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Special legislative flood committee to meet Tuesday; public input welcome


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By Annie Melton
CU News Corps

Download the agenda for the Flood Disaster Study Committee

A Colorado legislative committee organized to address various infrastructure and policy concerns in the aftermath of the September floods will meet for the first time on Tuesday, Nov. 5, in Denver.

The Flood Disaster Study Committee meeting will include the first in a series of open forums intended to give Coloradans the opportunity to speak with public officials about their personal experiences during the floods, which resulted in eight deaths and left thousands across the state homeless or without basic amenities.

“It’s a past, present and future look at what happened during the flood in terms of how the government and agencies responded,” Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Boulder) said. “There are a lot of immediate needs, and we need to know how to prevent some of the things that went wrong from happening again.”

Public and private agencies estimate the flood’s economic toll will amount to more than $1 billion in property and infrastructure damage. Road closures on US-36, CO-144, CO-72, US-34 and CO-7 still affect daily commutes and access in and out of several areas along the Front Range; some towns are just now reopening to the public.

“The flood has really underlined some of the problems this state was already having,” Singer said. “We don’t have a particularly good track record on affordable housing, and things just got 10 times harder because now there are homes destroyed, and more people need that [affordability] because of their new financial situation.”

Singer said another issue, water contamination, will likely lead to a committee discussion about the industrial processes—particularly the storage of oil and gas—that kept entire towns without access to clean water for several weeks.

“I can’t imagine that we won’t be faced with some serious questions that will need a legislative response,” Singer said.

Singer and Senator Matt Jones represent Boulder County, the hardest-hit area. According to Jones, the county is suffering a “cash-flow problem” in its attempts to repair infrastructure. State laws prevent the county from distributing its general funds to its road and bridge funds, resulting in a long-term inability to cover the damage.

“They can’t spread these costs out over time,” Jones said. “That’s something we might be able to change. They could get reimbursed by FEMA—that would require state legislation.”

Leslie Irwin, a policy analyst for the Boulder County Commissioners’ Office, said the road and bridge fund issue is a “significant concern” and that her office, along with Colorado Counties Inc., want to change the law to allow general fund money to be used for road and bridge projects in declared emergencies.

“The declared emergencies exception to the Road and Bridge prohibition would allow existing General Fund moneys to be used for Road and Bridge projects as soon as a bill is signed by the Governor, which would help address some of the considerable cash flow concerns,” Irwin wrote in an email.

“There also is a need to work collaboratively with municipalities and the Colorado Municipal League to assure them that we are not seeking to take existing ‘municipal’ share of Road and Bridge money (in the normal course of budget actions, when we transfer money to the Road and Bridge Fund, municipalities get a .40 share of that in Boulder County).”

Irwin said Gini Pingenot from CCI will present that proposal to the committee Tuesday.

The committee is comprised of six state senators and six representatives, who break down evenly across party lines: six Democrats and six Republicans. Eleven of the 12 committee members are from the Front Range, including three each from Boulder County, Larimer County and Weld County. (Complete list at end of story.)

Though the first meeting will be held in Denver, the committee will be mobile, visiting communities across the state.

“Boulder County will be incredibly well-represented, and we have the State House Minority Leader from Larimer County and a strong Weld County contingent,” Singer said. “This is not only covering different, geographically diverse areas—we’re a politically diverse committee as well.”

Both Singer and Jones are hopeful in the committee’s ability to satisfy the needs of a still-reeling state with a long road back to normalcy.

“With this much destruction and heartache, it demands that the state recovery program work, and that’s what the committee’s about,” Jones said. “We have the ability to change laws.”

The committee members will facilitate discussion between the various state departments and can propose new legislation or changes to existing legislation. Tuesday’s meeting will include representatives from the departments of Transportation, Public Safety, Local Affairs, Natural Resources, Agriculture, Public Health and Environment, and Regulatory Agencies. Topics that are likely to be addressed include the National Flood Insurance Program, which is issued by FEMA, planning and zoning laws, urban drainage, flood control and water conservation.

“Colorado’s political divisions aren’t the same as D.C.’s,” Singer said. “We actually passed a budget this year. We can work together and when we disagree, we can do so respectably.”

“It gives you perspective on life and on politics when you see that the flood didn’t turn away when it was a Democrat’s home or a Republican’s home. The flood went where it decided to go. Our responsibility is to pay credence to that, bear witness to that. The least we can do is get along.”

The flood committee’s first meeting begins at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5 in Senate Committee Room 356 of the State Capitol. Public testimony begins at 3:30 p.m.

Colorado General Assembly Flood Disaster Study Committee

State Senators

  • Matt Jones (D-Louisville)
  • John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins)
  • Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs)
  • Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud)
  • Jeanne Nicholson (D-Golden)
  • Scott Renfroe (R-Greeley)

State Representatives

  • Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland)
  • Mike Foote (D-Lafayette)
  • Stephen Humphrey (R-Weld County)
  • Jonathan Singer (D-Boulder)
  • Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling)
  • Dave Young (D-Greeley)
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Explanatory Multimedia Reporting from CU Boulder Journalism Students
Special legislative flood committee to meet Tuesday; public input welcome