State fire bill sparks debate in county

A bill in the Colorado Senate aimed at fighting wildfires has Moffat County commissioners fired up.

Senate Bill 96 would allow county sheriffs and local fire protection districts to request state funds to fight the first two days of a wildfire. It also creates a $3.2 million wildfire preparedness fund.

The bill's sponsor, Steamboat Springs Republican Jack Taylor, said the money is needed to help local governments fight fires.

"It's going to cost a lot more than $3.2 million locally if there is a fire," Taylor said.

Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele said he likes that the bill would help local governments fight wildfires. What he doesn't like is where that money would come from: the state's federal mineral leasing dollars.

"I support the bill but not the funding mechanism," Steele said.

The bill would transfer $3.2 million from the Department of Local Affairs' federal mineral leasing fund to create the wildfire preparedness fund.

DOLA uses the federal mineral-leasing fund to help local governments offset the social and economic costs of energy production.

Last year, the fund totaled $17.1 million.

Barbara Kirkmeyer, acting executive director of DOLA, said that in the past seven years, about $40 million from the fund has gone to Moffat County entities, including the city of Craig and the Craig Rural Fire Protection District.

Steele said the federal mineral lease money should stay in areas such as Moffat County where local governments are dealing with the effects of energy production.

Taylor said he has always been an advocate for keeping mineral lease money in Northwest Colorado.

But fighting wildfires is an issue that needs to be addressed, Taylor said.

"Sometimes we have to make decisions down here that are the best for the whole state," Taylor said from his office at the capitol.

The bill has passed the Senate and is being heard in the House.

Taylor said if the bill is amended in the House, it would be sent back to the Senate for approval before going to Gov. Bill Owens.

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