Washington • Democratic Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall asked Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Wednesday to exempt a band of Utah National Guard engineers from furlough in the event of a government shutdown next week so they could get to work immediately helping Colorado rebuild roads.
The 120 engineers were to be dispatched this week to start rebuilding U.S. Highway 36 between Estes Park and Lyons.
But Pentagon officials told The Denver Post on Tuesday they were holding off on sending the whole team until early October because of the threat of a government shutdown. Instead, a group of 50 leaders will come out this week and pre-position equipment, officials said.
A partial government shutdown would furlough hundreds of thousands of "non-essential" federal government employees including the Utah and Colorado Guardsmen.
Bennet and Udall are asking Hagel to move the soldiers into the "essential" category to keep the flood recovery work going. State officials and politicians worry about getting the bulk of the roads passable before snow flies in the high country.
"Sadly the threat of a government shutdown has put these critical recovery projects on hold and delayed urgently needed road repair projects," the letter to Hagel said. "While rescue efforts qualify for exemption, recovery work does not. Yet we will likely be rescuing more Coloradans and Americans from flood-isolated towns this winter if rebuilding is delayed any further."
Roughly 200 highway lane miles need repair and another 50 bridges are either damaged or destroyed in the Colorado floods that started with historic rainfall on Sept. 11, 12 and 13.