SUPERIOR, Colo. -- Inside the massive Marshall Fire burn scar, there’s still a lot of pain, as some residents start rebuilding their homes with their own money while others who are waiting on the county and federal government will have to wait a little while longer.
Government-assisted debris removal in Louisville, Superior and Boulder County has been delayed for possibly “a couple of weeks,” Louisville City Manager Jeff Durbin said Tuesday, as three appeals have been filed against the debris removal contract signed with a Louisiana company in February.
But others who have opted not to go the route of working with FEMA and Boulder County are already seeing their lots cleared by private companies – albeit with costs coming out of their pockets.
“This is somebody with all their possessions and memories and everything that goes into a home that makes it a home,” said Brandon Baumann with Grand Lake Excavation, who discussed what the work means to him as he showed us Tuesday the progress is underway.
Baumann’s company is responsible for the debris removal on one of the first lots cleared since the Dec. 30 fire. He says there’s something very therapeutic about a fresh canvas for rebuilding.
“The first step is the biggest hurdle,” Baumann said. “We’re in a tight-knit community and neighbors know each other. And just the inspiration that they see when they see that things are moving forward is a good thing.”
Some fire victims have decided to move forward on their own, getting permitted to have their lots cleared, hazardous debris loaded into special plastic containers, and have fresh soil on its way in.
“If you can submit the right application and the right documents, then you should be approved and get these people moving forward to the next step,” Baumann said.
Unfortunately, while some are forging ahead at their own expense, the same cannot be said for the county’s estimate to start its debris removal by Tuesday, March 1.
About three weeks ago – Boulder County decided to contract with DRC Emergency Services, LLC, a company based in Louisiana, to handle debris removal after a bidding process.
That company was expected to start debris removal Tuesday. But now, that could be pushed back at least two weeks because of three appeals filed against the contract.
One of the appeals confirmed by Denver7 comes from a nonprofit registered in late January called “Demanding Integrity in Government Spending,” which claims county commissioners improperly convened executive sessions to talk about the contract.
According to a filing with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, Michael Brown, the former FEMA administrator under President George W. Bush and current 630 KHOW talk radio host, is behind the group.
The judges on the 20th Judicial District bench have recused themselves from the lawsuit.
Boulder County commissioners responded to the lawsuit on Wednesday, saying they are frustrated and dismayed by the lawsuit and that they do not believe bid review committees have ever been viewed as local public bodies subject to open meetings and public records laws.
“The County isn't happy about this delay,” said Commissioner Matt Jones. “We did everything properly to comply with the law, and we are confident we’ll prevail against this lawsuit. We will be responding as expeditiously as possible with the hope that the courts will resolve the lawsuit quickly. Marshall Fire survivors are waiting for debris removal to happen. Our awarded contractor is ready to go and is lining up subcontractors to perform cleanup work. It’s frustrating that anyone would want to delay our community’s ability to recover from this devastating wildfire.”
Durbin told Denver7 the delay in rebuilding, which officials had originally expected to begin Tuesday in line with the company’s promises, “is incredibly frustrating to our community.”
Superior town trustee Neal Shah says coordination needs to improve for the sake of healing.
“Speed is of the essence,” Shah said. “We’re starting to feel a little more excited. We’ve definitely had some massive headwinds. Debris removal was the first step; now it’s about finding homebuilders.”
Shah and the Superior town board removed another key hurdle for homeowners, passing an ordinance this week rebating building permitting fees and waiving the 3.3% sales and use tax for building materials like lumber and granite.
“We’re going to rebate every single penny that we can,” Shah said.
It’s good news for those inching closer to construction.
“When you get that debris removed and have this fresh canvas of dirt, it does look awesome. It’s exciting” Baumann said. “I’m happy to help. I love it. It’s fantastic and the people that we’ve met – I can’t believe how good of spirits they’re in.”
Wednesday is the deadline for people who had their homes lost or damaged in the Marshall Fire to apply for disaster assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Small Business Administration.
A meeting that had been scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the debris removal program in Boulder County was canceled Tuesday afternoon because of the pending legal action, the county said.
Boulder County said some of the information that officials had been set to share with residents "cannot be finalized until current legal matters are resolved."
The county said it wants the meeting to be public so residents' questions can get answered, and that it will reschedule the meeting when that is possible.
"Boulder County remains hopeful that work will still be completed in July," the county said in a news release.