JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- The federal government shutdown on Tuesday has left Colorado officials scrambling to keep emergency relief and recovery operations continuing in the wake of last month’s massive flooding.
Gov. John Hickenlooper announced Tuesday morning he authorized the use of state money to pay Colorado National Guard troops so they can continue with flood recovery. Under the shutdown they would not be paid, according to the governor’s office.
“We can’t afford to lose one day in rebuilding areas destroyed or damaged by the floods,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “Our National Guard troops are an invaluable part of the team working on the recovery. We need them to stay on the job.”
Meanwhile, the federal shutdown is not currently affecting the flow of federal disaster relief money into Colorado, said Dan Watson, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington.
“There are more than 1,000 FEMA workers on the ground in Colorado responding to the floods. They are not being impacted by the shutdown,” he told The Times.
Some long-term projects could be threatened if the shutdown drags on and federal workers administering those projects remain furloughed. It was unclear how other federal agencies working in the state’s recovery could be affected by the shutdown, officials said.
Last month historic rainfall triggered flooding that devastated a swath of the state roughly the size of Connecticut, affecting 20 of Colorado’s most populous counties. Eight people died, with one other person still missing and presumed dead. Nearly 2,000 homes were lost and another 16,000 damaged. The total economic damage to the state is estimated at $2 billion, according to Eqecat, a disaster modeling firm.
The floods of September came on the heels of a deadly and destructive summer fire season that charred more than 100,000 acres, claimed two lives and destroyed more than 500 homes.
In the tourist town of Estes Park some residents were feeling especially besieged on Tuesday. The mountain community was cut off when floodwaters damaged the town’s four access roads.
Two of the roads were recently reopened just in time for the elk bugling season, a popular tourist draw. But then the road that runs through Rocky Mountain National Park was closed by the government shutdown that closed all national parks.
“We’ve really rallied over the last couple weeks but this presents us with a new challenge,” said Brooke Burnham, director of communications for Visit Estes Park.
Visitors already in the park, including campers and backcountry hikers, were given 48 hours to leave, according to park officials.