DENVER – One year after devastating historic flooding, a team of specialized recovery partners is working together in a unified approach to environmental and historic preservation. The top objective of the team is to help expedite long-term recovery in the Centennial State – and in ways that will also benefit recovery after future disasters.
As part of their ongoing partnership in recovery with the State of Colorado, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Environmental and Historic Preservation (EHP) branch initiated a Disaster Unified Review Team (DURT). The team was developed as a think tank of local, state and federal partners working to identify measures for creating an easement for environmental and historic resource preservation regulatory requirements. The main priority of the DURT is to enhance and simplify the creation, review and maintenance of environmental and historic preservation documents.
FEMA Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator Dan Alexander established the role of the Environmental and Historic Preservation Advisor to lead the team, which is comprised of federal and state partners, including the: Colorado Department of Transportation (CDoT); Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA); Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW); Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS); State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO); U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); U.S. Department of the Interior (DoI); U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA); U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS); and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
“This kind of unified approach we are taking is critical to a full, successful recovery here – and our mission will go a long way in helping to lay the groundwork for recovery after future disasters in any community,” said Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator Alexander. “When multiple agencies work hand-in-hand, sharing an engaged role in the recovery process, a whole community naturally grows, and the momentum that is built can help better sustain recovery for the long-term.”
All of the partner agencies are involved on multiple levels. Some highlight potential upcoming hurdles or challenges, while others facilitate environmental data exchange or contribute technical advisory support.
The team has already made great strides in its top priority, which is to harmonize records for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review. In one initiative, an online GeoPlatform was established as a secure utility for sharing geospatial data among DURT partners. The tool is called the DURT Viewer. It is being used to depict project areas and classifications among various partners and agencies. This includes project locations, descriptions, impacted areas, dollar amounts and revisions. This project information is then overlaid with environmental and historic resource data, which is also being shared. Using the shared data allows for greater efficiency in identifying areas with high federal grant program investment. This aspect is critical in streamlining areas with the greatest need for NEPA documentation, or other higher level environmental focus.
The team is also focused on Programmatic Environmental Assessments (PEAs). PEAs can help expedite funding for disaster-related debris in streams, and repair of roads, bridges, trails and other elements of the infrastructure. For instance, in the town of Jamestown, Colo., review is underway to assess disaster-related repairs and expansion or relocation of damaged infrastructure. The document that has been produced by FEMA’s EHP branch will remain on file where it will be retrievable to help cover baseline NEPA documentation in the event of future disasters in the town of Jamestown. The PEA for roads, bridges and trails was written to address damage caused by the 2013 flooding, but can be applied to future events in Colorado. It is intended to help streamline the ability of local municipalities to qualify for federal funding, while at the same time promoting the development of more resilient projects.
The unified approach of the DURT team is just one of the many highlights of the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act, which President Obama signed into effect on January 29, 2013.
The DURT team will continue to meet monthly as steady progress in recovery continues in Colorado.