Letter to Secretary Donovan - Wildfire Recovery Funds

Press Release

By:  Mark Udall Jared Polis Michael Bennet
Date: Feb. 21, 2013
Location: Unknown

Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and Congressman Jared Polis urged the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development today to provide funding for disaster-related repairs to help Colorado recover from last summer's destructive wildfire season. The funding could enable the state to rebuild its watershed infrastructure and protect its drinking water.

The members of the delegation are requesting HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan to help fill the gap that was created when the U.S. House of Representatives removed wildfire recovery funds from a disaster relief bill. HUD can help address the state's backlog of nearly $20 million for watershed-associated emergency infrastructure projects, because Congress allocated $16 billion in emergency community development block grant (CDBG) funding to the Department in the Hurricane Sandy aid package. Any state with a disaster declared by the president in 2011 or later is eligible to apply for this funding. The 2012 Waldo Canyon and High Park fires make Colorado eligible.

"The summer 2012 wildfires were devastating for Coloradans," Udall, Bennet and Polis wrote in a letter to Secretary Donovan. "The Waldo Canyon and High Park fires, both Stafford disasters, destroyed hundreds of homes, caused millions of dollars of damage to critical infrastructure, and tragically resulted in the loss of several lives. Some of the most pernicious and longest lasting damage from the fires came to the watersheds adjacent to Colorado communities."

Federal resources for the watershed projects through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program had been secured in a bipartisan bill passed in the Senate, but the House chose not to take up that bill prior to adjourning its session on January 2, and the bill expired. In the 113th Congress, House leadership drafted a new bill that excluded resources for Colorado and other states hit by disasters around the country. The President has since signed that bill into law to get much-needed assistance to states affected by Hurricane Sandy.

"We were disappointed that the House chose to strip this funding out of the package, leaving resources only for the states directly affected by Sandy," the lawmakers added. "However, Congress made another possible path available to Colorado and other states recovering from disasters. The Sandy relief bill allocated $16 billion to HUD for community development block grant disaster recovery funding. The final legislation gave HUD the authority to use the funds for "disaster relief, long-term recovery, restoration of infrastructure and housing, and economic revitalization in the most impacted and distressed areas resulting from a major disaster' if the Stafford disaster was declared in 2011 or after. Colorado's situation easily meets these criteria."

As a result of the historic High Park Fire in Northern Colorado, the area supplying drinking water to communities including Greeley and Fort Collins has a high risk of flooding, road washouts, and water quality degradation. Similarly, in Colorado Springs, utility infrastructure has been badly damaged in the wake of last year's wildfire season. EWP resources would have helped these Colorado communities protect their critical infrastructure and prevent future catastrophic damage from fires and floods. With EWP funding currently unavailable for Colorado, CDBG funding from HUD can help fill the void.

Full Text of the Letter:

February 21, 2013

Dear Secretary Donovan:

We write to urge you to allocate much needed emergency funding to Colorado from the Community Development Fund, which Congress appropriated to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for disaster relief purposes in recent legislation. Additional federal money is urgently needed in Colorado to respond to damage resulting from the 2012 Waldo Canyon and High Park fires. Your department has the authority to remedy this situation, and we urge you to act swiftly to help our state.

The summer 2012 wildfires were devastating for Coloradans. The Waldo Canyon and High Park fires, both Stafford disasters, destroyed hundreds of homes, caused millions of dollars of damage to critical infrastructure, and tragically resulted in the loss of several lives. Some of the most pernicious and longest lasting damage from the fires came to the watersheds adjacent to Colorado communities. This destruction dramatically increased the risks of future flooding and the contamination of drinking water supplies for a number of municipalities. And the fires resulted in additional damage in both communities, necessitating other recovery work which the state and local municipalities have struggled to fully fund.

It is currently impossible to move forward with the necessary projects to repair this damage until Congress makes funding available. Colorado currently faces a backlog of nearly $20 million for watershed-associated emergency infrastructure projects. The state had hoped to finance this shortfall through the Department of Agriculture's Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) fund. The Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill that passed the Senate last December with bipartisan support included sufficient EWP funding for Colorado and other backlogged states. But we were disappointed that the House chose to strip this funding out of the package, leaving resources only for the states directly affected by Sandy. As a result, the final bill left Colorado and many other states behind.

However, Congress made another possible path available to Colorado and other states recovering from disasters. The Sandy relief bill allocated $16 billion to HUD for community development block grant (CDBG) disaster recovery funding. The final legislation gave HUD the authority to use the funds for "disaster relief, long-term recovery, restoration of infrastructure and housing, and economic revitalization in the most impacted and distressed areas resulting from a major disaster" if the Stafford disaster was declared in 2011 or after.

Colorado's situation easily meets these criteria. The damage the two Stafford fires caused was historic. And the damage to our watersheds will only become more expensive to address as time passes. The $16 billion allocation for CDBG represents a historically large appropriation for CDBG funds designated for disaster relief, and we are confident that Colorado merits inclusion in the pool of states receiving funding.

We need the federal government's assistance to address this problem now, and we believe that HUD is singularly positioned to make that happen.

Sincerely,