Udall boosts Basalt flood funds search
A campaign stop by longtime Colorado Congressman Mark Udall could help Basalt reap some federal dollars desperately needed to fund a costly plan to reduce flood threats in the town.Udall, a Democrat whose district includes Eagle County, met with Basalt officials Friday and learned about their aggressive plan to spend up to $20 million on projects designed to stabilize the Roaring Fork River channel through town.Basalt Councilwoman Anne Freedman lamented that the town lost an opportunity to receive millions of dollars in grants from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because of the U.S. war on terror. Basalt’s application for $5 million in grants survived two cuts by the federal agency before town officials learned in February that the Corps was shifting its dollars.Instead of granting funds for river stabilization projects in places like Basalt, the agency is now funding infrastructure improvements in Iraq and domestic projects tied to homeland security.Freedman claimed the war effort has also reduced the availability of funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.Udall, who is running for re-election against Republican Steve Hackman, expressed disappointment about the war’s effects on funding for projects like Basalt’s. He said it plays into the terrorists’ hands when money is exclusively spent to deal with their threats. While homeland security is important, the country also needs to keep investing in domestic projects to remain strong, he said.Udall directed his staff members to contact the Basalt town government staff to find out specific information on potential grants that dried up, and opened the door to his staff’s assistance in seeking other funding sources.Udall also pledged support in another key area of interest for Basalt and the broader valley. He indicated he would explore options that could make it more feasible for local governments to purchase uncontracted water from Ruedi Reservoir.Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, explained to Udall that Ruedi could be targeted by Front Range cities for water, particularly during winters. Some of its water remains available for sale about four decades after the reservoir was completed.Smaller releases from the reservoir would result in lower flows in the Fryingpan River during winter and damage to the high-quality fish habitat, according to Fuller. When asked if there are any local efforts to buy more water from Ruedi and secure its use on the Western Slope, Fuller explained the economics that have made the reservoir somewhat of an oddity.It was anticipated that much of the available water in Ruedi would be bought and used for oil shale operations around Parachute, Fuller said. When those efforts were abandoned in the early 1980s the demand for Ruedi water dried up.Meanwhile, the feds’ deadline to pay off the debt associated with construction of the reservoir looms. Ironically, the longer the reservoir goes without selling some of the available water, Fuller said, the more expensive that water gets. It’s like comparing 30- and 15-year mortgages of the same amount of money. Payments are higher when the time period to pay it off is shorter.Fuller told Udall it would be easier for local governments like Basalt to buy more water from Ruedi if the debt payoff is extended or “forgiven.” The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which built and operates the reservoir, would need congressional authority to take such action.Udall said his staff would research what flexibility there is in extending or forgiving the loan.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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