Interior Department bill has $24 million for regional projects

Projects as varied as Mesa Verde National Park improvements, Rifle drinking-water lines and trail access to Dominguez Canyon would benefit from an Interior Department appropriations bill that is headed to President Barack Obama’s desk.

The legislation approved by the House and Senate contains $24 million in appropriations for communities in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, said U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

The bulk of that, $22.1 million, would go to Mesa Verde National Park for a new visitor center and a curation facility for park artifacts. Another $1 million would be used to purchase and preserve up to 350 acres near Ophir by adding it to the Uncompahgre National Forest.

The measure would provide $300,000 in Environmental Protection Agency State and Tribal Grant funds to help replace, upgrade and expand water lines in Rifle.

In addition, it allocates $176,000 to the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Junction Field Office for construction of the Bridgeport Access Trail at Dominguez Canyon. BLM spokeswoman Erin Curtis said the money would help pay for moving a trail away from railroad tracks and providing safe passage across the tracks. The BLM is evaluating various design options for the trail.

U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Colorado Democrats, said they also worked to include in the bill a provision that would help the federal government pay for fighting major wildfires each year. The provision would create a separate account for dealing with those fires without limiting the Forest’s Service’s ability to do routine forest health and fire mitigation work.

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