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Boulder County will likely move ahead with Marshall Fire cleanup as nonprofit drops part of debris removal lawsuit

Leigh Paterson
Mel Glover (right) and her family joined protesters in Louisville to rally against a lawsuit alleging wrongdoing in the Marshall Fire cleanup process. She worries any cleanup delays will impact their ability to rebuild.

Earlier this week, a new Colorado nonprofit walked back part of its legal challenge against Boulder County, a move that the county says will likely enable an important part of Marshall Fire cleanup to move forward.

Residents, many of whom desperately want to rebuild, have been waiting for the debris removal process to begin so that they can start putting their lives back together, hopefully in their old neighborhoods.

“This Mad Max post-apocalyptic landscape of destruction, this landscape that used to be our cherished homes and neighborhoods,” homeowner John Marlin said at a recent protest in Louisville. “Dismiss this ridiculous lawsuit so that we can begin to clear off this festering wound on our landscape and allow our community to start to heal.”

APTOPIX Colorado Wildfires
David Zalubowski
Homes burn as a wildfire rips through a development near Rock Creek Village, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, near Broomfield, Colorado.

After the Marshall Fire destroyed over 1,000 homes on Dec. 30, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced in early February that it would cover the majority of debris removal costs, estimated to be $55 million. The next day, Boulder County selected DRC Emergency Services to do the work, which was set to start on March 1.

Then, the nonprofit group, Demanding Integrity in Government Spending (DIGS), filed a lawsuit against the county, alleging a lack of transparency in how the contractor was selected. It requested an injunction, asking for meeting records and for the court to require that the contractor bidding process be reopened.

Michael Brown, the individual who created DIGS, is known for his mishandling of the response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when he was the director of FEMA.

Brown’s lawyers did not respond to KUNC’s questions about why he is getting involved in the Marshall Fire cleanup, but he addressed the issue earlier this month on his podcast, The Situation With Michael Brown.

“My only interest is because this is my backyard,” Brown said. “I had to evacuate twice from my home where I used to live in Boulder County because of wildfires. This is close and personal to me. So I want to make sure they do it right.

He went on to explain that FEMA can take back cleanup funds if local governments fail to follow certain procedures.

In a court document filed on Tuesday, DIGS withdrew its request that the current bid be invalidated and the process restarted. Instead, the organization is requesting depositions of various Boulder County officials and employees.

“Defendants, and Defendants alone, should be accountable for delaying the start of this important cleanup, without the convenience or ability to claim this case is somehow responsible,” wrote DIGS lawyers.

The organization still seeks an injunction in order to obtain the depositions. That hearing is set for Friday.

The county has blamed DIGS for cleanup delays, but other factors exist. In early March, Boulder County Commissioners had to consider appeals from two contractors who lost the debris removal bid. The three local governments must all settle on an intergovernmental agreement on how to coordinate cleanup efforts and a contract with DRC Emergency Services still needs to be signed.

With the latest legal developments, Boulder County says it will now likely move forward with signing the debris removal contract next week.

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