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House Sandy aid bill excludes wildfire recovery money

8:23 PM, Jan 15, 2013   |    comments
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The House's $51 billion Hurricane Sandy aid bill included no money for the Emergency Watershed Restoration program, which would have absorbed up to 75 percent of the cost of clearing wildfire debris from Colorado's rivers and streams and restoring fire-damaged watersheds.

The Sandy assistance package passed in the previous Congress by the Democratically controlled Senate included $125 million for water restoration, but the GOP-controlled House adjourned without considering that bill.

The House voted 241-180 to pass the new aid bill Tuesday after passing the first part of it earlier this month. Neither part would benefit Colorado. The package would benefit only New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, said he was "extremely disappointed" that the House Rules Committee rejected his attempt to include the watershed money in the new Sandy bill.

"Over 600 families lost their homes this summer due to devastating wildfires and now 300,000 people are faced with the prospect of contaminated drinking water as debris from the fires gets washed into our rivers and reservoirs," Gardner said in a statement.

In November, Colorado Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, Democratic Rep. Jared Polis and GOP Reps. Gardner and Doug Lamborn pushed for Congress to include watershed protection money in the Sandy aid package. The program, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, typically pays three-quarters of the cost of rehabilitative work after natural disasters.

Udall and Bennet could mount a new push to include the watershed money when the Senate takes up Sandy aid after returning to work next week. But that's a long shot.

"It's more difficult to include now than it would have been while the bill is being drafted, which is why we're so disappointed with the House," Bennet's spokesman, Adam Bozzi, wrote in an email. "The missed deadlines and delays by the House also create major problems because the Senate may expedite the process without amendments to pass the bill as soon as possible."

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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