Basalt feels financial sting of war in Iraq |

Basalt feels financial sting of war in Iraq

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Basalt’s hopes to secure millions of dollars in grants for flood reduction and environmental restoration along the Roaring Fork River from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been scuttled due to the war in Iraq.

Basalt’s application for a $5 million grant had survived a first cut, but Corps officials notified assistant town manager Betsy Suerth recently that no new projects would receive funding in 2004 or ’05.

“They have pulled the plug, basically,” said Suerth.

In its effort to wring funds from the federal budget for the war effort, the Bush administration has taken funds from the Corps or directed some of its efforts to countries on the other side of the globe. The leaders of the Corps have embraced the new direction.

“This is a frugal budget that reflects the priorities of a nation at war,” said John Paul Woodley Jr., assistant secretary of the Army, Civil Works division, in a press conference outlining the Corps’ 2005 budget. A transcript of that press conference was sent to Basalt to show why its grant won’t be reviewed.

The Corps is directly contributing to the war effort by rebuilding infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’re privileged that our efforts directly support the president’s priorities of winning the war on terrorism, securing the homeland and revitalizing the economy,” said Lt. General Robert Powers, commander and chief of the Corps.

Suerth said there was no guarantee that Basalt would have received funds from the Corps even if money wasn’t diverted for the war cause. However, the town’s application for funds had been favorably received in preliminary reviews.

The town sought a grant specifically for aquatic habitat restoration work. It would have helped create wetlands along the Roaring Fork River and stabilized the banks.

Suerth planned to seek funds from different Corps programs to reduce the risk of flooding. For example, the town hopes to work with the state of Colorado to alter abutments on the upper Highway 82 bypass bridge. Town studies indicate that the bridge interferes with the river’s flow in a way that increases flooding and debris deposit.

The town has placed its highest priority for the past 18 months on working on a river master plan, which outlines how it would like its riverfront areas redeveloped or preserved. The plan has major implications for the town. For example, it will propose how to relocate residents of the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park and Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, both of which are endangered by flooding. The plan will also establish what developers can build near the rivers.

Suerth said the town staff needs to get more aggressive in seeking alternative sources of funding for public projects related to the river work. She said she believes the river master plan can still be implemented even if the Corps cannot be tapped for funds.

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