A seemingly innocuous and mostly administrative bill to swap fire district land for U.S. Forest Service land in Boulder County won U.S. Senate approval Thursday after being held up for more than a year.The Sugar Loaf Fire Protection District Land Exchange Act, sponsored by Colorado U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, would swap 5.7 acres of fire district land for federal land in the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest between the communities of Boulder and Nederland – land where two of the three fire stations in the district are already located.
The area is in an extremely fire-prone part of the state susceptible to massive wildfires like the Four Mile Canyon blaze last year.
According to a release from Udall’s office, the bill had no Senate opposition but was held up “by gridlock and conflicts about unrelated issues.” He cited it as yet another example of non-controversial legislation such as his ski area summer activities bill that has been held up because of political bickering.
In the Boulder County case, however, public safety was a serious concern.
“The Sugar Loaf Fire District protects thousands of Coloradans, but instead of being able to focus on fighting fires they’ve been wrapped up trying to resolve a land issue with the Forest Service,” Udall said. “This bill is critical to public safety in Colorado, and I’m extremely glad that we were finally able to get past the gridlock that is slowing down progress on everything here in Washington.”
Udall went on to point out the major role Sugarloaf firefighters played in battling the Fourmile Canyon blaze, which was the most costly in terms of property damage in Colorado history.
“As we saw in last year’s disastrous Fourmile Canyon Fire, firefighters are essential to keeping people and property safe. The Sugar Loaf Fire District firefighters were crucial in fighting that fire, and this bill would help them continue to do their jobs well,” Udall said. “Now we need to get it through the House, so the fire district can finally put aside this land dispute with the Forest Service.”
A similar bill still needs to be passed by the U.S. House.
“Our firefighters put their lives on the line to keep us safe, and we owe it to them to make sure they have the resources and support they need to get the job done,” Bennet added. “This bill will allow the Sugar Loaf Fire District to make essential upgrades and improvements it needs to better keep Boulder safe.”