Sen. Bennet surveys I-70 damage, meets with local officials over federal assistance | PostIndependent.com
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Sen. Bennet surveys I-70 damage, meets with local officials over federal assistance

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., speaks with reporters Sunday after meeting with local government officials and other stakeholders to talk about federal funding assistance to help with the aftermath of fire and flooding in Glenwood Canyon.
John Stroud/Post Independent

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on Sunday was the latest elected official to visit Glenwood Canyon to view the damage to Interstate 70 from the recent mudslides and debris flows that had the critical route closed for 15 days until it partially reopened Saturday morning.

Bennet, D-Colo., then met with local leaders, including city of Glenwood Springs, Garfield County and Colorado River District officials, to better understand the need for federal resources to clean up and repair damage not only to the highway but the river.

“We must continue to come together at the local, state and federal levels to secure the funding and resources to repair the highway infrastructure and the watershed, protect Glenwood Springs’ water supply, support the local communities, and minimize damage from future landslides and debris flows,” Bennet said in a news release.



Joining the meeting was Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller.

Mueller said the effects of wildfire on watersheds and ultimately the Colorado River will have significant impacts on cities, recreation, agriculture and aquatic habitat.

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“That is why the Colorado River District has teamed up with the (U.S. Geological Survey) and local partners to install and operate an early warning system which constantly monitors water quality,” Mueller said.

Speaking to members of the news media afterwards, Bennet thanked the Colorado Department of Transportation crews who worked nearly nonstop for more than two weeks to get the roadway cleared and repairs made to get traffic flowing again.

“It’s heroic, what CDOT’s been doing and the people who work in this canyon have been bearing the brunt of it 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.

Bennet was preceded last week by 3rd District Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., who joined a group of state and local elected officials for a canyon tour on Aug. 11. Gov. Jared Polis visited the canyon that same day, making the announcement of a partial reopening on Saturday.

Bennet said he was pleased that the $116 million emergency funding request from the state has garnered full bipartisan support from Colorado’s congressional delegation.

The fact that Colorado has been dealing first with major wildfires last summer and the resulting flooding caused by torrential rains over the burn scars including from the Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon, “makes it easy to be the person who is in D.C. advocating for the resources.”

“Things are well coordinated at the local level,” he said.

The Federal Highway Administration on Aug. 10 released $11.6 million in initial emergency aid to clean up and makes repairs to I-70 in the canyon.

“The quick and full commitment of support from our congressional delegation has been critical to securing the federal support Colorado needs to handle this response and keep its other commitments,” said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew, who also attended the meeting.

Bennet said he’s supportive of the $50 million included in the larger request to aid with long-term resiliency efforts whenever Glenwood Canyon closes, including upgrades to the Cottonwood Pass route between Garfield and Eagle counties.

“It is important for us to go through the discussion and figure out what makes sense,” he said. “Obviously that discussion has to be very heavily informed by local voices. In talking to the county commissioners, we are a long way away from knowing what that longer conversation is.”

Bennet also said he hopes the bipartisan spirit carries over to the House consideration of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that just passed the Senate.

“I do believe at the end of this process President Biden will be signing a bipartisan infrastructure bill,” he said, noting the package includes $2 billion for Colorado roads, and additional funding for bridges and tunnels, transit and broadband.

The Sunday meeting also delved into the broader issues around the greater frequency of natural disasters related to climate change.

“The toll that this has taken on Colorado after COVID, not just the shutdown of the (canyon) but the fact that people can’t see the mountains from the Front Range and kids can’t go out and exercise … these effects of climate change are really starting to wear on Colorado on a daily basis,” Bennet said.

A separate reconciliation package also working its way through Congress includes $50 billion for forest restoration and watershed protection “that we have ignored for decades.

“On the back end of this people are going to pull together and say our quality of life in Colorado is too important to us to be treating the symptoms of this issue,” he said. “We have to address the underlying problem.“

Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes also spoke to the bigger picture concerns.

“Glenwood Springs has experienced more than our share of climate change-related events over the last several years,” the mayor said. “From 500-year storms to the Grizzly Creek Fire, the mountain communities of Colorado are in peril.

“We need to address both the symptoms, and the cause, of climate change, and this starts with a workforce that is trained and focused on the task of transforming to a clean energy economy.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., speaks during the public welcome and celebration of the arrival of the Rocky Mountaineer luxury tourist train in downtown Glenwood Springs on Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.
John Stroud/Post Independent

Bennet stayed in Glenwood Springs after the visit Sunday and joined Godes in welcoming the new Rocky Mountaineer “Rockies to the Red Rocks” luxury tourist train, which made its inaugural overnight stop in town to much celebration.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.


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