in a bill that also issued relief to Hurricane Sandy victims. In a press release, the senator said he was "extremely disappointed" that wildfire relief funding was not included.

El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who had also been a proponent of the funding, issued the following statement to the Indy:

Representing El Paso County Commissioner District 3 which includes the Waldo Canyon fire area, I appreciate the advocacy of our two Colorado Senators and our Colorado House delegation to include the critical Emergency Watershed Protection needs in the disaster recovery bill. Although the House amendment proposed by Congressman Cory Gardner and co-sponsored by our own Congressman Doug Lamborn yesterday in the Rules Committee was unsuccessful, our Waldo Canyon and High Park coalition will continue to advocate for fire and disaster mitigation dollars. Both El Paso and Larimer counties, towns and cities impacted by flooding and watershed concerns including the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties, Inc. and others are part of this collective effort. It's important that our community understands the value of bipartisan support in both the Senate and House Colorado delegation and the collaboration that's needed to work for our benefit to protect life and safety.

This is Bennet's full press release:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today 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 (EWP) 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. In addition to helping secure the $125 million in EWP funding in the aid package that passed the Senate in late December, Senator Bennet led efforts in November to urge President Obama and Congressional Appropriators to include EWP funding in a Hurricane Sandy disaster recovery package.

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