Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet visited the Waldo Canyon burn area on Friday and pledged to obtain more emergency money to pay for lowering the risk of flash flooding.
Bennet said Congress previously allocated $20 million for Colorado wildfire recovery, with El Paso County to receive $10 million. The money was included in a bill to fund recovery from Hurricane Sandy. However, Bennet said Colorado's share no longer is part of the bill, due to the current budget stalemate in Washington, D.C.
El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark said El Paso County received $1.2 million of its allocated $10 million before the remaining allocation was withheld.
"We have to convince people, again, that we have had an emergency in Colorado -- which we have -- and that this $20 million that we'd be investing here now, potentially saves us hundreds of millions of dollars, lives and personal property," said Bennet. "But if we don't invest it now, the opportunity may be lost."
Bennet and several local leaders visited burned areas near the Flying W Ranch. That's where the money received so far is paying for a team of nine people to work. The team is cutting down burned trees and using them to build a network of structures designed to catch eroded soil and slow the flow of water during rainy weather.
"It's difficult," said Neal Vercler, the workers' team leader. "It can be a very dangerous job."
Carol Ekarius, executive director for the Coalition of the Upper South Platte, said more structures are needed to reduce the threat to lives, property and infrastructure given the increased risk of flash flooding.
"We don't need (structures) to last forever," she said. "We need them to last through the first few years as the burn scar becomes stabilized."
Ekarius said local leaders should have no trouble raising $2 million, which is the required 20 percent match to receive the entire federal allocation.