Local officials in public plea for fire flood $

       Area officials used Pleasant Valley's planted median on 31st Street at Camp Creek Jan. 18 as the setting for a media briefing to dramatize efforts to obtain significant additional funding for fire-related flood prevention.

With Pleasant Valley's Camp Creek drainage ditch for a backdrop, El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark discusses the local need for federal stormwater aid in the wake of the Waldo Canyon Fire. Looking on are other area officials, each of whom also addressed the issue during a media briefing Jan. 18: From left, Angela Joslyn, Senator Mark Udall's office; Carol Ekarius, Coalition for the Upper South Platte; Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder; Green Mountain Falls Mayor Lorrie Worthey; Neal Schuerer, Congressman Doug Lamborn's office; Laura Neumann, chief of staff for Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach; Gary Bostrom, Colorado Springs Utilities' water quality manager; and Colorado Springs City Councilmember Val Snider. Present but not in the picture is Hal Bidlack of Senator Michael Bennet's office.
Westside Pioneer photo

       In partnership with Lari-mer County - whose High Park Fire started within weeks of the Waldo Canyon Fire last June - $19.8 million is being sought in federal funds that governments in El Paso County would share.
       For now, at least, their pleas have gone unfulfilled, evidently because of two separate matters of national scope. One of these is Hurricane Sandy on the Eastern Seaboard in late October and the destruction in its wake; the other is the federal spending tug-of-war between Congressional Democrats and Republicans.
       In her comments at the briefing, El Paso County Commissioner Sallie referenced Sandy, conceding that “a lot of areas have been impacted” by the disaster, but pointed out a key difference: The remedial efforts back East mainly involve repairing damage that's already been done, whereas the local Waldo-related problems could get much worse if preventive storm-water steps are not taken.
       A bipartisan push by U.S.
       Senators and House Representatives from Colorado a month ago had sought emergency funding for El Paso and Larimer as part of the Sandy package, but after approval in the Democrat-controlled Senate it was rejected by the Republican-controlled House's Rules Committee.
       Among the Coloradans in support were Democrat Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn (each of whom had someone from his office at the briefing).
       According to Neal Schuerer of Lamborn's Office, the Rules Committee majority's reasoning was that no appropriations to cover such an emergency exist in the Continuing Resolutions that have been used to extend the federal budget since the last one approved by the Senate in April 2009.
       Lamborn has even introduced a bill titled the “Budget Before Borrowing Act,” requiring that both the House and Senate pass a budget before raising the federal government's debt ceiling limit.
       A statement from Bennet's office makes no mention of the budget question, but charges that “the House of Representatives delivered a blow to the state by excluding from the disaster bill emergency funding to restore our watersheds and protect our water supply.”
       A side point is that the roughly $50 billion relief act for Sandy contains large amounts of “pork barrel” spending (expenditures not directly related to the disaster). Asked at the media briefing whether the Sandy “pork” could not by itself cover the local $19.8 million need, no officials offered a response. However, Schuerer said afterward he thought so. “We're talking millions here and billions there,” he said.
       Another take on area flood control was presented at the briefing by Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder. He pointed out that Manitou has the only stormwater fee in the region (approved by its citizens in 2004), but with the broad extent of the fire damage “we can't go it alone.”
       The El Paso/Larimer request is through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP). The local sponsoring entities are Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and Colorado Springs Utilities. Local EWP grants so far have totalled just over 10 percent of the estimated need, according to NRCS calculations.
       The main Westside drainage concerns are Fountain, Camp and South Douglas creeks, all of which run through or near Waldo burn areas.

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