(Nov. 20) – “What struck me most was the bend-not-break Colorado spirit that we saw in town after town,” Rep. Dave Young (D-Greeley) said after his Flood Disaster Study Committee spent two days this week visiting areas ravaged by the Great Flood of 2013. “Over and over we saw this fight-back spirit, this attitude of, ‘Let’s stand this thing back up.’ That really impressed me.”
On Monday and Tuesday, the committee visited Longmont, Lyons, Estes Park, Glen Haven, Milliken and Evans, and held public hearings in Longmont, Estes Park and Evans. The fully bipartisan 12-member committee is gathering information to decide what the legislature can do to improve the state’s response to the 2013 flood disaster and to better prepare for the floods that, inevitably, will come again.
“All of us on the committee are from districts that were affected by the flooding, and we’ve been focusing a lot on our constituents,” said Rep. Young, who with Sen. Scott Renfroe (R-Greeley) is a co-chairman of the committee. “We all knew in the abstract that the floodwaters paid no attention to district lines, but this field trip was valuable in giving the committee members a broader perspective.”
“Even now it still feels like a punch to the gut,” said Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), whose district also includes Lyons. “But at the same time it’s really heartening to see people’s resilience and ability to persevere.”
Rep. Mike Foote (D-Lafayette) said the tour drove home how difficult it is to put a town back together.
“You hear about this in disasters, but you have to see it to really understand,” he said. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that businesses are coming back in these hard-hit areas, and if the businesses don’t come back, the future of some of these towns is threatened. We have to look into what more we can do to help.”
Rep. Foote said other major hurdles must be overcome if affected areas are to avoid what he called “the disaster after the disaster.”
“If we don’t repair the irrigation ditches, we won’t have a crop next year,” Rep. Foote said. “If we don’t get the debris out of the St. Vrain, we’ll have more flooding with the spring runoff. These are challenges that have to be taken care of quickly.”
“The ditches have to be one of our highest priorities,” Rep. Young said.
Rep. Young said he’d heard again and again that flood victims appreciated Gov. John Hickenlooper’s many visits to the flooded areas and the overall level of the state’s disaster response.
“A lot of people singled out DOLA,” Rep. Young said, referring to the state Department of Local Affairs. “They really embedded in the affected communities. DOLA originally set up shop in Greeley, but when it became clear that the place to be was Milliken, DOLA just moved to Milliken. And they’re in Evans, too. These guys are involved at the granular level.”
Rep. Singer said a volunteer disaster relief worker who had come in from New Jersey told him that “nowhere else in the world has he seen people so resourceful, so self-reliant as here in Colorado.”
Rep. Young said his most memorable moment during the field trip came in Glen Haven, in the mountains west of Loveland.
“I knew Glen Haven because it’s on one of my favorite bicycle routes, so it was easy for me to assess the level of damage there,” he said. “It was terrible. You could understand if folks there had said, ‘This was great while it lasted,’ and found somewhere else to live.
“But here’s Tony Fink, who I knew from his days as a doctor in Greeley, now retired and living in Glen Haven, and he’s scooting around town on his ATV, coordinating, helping people, making sure they’re OK. He’s basically the emergency manager of Glen Haven now, along with Jason Gdovicak, the fire chief. And there are people like them in every community we visited. These folks really inspire me to work harder. I will not let these people down.”
Rep. Foote said Dr. Fink told him, “Don’t forget us. Don’t forget us.”
“I won’t forget. The committee won’t forget. The State of Colorado won’t forget,” Rep. Foote said. “By working together, we’re going to pull through this.”