Noted: Senate rejects fire funding 

Fire funding nixed

An effort to restore $653 million to the U.S. Forest Service's Wildland Fire Management Fund for 2013 failed last week, when the Senate rejected the idea proposed by Democratic Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado and Jon Tester of Montana.

The funding, proposed in an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriation for Disaster Assistance, "would have given Colorado a running start to prepare for next year's wildfire season," Udall says in a release, noting that 2012 saw the two most destructive fires in Colorado history. The Waldo Canyon Fire killed two and destroyed 345 homes in Colorado Springs, while the High Park Fire near Fort Collins killed one and destroyed 259 homes.

The add-on would have increased the fire management fund to $1.584 billion, funneling money to wildland fire preparedness, suppression, hazardous fuels reduction, fire research and development, and state fire assistance.

Udall has championed forestry issues, and in October joined Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in calling for a study of Colorado's fires to better understand social, economic, organizational and ecological impacts, as well as mitigation approaches for the future. While in the U.S. House in 2002, he pushed for a similar study of the Hayman Fire in Teller, Park and Douglas counties, which resulted in a 400-page report. He also has pushed to speed up the Forest Service's acquisition of seven additional air tankers.

"Make no mistake about it: Wildfires threaten entire communities," Udall says in the release. "My common-sense amendment would end up saving taxpayers over the long term and help save lives and property." — Pam Zubeck

Eyes on GOP chair

The El Paso County Republican Party will be electing new leadership in February, and Dave Williams, the current vice-chairman, has announced that he will be running for chairman.

While Williams has gained some prominent political allies, including former state Sen. Dave Schultheis, he has also ruffled feathers during his two-year term. As we've detailed in numerous stories, Williams has often clashed with current chairman Eli Bremer. Even in his announcement Williams took a dig at Bremer, stating, "For the last several years, we've had to watch the failed leadership in El Paso County's Republican Party drive down turnout and weaken our credibility with swing voters while losing even more State Legislative seats to the bankrupting Democrats."

No word yet as to whether Bremer intends to run for a second term (he didn't respond to a request for comment), but Williams will be facing some competition. Jeff Hays, a Republican operative who worked on the re-election campaign for state Rep. Amy Stephens, has thrown his hat in the ring. — Chet Hardin

Moving on up

It's not a job that Jeff Crank is particularly looking forward to, he says, but it needs to be done.

This month the director of Americans for Prosperity Colorado will be flying to Washington, D.C., to assume the role of chief operating officer of Americans for Prosperity and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

AFP Colorado counts 67,000 residents who advocate for small-government solutions to local issues. In the past couple years, Crank has led fights against county term-limits extensions and private collective-bargaining discussions in Colorado Springs School District 11, among other things.

This largely administrative job, overseeing the internal operations of about 150 employees, doesn't appeal to Crank as much as engaging in policy battles on the ground. But he says he'll do it for a few months "because the organization asked me to."

"I was offered the position full-time," he adds, "but just don't have any interest in relocating my family and moving to Washington, D.C. I was about to turn it down, and then they asked me if I would do it temporarily." — Chet Hardin

Flakes running in District 4

Community activist Gary Flakes has announced he will run for City Council District 4.

Some will remember Flakes for his involvement in the 1997 Valentine's Day murders of 13-year-old Andy Westbay and 15-year-old Scott Hawrysiak. Flakes, who was 16 at the time of the crime, reportedly confessed to police that he was driving the car when his friend Jeron Grant persuaded him to pull over so Grant could shoot the two boys. They then drove away.

Since leaving prison earlier this decade, Flakes has become politically and socially active, concentrating particularly on helping at-risk youths.

Dennis Moore, a retired Air Force vet and police volunteer, is also running in District 4. — J. Adrian Stanley

Experts talk fracking

Two experts on oil and gas issues will speak at Old Town Bike Shop, 426 S. Tejon St., on Jan. 8 at 6:30 p.m.

Wes Wilson is an Environmental Protection Agency whistle-blower who helped shed light on the dangers of fracking chemicals. Phil Doe is a retired Bureau of Reclamation water specialist.

With City Council still considering what restrictions to put on fracking in the Springs, the discussion is timely.

RSVPs will be accepted through Jan. 5 at 475-8589 or bikes@oldtownbikeshop.com. — J. Adrian Stanley

Incline bill to be signed

Who said bipartisanship is dead? Not when it comes to the Manitou Incline.

According to the office of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, the bill to "clarify the legal status" of the Manitou Incline — a bill sponsored in the House by Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn — is headed to President Obama's desk. The bill essentially overrides a 19th-century piece of legislation and allows the Incline to revert back to public property.

In a joint press release with Lamborn, Bennet is quoted as saying: "This bill preserves the trail for generations to come. Representative Lamborn has been a strong advocate for the Manitou Incline, and I appreciate his leadership in the House of Representatives to help pass this bill."

According to Tim Bergsten, with Incline Friends, the Incline won't officially be open to hikers when Obama signs that law. Parking and traffic issues need to be resolved on a local level. Regardless, Bergsten says, "it's kind of cool that, during the process, we're going to have something signed by the president." — Chet Hardin


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