With elections, forests, vets, final week should be busy

This is the final full week of the 2013 session. Still to be debated and voted on in the Senate are many weighty topics, some presented in lengthy bills of more than 100 pages. Examples are dramatic changes to current law affecting elections, gas-and-oil development and whether or not to repurpose the Fort Lyon Veterans Hospital into a comprehensive-program site for the homeless with a focus on Colorado’s homeless veterans.

I have several bills still being heard in committees in the Senate. One of these bills would provide state payment of adequate reimbursement to local fire departments for providing immediate fire department resources to fight fires in their area during the time it takes to bring in a larger and more specialized interagency wildfire-fighter team to continue the fight to put out the fire.

This bill is one in a package of bipartisan bills that I’ve sponsored with the other members of the Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission. Last week, another one of the commission bills received legislative approval for the creation of a standing interim committee focused on addressing matters related to wildfire prevention and management and overall forest health in Colorado.

The interim wildfire committee will assume the responsibilities of the Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission that I chaired, but its scope for issues addressed will be broader than those of the commission. One area deserving special attention is the better use and access to timber resources to mitigate the fire hazard of dead trees in Colorado’s forests.

This will require greater state engagement of federal land agencies, as well as creative and environmentally responsible approaches for Colorado’s timber industry to become viable and economically sustainable again. The new ownership of the Montrose sawmill, in the northern area of my Senate district, presents a great partner for our region to accomplish this important goal.

The Pagosa Springs biomass electric generation plant, in the southern end of my Senate district, is another exciting opportunity for reducing the amount of hazardous fuels in our forests while putting the wood to good use. La Plata Electric, the rural co-op for the Pagosa Springs area, is and has been working in close partnership with the biomass project to get the locally generated electricity distributed to customers.

I’m proud of the people in my district who are proven leaders in addressing the forest-health issues facing the state. I look forward to the trend of innovation and private-sector proposals that will continue to address the wildfire and forest-health challenges while also providing much-needed jobs and economic opportunities for our area.

Other examples of wonderful leadership I’ve seen in my district include the tremendous work of many in recent years to welcome young disabled veterans to Southwest Colorado. The Montrose area has always cherished American veterans and, for a week in June, it will host “Mission: No Barriers,” organized by a volunteer group, welcoming wounded warriors to the community.

Montrose will provide a recreational respite for the wounded warriors and aims to become a “no-barriers” city, setting the bar high for other cities to match, in creating a truly accessible living and playing environment for those who gave so much for our country. For more information about this effort and how to help, visit www.WelcomeHomeMontrose.org.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Call Roberts at (303) 866-4884 or email ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.

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