October 1, 2013 Updated: October 1, 2013 at 4:31 pm
DENVER — Colorado will pick up the tab for National Guard engineers helping rebuild the main highway leading to Rocky Mountain National Park because of the federal government shutdown.
Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday that Colorado will use its flood disaster fund to pay the 120 soldiers working on U.S. Highway 36 in hopes that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will later agree to reimburse 75 percent of the cost. He expects the state share to be between $10,000 and $20,000 a day.
"We want to make sure we don't lose a single day in getting these roads open and communities back together again," Hickenlooper said.
A bill passed by Congress protects payments for active-duty personnel but Colorado officials don't believe that covers soldiers assigned to training missions building roads.
Still undecided is whether Colorado will also pay about 450 Guard members from Utah, Kansas and Wyoming who are scheduled to be brought in in waves during the next two months as the state tries to get at least one passable lane open on all state highways destroyed by the floods by Dec. 1. About half of state roads that were damaged have reopened.
Gen. H. Michael Edwards, who oversees the more than 5,000 Colorado Army and Air National Guard members, said it's possible more federal help could be available.
On the eve of the shutdown, Hickenlooper had vowed to continue the work if the "knuckleheads" in Washington couldn't work things out. On Tuesday, he jokingly deflected a question about who exactly he was talking about: "Are you questioning whether there are knuckleheads in Congress? Make your own list."
But, in a serious note, Hickenlooper said the problems facing the nation politically were greater than the state faced in recovering from the floods.
"This country has bigger issues that it needs to resolve," he said.