The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday a grant of $20.2 million to wildfire recovery projects in La Plata, Huerfano, Costilla and Eagle counties.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said they worked for months to secure the funds.
According to a joint news release, Bennet and Hickenlooper coordinated efforts between local officials and state and federal agencies to apply for the Emergency Watershed Protection funds meant for local communities recovering from natural disasters. The USDA’s website describes the program as technical and financial assistance to help communities affected by floods, fires, windstorms and other natural disasters that damage a watershed.
No information was immediately available Tuesday about which projects the funding might address in La Plata County.
Bennet said in the news release Tuesday that he sent a letter urging USDA Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey to approve the funds as soon as possible. Bennet also said he will continue to work with Hickenlooper to ensure local communities have federal resources for wildfire recovery.
“Colorado’s 2018 wildfire season was one of the most destructive to date and requires a robust response,” Bennet said. “These EWP funds will help Coloradans prevent flooding and debris that threaten their property and communities.”
Bennet cited in the release the 416, Spring Creek and Lake Christine fires from the 2018 season as natural disasters with recovery projects that will receive funding. The 416 Fire started June 1 and burned about 55,000 acres of public land in the San Juan National Forest.
Hickenlooper said the funds will make wildfire recovery an easier process for Colorado communities and thanked Bennet for his collaborative efforts.
“We are grateful to Sen. Bennet and his office for accomplishing what few have been able to do: jump-start the federal government into action,” Hickenlooper said in the news release.
La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said the funds will help with the aftermath of the 416 Fire, especially flooding. Lachelt said she worked to facilitate the funding along with Bennet and Hickenlooper.
Emily Martin is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.