King has 2-prong plan for aerial firefight fleet

DENVER — Sen. Steve King is preparing to make his last bid for a aerial firefighting fleet.

The Grand Junction Republican, who has been pushing for such a fleet for two years now, plans to work on two fronts.

First, he will introduce a resolution asking California to enact a law allowing its fleet, which it has had for about four decades, to be allowed to leave the state to respond to Colorado fires.

The thinking, King said, is that the state’s Legislature could justify it as another way to protect its water, much of which originates in the Colorado mountains.

“They augment their water by seeding our clouds during the winter,” King said. “I think they spend half a million dollars a year. It seemed to me ... if they’re willing to spend half a million dollars a year, why don’t they allow some of their planes from California to come here to save their water?”

Currently, California law bars their planes from leaving the state unless a fire directly threatens them, King said.

Problem is, though, resolutions have no force of law here, and they have even less impact on another state.

Still, King said it would send a message not only to other western states about the need for a modern air tanker fleet to battle wildfires, but to this one as well.

Which brings King to the second part of his plan — to re-introduce a bill calling on creating an aerial fleet in Colorado.

He has to wait for Paul Cooke, director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, who is set to file a report to Gov. John Hickenlooper in the next few weeks as required by King’s measure last year examining the feasibility of creating a state fleet.

King has been working with Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, on that measure, but won’t know what the bill will call for until after Cooke’s report has been filed and lawmakers have seen next year’s revenue forecast. His bill last year had a $17 million fiscal impact, but he expects to introduce a measure this time that would cost much less.

“It’s one of many things competing for the budget,” Carroll said. “But we do think there’s going to be a recommendation for an increase in the investment there.”


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