Collaboration among government agencies accelerated disaster recovery

As U.S. 34 reopened weeks before a Dec. 1 deadline that looked nearly impossible to meet in the aftermath of the September floods, it was one of those times that make people truly proud to hail from Colorado.

In all, 484 miles of damaged roadway — including Colorado 7 between Lyons and Allenspark, which was to reopen before Thanksgiving — were repaired in a monumental effort by federal, state and local officials. But while officials were quick to credit the high degree of interagency coordination that made this possible, they were also quick to point out that some of that cooperation is just beginning.

“Right now we are focused on the repair phase — getting people back into their communities and their homes,” Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Amy Ford said just before U.S. 34 reopened. But Ford noted that even as the press coverage winds down, the work of creating permanent repairs — including new designs and standards for the roadways — will “require an even more hefty collaboration.”

Some of the stories of collaboration and enterprise by our government agencies have seen great press coverage, such as the National Guard from Colorado, Utah, Kansas and Montana getting U.S. 36 reopened from Estes Park to Lyons. Closer to home, Loveland and Fort Collins would have been cut off for days after the flooding had the City of Loveland not taken up the work of reopening U.S. 287, which was actually a CDOT responsibility.

Private companies and individuals were also involved. Estes Park would have been totally cut off following the floods had it not been for heavy equipment operator Dan Crane and Aspen Lodge owner Yun Xiang Tseng, keeping a section of Colorado 7 open. Kiewit Infrastructure was the construction firm battling the U.S. 34 deadline, and there were tales of company equipment operators going out of their way to help private residents regain access to their homes.

How many pieces of equipment were lent to other agencies or just used because they were nearby may never be known, though largely each government agency was repairing its own roads, Ford said.

However, Larimer County Recovery Manager Suzanne Bassinger said the interagency support was obvious in many ways. Pitkin County sent heavy equipment and operators to help out Lyons, she said, while Fort Collins utility trucks were helping get the electricity back on in Glen Haven.
Some of this interagency aid is actually set up through mutual support agreements between municipalities, though much of the post-flood support was spontaneous. In Larimer County, however, the major local agencies were already working together on recovery in the High Park Fire area, and that definitely helped when the floods hit, Bassinger said.

“Around the state, I got the sense that a lot of different agencies pulled together to do what needed to be done,” Bassinger said. In Larimer County major government agencies — Greeley, Fort Collins and Larimer County, specifically – were already working together.

“We’d been working closely together with biweekly or monthly meetings, so we knew each other,” Bassinger said. “Just knowing the people in those other agencies definitely helped coordinate response.”

And in truth the response to High Park Fire may have also set up a sort of sense of agency altruism. For instance, Greeley and Fort Collins spent several million dollars in aerial mulching immediately after the fire that was never reimbursed from federal coffers.
Bassinger noted that citizen response to these disasters has also been remarkable. In the High Park Fire area, the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed has been formed to look at long-term forest treatment, and a group is now also forming in the Big Thompson River to look at how to respond to flood danger.

“These watershed-based organizations are springing up to represent the community of citizens who are affected by these disasters,” Bassinger said. “They are moving a lot faster than government can at this point.”

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