Governor Signs Legislation Helping Fund Eisenhower/Johnson Tunnels Fire Suppression System

May 17, 2013 - Central Eastern Colorado/CDOT Region 1 - Bill Includes Clean Up of Abandoned Petroleum Contaminated Sites.

SUMMIT/CLEAR CREEK COUNTIES – At a signing ceremony at the Eisenhower Tunnel today, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law House Bill 13-1252, establishing the Petroleum Cleanup and Redevelopment Fund within the Division of Oil and Public Safety, a part of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The legislation includes $5 million of critical seed money for a fire suppression system at the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels (EJMT), allowing the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to pursue the additional funding necessary to build it.

“This is an important first step for developing this system in both tunnels,” said CDOT Executive Director Don Hunt.  “A closing or long-term damage to one of these tunnels could cost Colorado billions of dollars, not only to one of Colorado’s greatest transportation assets, but also to the I-70 Mountain Corridor communities, tourism, and recreation.  Even more importantly, a tunnel fire is a significant risk for the traveling public and public safety is always our top priority.”

The fire suppression system would not completely extinguish a vehicle fire but rather buy critical time needed for first responders to safely approach the scene and take action.

“Although this bill provides only a portion of the $25 million required for the new system, it provides the impetus to get this critical system built,” added Hunt, “and we’re working diligently to use this funding to leverage other funding sources to get this installed as soon as possible.”

The EJMT is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and a fatality has never occurred inside it. Close calls have transpired and fires – primarily vehicle – do take place.  Because of this, CDOT has first responders and firefighting equipment as part of the EJMT complex.

This legislation was carried by Senators Cheri Jahn and Steve King and Representatives Millie Hamner and Ray Scott.  It also creates and enables investigation and clean-up of petroleum contamination at former gas stations sites that have been unaddressed for decades because of their age.  Tank owners were ineligible for reimbursement in the years prior to the establishment of the Petroleum Storage Tank Fund and today, those former owners are impossible to find.

The Petroleum Cleanup and Redevelopment Fund will utilize money collected from industry-paid settlements and fines.  It will provide Colorado with a cost-effective way to provide protection from pollution in the land and water without redirecting money from the established Petroleum Storage Tank Fund which assists identified tank owners in cleanup activities.

Site cleanups that the new fund supports will provide economic growth opportunities on property that is currently unused.

With Gov. Hickenlooper’s signature, initial assessment work will get underway on contamination sites across the state.  Detailed remedial investigations, design and engineering work will be required at each site and the Division of Oil and Public Safety will oversee the work of remediation contractors who will prepare the final construction specifications and get the properties back to their original status, making the remediation effective, efficient and affordable.

“Achieving closure on so many contaminated sites throughout Colorado is a great opportunity,” says Ellen Golombek, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.  “Our Division of Oil and Public Safety has a proven track record in administering the Petroleum Storage Tank Fund.  Now, this new result-oriented remediation program will take the next step in preserving Colorado’s beauty and building its economic opportunities.”

In addition to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, CDOT wants to thank all partners involved in making this funding a reality, including the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, the I-70 Coalition, the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, and all the I-70 Mountain Corridor cities and counties.