Larimer County is still waiting for $20 million from FEMA for repairs after 2013 floods

Damage to US 34 along the Big Thompson River September 2013. Photo credit: CDOT

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Nearly six years after the Big Thompson River flood wrecked U.S. Highway 34, stranded Estes Park and wiped out bridges and homes, the U.S. government has yet to fund $20 million of repairs in Larimer County.

The county hasn’t started construction on County Road 47 (Big Elk Meadows) and County Road 44H (Buckhorn) because of the lack of funding. The county finished work on Big Thompson River bridges destroyed and rebuilt after the flood but hasn’t been reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the project.

The delay in FEMA funding for Larimer County’s last three flood recovery projects has county officials in a bind: As another construction season looms without federal money, so does a crucial state deadline.

Colorado’s general fund has paid for about 13% of Larimer County’s flood restoration work since 2013. Come September 2020, state funding for the projects will dry up.

“We will not be able to meet that deadline with the delays we’ve had because of this issue,” said Lori Hodges, Larimer County emergency management director. “Our biggest projects are at risk because we haven’t gotten the guidance we need.”

The holdup is essentially a bureaucratic issue. Congress passed a law in October 2018 changing the way FEMA awards money for disaster recovery work.

FEMA used to deny funding for all projects that didn’t meet a strict set of code compliance guidelines. The guidelines had little wiggle room for projects on roads and bridges in complex terrain — like the ones destroyed by the flood in the Big Thompson canyon. For example, a road repair in a narrow, rocky canyon probably couldn’t meet FEMA’s requirement for shoulder width.

The Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 instructed FEMA to award money for projects that don’t meet the strict guidelines as long as a local engineer signs off on the work and agrees a waiver is necessary. Congress gave FEMA 60 days to give its regional offices guidance on how to award funding under the new law.

But FEMA hasn’t done that yet, so regional officials won’t fund the implicated Larimer County projects, Hodges said. FEMA Region 8 spokesperson Lynn Kimbrough told the Coloradoan the office paused a Larimer County funding appeal as it waits for policy guidance from headquarters…

CR 47, partially destroyed by the flood, branches off U.S. Highway 36 between Lyons and Estes Park. The road is accessible but unpaved. An 11-mile stretch of CR 44H, located in Buckhorn Canyon and the Roosevelt National Forest, was heavily damaged in the flood and the High Park Fire in 2012.

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