Ongoing Flood Recovery Efforts in Boulder, Larimer Counties Stalled by Federal Shutdown
The federal government shutdown is halting progress on ongoing flood recovery efforts in Boulder and Larimer counties.
Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner in a Friday letter asked leaders of federal agencies helping fund rebuilds of infrastructure damaged in the 2013 flooding to consider the impact of the shutdown when deciding whether to approve deadline extensions for projects.
“The shutdown is delaying the much-needed rebuilding of bridges, water lines and other important projects and our communities are concerned they will not receive project approval before the funding deadline,” Bennet and Gardner stated in the letter to Ben Carson and Brock Long, respective heads of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Because federal workers have been furloughed without pay, meetings scheduled earlier this month between local government officials and FEMA and HUD staff have been cancelled. That cancellation has stopped reimbursements from the agencies for work the counties funded up front.
Also delayed is federal guidance local leaders expected last month on how a new law could resolve possible federal reimbursement ineligibility of more than $60 million worth of construction done by Boulder and Larimer counties .
Appeals of FEMA funding denials also are not moving through the process.
Both of those issues stem from a rule local officials contend unfairly prohibits road and bridge work in mountain canyons from complying with the codes and standards to which the feds expect projects to adhere.
Furthermore, a Boulder County-led project to repair three adjacent flood-damaged reservoirs in the Hygiene area hasn’t been able to undergo an environmental impact review by FEMA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Work on the project, which has an estimated $15 million price tag, was supposed to start in May.
“The environmental review officer that would authorize this project to occur is furloughed. We can’t get that final approval to go to construction,” Boulder County Senior Planner Justin Atherton-Wood said.
Requesting contractor bids for construction projects has become a more precarious process as a result.
“The risk is definitely higher that there would be some lack of certainty. We don’t know exactly what the environmental review process’ outcome will be, if it will have an effect on the project,” Atherton-Wood said.
If the work isn’t complete in time to deliver water for irrigation by summer next year, as farmers hope, they may have to change plans for their crops. Atherton-Wood said Longmont officials have indicated city water might be able to help fill the gap, if needed.
“Every day this project is delayed risks access to water for Colorado farmers and ranchers,” Gardner and Bennet wrote.
Larimer County has already taken a risk by rebuilding the bridges in the Big Thompson Canyon at a cost of $8 million without full assurance it will receive federal reimbursements for the project, and anxiety is growing as officials await a decision on that project and others yet to be completed.
“The longer the shutdown drags on, the more of a risk that we’re going to lose another construction cycle, which means that we have to wait another year before we can move on,” Larimer County Director of Emergency Management Lori Hodges said.
In Lyons, officials are waiting on a mere signature at the bottom of a document to move forward on building a skate park and sports fields as part of its Bohn Park flood recovery project, Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen said, but the furlough has prevented that from occurring.
Lyons leaders haven’t had any luck with reaching federal workers to get answers to questions about their flood recovery projects or an effort to extend a sewer line to the eastern part of town supported by federal grants.
“No one is there to say, ‘This is OK, we’ll work with you,’” Simonsen said.
Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/samlounz .