ICYMI: LONGMONT TIMES-CALL: Michael Bennet visits Lyons, shares how Shelter Act could better prepare county for natural disaster

Denver This week, the Longmont Times-Call and the Boulder Daily Camera highlighted Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet’s visit to Lyons, Colorado, where he discussed his bipartisan SHELTER Act, which would create a disaster mitigation tax credit for up to $5,000 per year for people who protect their homes and businesses from potential natural disasters.

Bennet met with Connie and Neil Sullivan, owners of St. Vrain Market and Spirit Hound Distillery in Lyons, who are considering improvements to their businesses after Lyons was hit hard by floods in 2013.

Bennet also stopped by the home of Ken Feldman and Gayle Gordon, who spent “between $2,000 to $2,500 to prepare their home for potential disaster.” The full article is available HERE and below.

Longmont Times Call and the Boulder Daily Camera: Michael Bennet visits Lyons, shares how Shelter Act could better prepare county for natural disaster

Connie and Neil Sullivan remember what it was like returning to their Lyons businesses to survey the aftermath of the 2013 flood.

Connie Sullivan, Lyons’ former mayor from 2016 to 2020 and co-owner of the St. Vrain Market, said the deli and bakery had flooded. All of the couples’ business inventory was destroyed.

“It was literally just a foot of muck in the building,” Sullivan said. “Muck deep as you can imagine.”

At Spirit Hound Distillers, 4196 Ute Highway, which the couple also owns, there was also water and inventory damage.

Standing in front of the recovered Lyons market, 455 Main Street, on Wednesday, where smells of freshly baked bread drifted outside, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo) said he hoped to provide a way for business owners such as Connie and Neil Sullivan to be better prepared for future disasters.

Bennet visited Lyons on Wednesday to talk with area business owners and residents about a bill he co-sponsored called the Shelter Act, which was introduced in 2019. The bipartisan bill, if it passes, would provide a disaster mitigation tax credit for 25% of the expense, up to $5,000 worth of work, allowing people in disaster-prone areas a chance to better prepare their homes and businesses for the worst case scenarios.

“We’ve not really invested in our people or our infrastructure for decades in this country,” Bennet said. “Now, we have the real opportunity to do that because of (President) Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposal. What’s important to me is it includes dollars for the kinds of things that would have made life a little bit easier for people in Boulder County and Lyons going through the fires and the floods.”

Bennet said climate change, which poses the threat for future disasters, was a factor in creating the bill.

“We’re standing here because of the effects of climate change,” Bennet said. “The flooding and the fires that occurred in the county are the result of climate change. We have a very significant responsibility to the next generation of Americans to make sure we’re building our infrastructure in a way that’s resilient.”

Just northwest of the St. Vrain Market in downtown Lyons, Bennet also visited with husband and wife Ken Feldman and Gayle Gordon. The couple has lived in their home at 55 Longmont Dam Road since 2003, when they moved to Colorado from Texas.

Feldman and Gordon’s home is among the 2,500 involved in the county’s Wildfire Partners program. The program provides technical facilitation so homeowners who live in the foothills and mountains can make their properties more resilient to wildfires. Feldman said they spent between $2,000 to $2,500 to prepare their home for potential disaster.

Last year, the home was surrounded by three wildfires: the Calwood Fire, East Troublesome Fire and Cameron Peak Fire. Gordon said they weren’t evacuated, though they were prepared to leave their home, which remained unscathed from any of the wildfires.

The Calwood Fire became the largest in Boulder County’s history, destroying 10,105 acres and 27 properties. Bennet said these disasters made the timing for the bill particularly important.

“I went back and looked at what we were spending fighting fires and what we were spending on mitigation and watershed protection and the answer was almost nothing on the latter and tons on the former,” Bennet said. “We spent over a three-, four-year period $60 billion fighting fires. Unlike the firefighting money, (mitigation work) actually creates jobs.

As it rained softly Wednesday morning, the couple took Bennet around their property. They pointed out the gravel stripping that surrounded the home to help potential fire embers extinguish themselves. Bennet looked at the wooden yard fencing, which transitioned into metal nearest their home and he studied the screened vents on the roof to prevent fire embers from drifting into the home. The property was also free of any firewood piles, dead branches and yard waste. For the work, the couple was able to receive an $800 rebate through the Wildfire Partners program.

Jim Webster, Wildfire Partners program coordinator, said he believes the Shelter Act would be an incentive for more people to get involved in the Wildfire Partners program.

“We need every homeowner in a wildfire-risk area to prepare for a wildfire in advance,” Webster said. “Financial assistance is one component. We provide the technical assistance, so it’s a nice marriage there. We have some financial assistance with the program currently, but that only becomes available when we have the grant funding to provide it.”

Bennet said he hopes to see the Shelter Act be brought to fruition in the next three to four months.

Had the Shelter Act existed when they began mitigating their home about five or six years ago, Feldman said it might have allowed them to make more efforts all at once. The couple still sees more opportunities, though, to better prepare their home for disaster, such as replacing their roof with material that’s more fire resistant, such as metal or stone.

Like Feldman and Gordon, Connie and Neil Sullivan said that they, too, have ideas to be better prepared for disaster and the bill could help them bring those into reality. At the market, Neil Sullivan said there could be a better drainage system, while at the distillery, he said, they would like to implement more water diversion into the property design.

“I think it’s really great to see them doing something that could help on the preparedness side,” Connie Sullivan said. “There’s always a response when something bad happens, but there’s not a lot of help for people who want to do things to prevent damage."

(Bennet meets with Connie and Neil Sullivan)

(Bennet visits the home of Ken Feldman and Gayle Gordon)