Colorado will pay for Front Range floods
CENTENNIAL – Monetary damage estimates from massive floods on the Front Range will not be available for at least two weeks, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday, Sept. 16.
Even as search-and-rescue teams continued to evacuate stranded residents, state and federal officials are planning for the difficult task of rebuilding. Although President Barack Obama declared a disaster and is making federal assistance available, the state and Front Range local governments will have to share in the cost.
The floods are an opportunity to rebuild the Front Range’s infrastructure better than it was before, Hickenlooper said at a Monday news conference with Craig Fugate, the top official of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But it’s too soon to know the cost.
“I could throw a number out there, and you would bring that number back in a week and, I’m sure, embarrass me,” Hickenlooper said.
Fugate told Hickenloooper it could take 30 days to develop a cost estimate, but Hickenlooper said he would try to speed up the process by a week or two. A final cost estimate could be two or three months away.
“The federal government’s paying a big chunk of it, but the state’s going to pay part of it, the local governments are going to pay part of it. So everyone has an alignment of their incentives to make sure we’re trying to control costs,” Hickenlooper said.
He hopes a large part of the state and local costs can be recouped through sales-tax collections from an expected surge in construction materials.
As of Sunday, 17,494 homes were reported damaged and 1,502 destroyed, according to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.
Public infrastructure also suffered greatly. Portions of 22 separate highways remained closed on Monday, Sept. 16, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Both Hickenlooper and Fugate said they want to rebuild quickly, but not at the expense of quality design and construction.
“If we know there are areas that are very vulnerable to flash flooding, do we want to rebuild the way it was, or do we want to take an opportunity to build back better?” Fugate said.
Aerial photos of the Big Thompson Canyon – the main access route to Rocky Mountain National Park – showed that both lanes of U.S. Highway 34 washed out in some portions. The road befell a similar fate in 1976, when the state’s deadliest flood washed down the canyon and killed 143 people.
“This is from the standpoint of a federal taxpayer. You want to go and support communities that are devastated. That’s what we do. But we don’t want to have to keep coming back because we don’t learn the lessons of the last disaster,” Fugate said.