Senator: Ads could finance air force

Senate OKs fleet, but won’t spring for appropriation

An air tanker makes a precision slurry drop near the Elks Springs Ranch subdivision ahead of hot spots in the Weber Fire south of Mancos last summer. The Colorado Legislature on Wednesday OK’d establishing an air-tanker corps to fight the state’s wildfires, but lawmakers failed to appropriate any money to fund the force. Enlargephoto

Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald file photo

An air tanker makes a precision slurry drop near the Elks Springs Ranch subdivision ahead of hot spots in the Weber Fire south of Mancos last summer. The Colorado Legislature on Wednesday OK’d establishing an air-tanker corps to fight the state’s wildfires, but lawmakers failed to appropriate any money to fund the force.

DENVER – Senators who want the state to buy its own aerial firefighting fleet failed to convince their colleagues to fund it Wednesday.

But it wasn’t for a lack of creative effort.

Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, has been working on his plan to have Colorado buy and operate heavy air tankers for the better part of a year.

He suggested Wednesday that the state could pay the $17 million cost by selling advertising on the planes.

“Can you imagine a Colorado Rockies seal on the tail wing of this plane putting out Colorado fires? And it doesn’t have to be the Colorado Rockies. You put in the advertiser. Colorado casinos,” King said. “That is how you offset costs of running this.”

California operates its own firefighting fleet, and King said Colorado could learn from the Golden State, especially the way it got its planes at bargain prices from the federal government.

Colorado also could make money by hiring out its aircraft when there are no fires here, King said.

The Senate voted to pass his Senate Bill 252 in an initial vote, but it did not appropriate money to buy any planes or hire pilots. If the bill passes, it will create the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps on paper only.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said legislators are interested in the idea, but it needs more work.

“I think there’s a lot of unanswered questions about whether it really is cost-effective in the end to purchase the equipment or rent the equipment. There isn’t really a solid business plan,” Steadman said.

Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, blamed fellow legislators and Gov. John Hickenlooper for not finding a way to fund the aerial fleet.

Harvey cited an article in a jihadist magazine to say that al-Qaida terrorists are planning to light Western forests on fire by time-delayed incendiary bombs.

“Remember how the bombs in Boston were set off last week? For those of us who live in Colorado, we’re already engaged in fire combat,” Harvey said.

SB 252 has one more vote in the Senate before it heads to the House for further consideration.

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