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Mayor regrets criticizing McInnis bill

by Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Glenwood Springs Mayor Don Vanderhoof signed and sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis asking for amendments to the congressman’s Healthy Forests Restoration Act, known as H.R. 1904. But he wishes he hadn’t.

“That’s what you get for being stupid,” said Vanderhoof Wednesday afternoon.

Vanderhoof’s letter, dated May 16, was printed on city of Glenwood Springs letterhead. In essence, it thanked McInnis for his “leadership…to find a solution to the threat wildfires pose to our communities in Colorado,” but stated that “H.R. 1904 will not adequately enable communities and homeowners to mitigate the risk of future wildfires.”



The letter asked for a series of amendments to the bill, including providing funds to communities for thinning projects, emphasizing public education programs about wildfire mitigation, and encouraging cooperation between local, state and federal agencies.

Even with Glenwood Springs’ concerns, the bill passed the House in a vote Tuesday, and is now on its way to the Senate.



On Wednesday the Post Independent ran a story on the passage of the bill, and the mayor and the City Council’s unanimous decision to send the letter to McInnis, R-Grand Junction.

In response, McInnis phoned the Post Independent Wednesday morning and left a voicemail message saying that Vanderhoof’s letter was “blindly signed,” and that the newspaper needed to contact Vanderhoof and ask him about “the sequence of events” leading him to sign it.

In the message, McInnis also added that city officials had asked him to seek federal funds to help pay for a bridge to connect Airport Road with Highway 82 in south Glenwood Springs to provide a safe evacuation route in the event of wildfire, and that the city would gain “the most” from that funding.

When contacted Wednesday, Vanderhoof said Glenwood Springs City Councilman Dan Richardson approached him with the letter. It was originally drafted by Sierra Club staff members and sent to public officials, including town councils, mayors, county commissioners and state representatives, according to Deb Robison, associate regional representative of the Sierra Club office in Boulder.

“I was under the impression Dan had written the letter,” Vanderhoof said. “I didn’t realize it was a form letter. I thought it would be a way to better protect Glenwood Springs from wildfires.”

Robison said officials could decide whether to send the letter as is, or to amend it as they wished. So far, more than 30 public officials have signed and sent the letter, including, as recently as Wednesday, the mayors of Jamestown and Durango.

Vanderhoof said that at the time he signed the letter, he had just been through a seven-and-a-half hour council meeting and he “just wanted to get the damn thing out of the way.”

But now, Vanderhoof said he and McInnis “aren’t speaking. We have a 35-year friendship.”

McInnis is a Glenwood Springs native.

At the center of the turmoil is McInnis’ bill, which was co-drafted by Greg Walden, R-Ore.

Blair Jones, from McInnis’ office, said one of the bill’s features is that it will cut through lengthy judicial processes that now are in place to determine where fuel reduction, or thinning of forests, should take place.

“This bill allows us to do in months what it now takes years to accomplish,” said Jones. “It allows the power to shift from D.C. to local land managers with regards to wildfire mitigation. This bill expressly lays out how it will utilize the Western Governors’ Alliance collaborative approach.”

The governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber, one of the authors of the Western Governors’ Alliance 10-year comprehensive strategy, disagrees.

“The WGA strategy strives for consensus and focuses on community-based planning,” he wrote in a letter to McInnis. “By exempting these projects from the current administrative appeals process, you may in fact cause groups that oppose timber harvest to clog the courts with litigation – which is always more expensive and time-consuming than administrative appeals.”

Jones’ take is that the bill will foster community decision-making in wildfire safety.

“Our No. 1 focus is on communities,” said Jones. “The bill places priority on the reduction of hazardous conditions in the Wildland Urban Interface and in proximity to sources of municipal water. The idea that we’ll be doing fuel reduction far from populated areas is just not true. The city of Glenwood Springs is surrounded by federal lands.” “

But the Sierra Club’s Robison wants more specific definitions of protected lands.

“In terms of protecting communities, the way the bill is currently written, there are no specific definitions of wildfire interface or protection zones. We want to see areas defined and mitigated, such as the steep hillsides near the airport south of town, for example. Fire moves uphill and the typography there is of prime concern. We’d like to see real commitments on specific priorities.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

cclick@postindependent.com

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