As much as $500 million from the federal government could soon be pouring into Colorado to assist Weld County and other devastated areas with bridge and road repairs following the massive flooding.
U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who represents Weld County in the 4th Congressional District, said Friday that he’s fighting for as much federal assistance as possible for Weld County and the eastern plains.
“That’s what I’m fighting for each and every moment of this entire disaster to work for Weld County and the people of eastern Colorado,” said Gardner in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., on Friday.
Lifting the $100 million cap on the federal emergency relief program, something that was done during Hurricane Sandy, and releasing as much as $500 million to help Colorado looks like a strong possibility.
“Obviously, I’m going to do everything I can to work hard for the needs of Weld County as they are identified,” Gardner said. “This morning, I secured on the floor of the House of Representatives a commitment to lift the cap on disaster relief for Colorado. Right now, the Colorado Department of Transportation believes there’s a need (of $500 million) for Colorado highways, which would include Weld County roads. (Appropriations Committee) Chairman (Hal Rogers) pledged with us to secure that funding.”
Gardner said the next step is to get the legislative language done to come into law.
“The disaster relief fund is capped at $100 million and so we’ve got to pass legislation to lift that cap and that’s what he pledged to work with us to do this morning,” Gardner said. “We did the same thing on the wildfire funding. Chairman Rogers promised and pledged to work with us, and within a matter of days we got the money approved through the House. I anticipate that we will get this language soon, and that could mean up to $500 million for Colorado roads.”
That’s good news for Colorado Department of Transportation officials.
“What I want to emphasize is for the continued need for bipartisan support across the board for removing the $100 million cap on the available funding,” said Amy Ford, director of communications for CDOT. “From our perspective, it is critically important that this happens. We know our damages will exceed $100 million, and we very much are looking for the $500 million that the communities in Hurricane Sandy received. We’re extremely grateful for our congressional support on this, and encourage them to keep putting this forward.”
Gardner said securing the half-billion dollars in funding is just one part of rebuilding Colorado.
“We’ll continue to work hard for Weld County and eastern Colorado,” he said. “In addition to the individuals who are suffering greatly, we’ve also got to focus on infrastructure needs of cities like Evans and downstream like Sterling, and we have to make sure those public facilities are up and running so that businesses and individuals can get back to as much normalcy as possible. We’ve got to help those individuals and make sure those communities are able to start working again.”
U.S. Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also said they would keep pressing for additional funding following the release of $30 million Wednesday in disaster relief funds.
“The catastrophic flooding Weld County and other Front Range communities endured literally washed away critical roads and highways and hobbled our transportation system,” said Udall, in an email Friday. “I will keep fighting to ensure that communities like Evans and Kersey are given the federal support they need to recover and rebuild stronger than ever. Anything less is unacceptable.”
Udall will visit flood relief centers in Greeley and Loveland today to assess the ongoing recovery efforts. Udall will meet with people affected by flooding in Weld and Larimer counties and will discuss with local elected officials the recovery efforts and the resources available for residents and businesses. He’ll visit the Weld County Disaster Recovery Center, 425 N. 15th Ave. in Greeley at 1 p.m.
“The $30 million Department of Transportation emergency relief funds that were released, as well as the $5 million that were released last week, will go to the Colorado Department of Transportation to be used on federally maintained roads and highways,” said Kristin Lynch, press secretary for Bennet. “CDOT will administer these funds directly and make repairs on federal and state roads and highways across Colorado. Since CDOT has not yet assessed the total cost for damage, it’s impossible at this early of a stage to determine how much money exactly will be used in Weld County. As far as local roads are concerned, the ones that are maintained by the city or county, Weld County can access FEMA public assistance grants to help make the necessary repairs.”
Lynch said when President Barack Obama declared Weld County a disaster area last week, it activated this source of funding. She said there are seven categories of assistance that are eligible under this declaration: Debris removal, emergency protective measures, roads and bridges, water control facilities, public buildings and contents, public utilities, and parks (recreational and other). So far, the debris removal and emergency protective measures categories have been activated. The roads and bridges category, while eligible, has not been activated yet, because a full damage assessment has not yet been made.”
Lynch added, “There is every expectation that it will be activated in the coming weeks/months, after the damage is assessed. When this happens, Weld County will be able to dip into this relief funding pool for help in repairing damaged infrastructure.”
Gardner said he would describe the mood among his colleagues from other states as “stunned” regarding the flooding in Colorado.
“I don’t think they realized how bad it was until you start talking about it,” Gardner said.
According to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s website, the state also has funding options available that include excess money in the current year’s budget and the existing general fund and emergency reserve accounts where the money, in most cases, will match emergency funds from the federal government or local partners.
What I want to emphasize is for the continued need for bipartisan support across the board for removing the $100 million cap on the available funding.
CDOT director of communications