DENVER - Colorado will use state funds to pay the next wave of National Guard soldiers rebuilding a key highway damaged by flooding because of the government shutdown.
About 120 Utah National Guard soldiers are set to arrive Friday and start work Saturday on U.S. 36 from Lyons to Estes Park, relieving the Colorado National Guard crew that has been working on parts of the 25-mile stretch of road, Colorado National Guard spokesman Lt. Skye Robinson said.
The road engineers normally would be paid with federal dollars, but the state doesn't want to lose time in building a road before winter. The state transportation agency hopes to have all roads that were damaged or destroyed by the floods open by Dec. 1. Some could be just one lane, with full reconstruction resuming in the spring.
When the partial shutdown started Tuesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper said he would use state money to pay the Colorado National Guard 947th Engineers from Grand Junction in the hopes of getting a 75 percent reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But officials hadn't decided then whether that would continue for future rotations and held out hope that federal funding might become available.
Hickenlooper's chief of staff Roxane White said Thursday that the state would ask either FEMA or the Federal Highway Administration for reimbursement for the Colorado and Utah Guard work.
"We'll get the work down either way for Colorado," she said.
FEMA would reimburse the state 75 percent, while the highway administration would pay back 80 percent of the cost. The three-week Utah deployment is expected to cost $500,000 before any reimbursement.
Gen. H. Michael Edwards, who oversees the Colorado Army and Air National Guard, has said he doesn't think a last-minute bill passed by Congress to keep paying active duty military personnel covered the Guard soldiers working on road rebuilding projects. Those soldiers technically are classified as doing training work.
Despite that, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is trying to convince the Defense Department to interpret the bill in a way that would include payments to Guard members doing training, spokesman Adam Bozzi said Thursday.
The Kansas and Wyoming National Guards also are set to send groups of between 130 and 150 soldiers to work on the road after the Utah soldiers leave.