Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issues disaster declaration for Glenwood Canyon |

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issues disaster declaration for Glenwood Canyon

Declaration allows for use of Colorado National Guard in traffic control, cleanup

Crews work to clear Glenwood Canyon after mudslides Saturday between Dotsero and Glenwood Springs. The canyon might be closed for weeks as crews clean and assess damages. Christopher Dillmann/Vail Daily via EcoFlight

Gov. Jared Polis issued a disaster declaration Friday for Glenwood Canyon following numerous mudslides that have closed Interstate 70 since July 29.

“The disaster declaration authorizes the use of the Colorado National Guard for traffic control and debris removal,” a release from the governor’s office states. “Additionally, the declaration activates the State’s Emergency Operations Plan and enables state agencies to better coordinate their response while also providing additional funds to respond to the damage and repairs needed in areas affected by burn scar flooding and slides.”

Torrential rains caused a “500-year event” in the wake of last year’s Grizzly Creek Fire, leading to significant mudslides throughout the canyon. I-70 could remain closed for weeks.

According to the governor’s news release, the Colorado Department of Transportation has an incident command team in place to “manage roadway operations for the incident — a model that was successfully utilized in major incidents like the 2013 floods,” which caused devastation along the Front Range.

Separate executive orders from the governor enable the state to seek federal funds to assist with recovery efforts and suspend certain state procurement statutes to streamline the disaster response.

The governor’s orders note that, between June 26 and July 28, CDOT closed I-70 through Glenwood Canyon 12 times due to flash flood warnings. During that stretch of time, at least five flood events caused mudslides and debris flows to cover the roadway, resulting in prolonged I-70 closures while crews cleared the road.

Then, on the night of July 29, anywhere from 2 to 4 inches of rain fell in an hour in Glenwood Canyon, trapping dozens of travelers overnight after I-70 had been reopened earlier that evening when a National Weather Service flash flood warning expired.

Additional heavy rains on July 31 and Aug. 1 caused still more mud and debris to block the roadway, and I-70 remains closed indefinitely

“These July and early August storm events have caused considerable damage to at least four discrete structures in the canyon, and CDOT may discover more as debris is removed from the affected areas,” Polis states. “The recent interim closures and the current indefinite closure have strained local, state and federal supply chains and economies.”

Third District Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, in a separate statement, lent her support to federal assistance efforts and pledged to do what’s necessary to reopen I-70 through Glenwood Canyon as soon as possible.

“I-70 is a crucial economic artery for Colorado and the West, and on an average day, almost 5,000 semi-trucks carrying medicine, food, livestock, fuel and other critical supplies travel on this federal highway,” the Rifle Republican said in a Friday press release. “… It is of utmost importance to get I-70 back online as quickly as possible and end the supply chain problems and travel delays resulting from its closure.

“I will continue to work closely with CDOT, Governor Polis and the entire bipartisan Colorado delegation to quickly repair and reopen I-70,” Boebert said.

U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet joined in sending a joint Colorado delegation letter urging the Biden administration to approve CDOT’s request for emergency assistance.

“According to CDOT preliminary reports, cleanup work, detours and road closures along the affected portions of the interstate may take weeks to complete,” the delegation wrote. “Without sufficient resources to muster a swift response to this emergency, the economic impacts of the I-70 closure will continue to escalate, disrupting individual livelihoods and posing an ongoing hazard to public safety.”

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