State leaders ask Congress to lift emergency fund cap

The Colorado Congressional delegation urged the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to lift the cap on funding for emergencies for transportation issues.

The cap, at $100 million, isn’t going to be enough to meet the repair and rebuilding needs for state roads and bridges, according to a press release from the delegation. They’re asking Congress to raise the emergency cap to $100 million to address infrastructure rebuilding costs. That’s the same level Congress raised it to after Hurricane Sandy.

In a letter to the respective chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the delegation wrote: “While the status of several highways is still unknown due to lack of access, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) currently estimates that at least 30 bridges have been destroyed and 20 additional bridges have sustained serious damage.

“Based on the anticipated need and the precedent…, we respectfully request raising or waiving the funding cap for Colorado as it rebuilds from this historic disaster.”

Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and Representatives Jared Polis, Cory Gardner, Diana DeGette, Doug Lamborn, Ed Perlmutter, Mike Coffman, and Scott Tipton signed the letter.

Read the full text of the letter below:

Dear Chairwoman Mikulski, Ranking Member Shelby, Chairman Rogers, and Ranking Member Lowey:

Colorado is experiencing a major flood event that began on September 11, 2013. On September 15, 2013, President Obama issued a major disaster declaration for Colorado, ordering federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts to areas affected by severe storms, flooding, landslides, and mudslides. Communities in Boulder, Adams, Larimer, Weld, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, El Paso, Fremont, Jefferson, Logan, Morgan, Pueblo, and Washington counties are dealing with the aftermath of flooding and destruction on an unprecedented scale.

Colorado’s recent flood is so dramatic that it is being referred to as a 500-year event. Boulder—an area with an average annual rainfall of 20 inches per year—received over 16 inches of rain over the course of five days. Tragically, at least six Coloradans have died and hundreds are still unaccounted for. Floodwaters have consumed more than 2,000 square miles across 15 counties on Colorado’s Front Range. Based on the latest estimates, over 2,300 agricultural properties have flooded, over 17,000 homes and other structures have been seriously damaged, and at least 4,000 structures have been completely destroyed. While the status of several highways is still unknown due to lack of access, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) currently estimates that at least 30 bridges have been destroyed and 20 additional bridges have sustained serious damage. Unfortunately, this is just a portion of the severe damage caused by the flood last week.

CDOT’s initial damage assessment suggests that infrastructure damage eligible for Emergency Relief funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will exceed $100,000,000. In the most recent transportation authorization bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), Congress eliminated the previous $100,000,000 cap on FHWA’s Emergency Relief program. However, funds subsequently appropriated to the Emergency Relief program within the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 are restricted to $100,000,000 per state, per incident cap unless the funds are being used to repair damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

There is precedent for waiving or raising this funding cap. For example, the $100,000,000 cap was waived in response to damage caused by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, and Hurricane Irene and the Missouri River basin flooding. Most recently, the cap was raised to $500,000,000 for response to damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Based on the anticipated need and the precedent mentioned above, we respectfully request that you consider offering similar flexibility by raising or waiving the funding cap for Colorado as it rebuilds from this historic disaster.

Many Colorado counties are still experiencing an ongoing crisis, and until flood waters recede from impacted areas, officials will be unable to calculate damage costs. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that reliable cost estimates may not be available for at least thirty days. Although funding estimates are unavailable at this early stage, Colorado may need additional appropriations for specified federal agencies and programs for expenses related to the consequences of Colorado’s September 2013 flood. We respectfully request that adequate funding be made available to help Colorado recover from this disaster.

Thank you for your consideration.