Washington drama delays Utah Guard help in Colo. flooding
Washington • A group of 120 Utah National Guard engineers has been told to wait a week to help rebuild U.S. Highway 36 in Colorado between Estes Park and Lyons because of the gridlock surrounding funding the federal government, Pentagon officials told The Denver Post on Tuesday.
Instead of sending out a team this week to help Colorado active-duty troops already on the ground, Utah's Lt. Col. Hank McIntire said Tuesday he will instead send out a smaller group to get equipment ready in hopes Congress strikes a deal to keep the federal government open beyond next week.
"If there were no budget issues, the whole contingent would be going now," McIntire said. "We're doing what we can and what the budget allows us to do."
Roughly 240 Colorado National Guardsmen are already toiling on flood missions and response, but they are paid by the state. Utah planned to send its soldiers to Colorado under "training status," which means their positions are federally funded.
The federal government will partially shut down at midnight on Sept. 30 if Congress fails to resolve partisan differences beforehand.
House Republicans approved a resolution last week that funds the federal government through Dec. 15, but strips out money for implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The measure is now being debated in the Democratic-controlled Senate, whose leaders have said they will not approve the House's resolution.
President Barack Obama has also said he will not sign any proposal that defunds his signature health care law, set to take partial effect Oct. 1.
Utah Guardsmen will tentatively plan on getting out to Colorado between Oct. 3 and 5 instead of this week, assuming Congress strikes a funding compromise, said Rick Breitenfeldt, a National Guard spokesman at the Pentagon.
The mission to repair Colorado's dozens of damaged and destroyed bridges and roads is a race against the state's pending winter.
"Thousands of Colorado families are without homes, potable water or power," Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wrote to Congessional leadership in a letter Monday. "Approximately 200 highway lane miles must be reconstructed. Temporary crossing structures are needed in the interim. And, today, numerous state highways and local roads remain closed, cutting off primary, and in some cases the only, access to Colorado cities and towns."
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., called the delay a "perfect example of the real-life consequences of the U.S. House of Representatives' willingness to shut down the government for political purposes."
"It also underscores the problems a government shutdown would create not only for our economic recovery, but also for communities desperately in need of emergency road repairs and other disaster relief," he said.