Marshall fire cleanup could begin next week after group suing Boulder County drops request for contract do-over

A nonprofit organization associated with former Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown is dropping its request that a judge block work on the Marshall fire cleanup, meaning Boulder County could sign a contract and start debris removal as early as next week.

The lawsuit filed in late February by Demanding Integrity in Government Spending remains open and a hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday in Boulder District Court.

The group, known as DIGS, is accusing the Boulder County commissioners of violating Colorado’s open meetings laws when they selected DRC Emergency Services to lead the private property debris removal program for Marshall fire victims.

If Boulder County violated open meetings laws and ran afoul of federal procurement rules, the county and state could be on the hook for paying the full cost of the cleanup without reimbursement from FEMA.

On Tuesday, DIGS filed a motion saying it would no longer ask a judge to demand that Boulder County delay work and rebid the contract, saying it respected fire victims’ concerns that the recovery work needed to move forward.

Instead, DIGS wants the judge to order Boulder County’s three elected commissioners and the members of the bid evaluation committee to sit for 3.5-hour depositions with DIGS’s lawyers, according to the motion.

The Dec. 30 fire was the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, killing two people, destroying 1,084 homes and burning 6,000 acres in Louisville, Superior and unincorporated Boulder County.

Residents who lost their homes have become increasingly frustrated over delays in removing the ash, burned structures, contaminated soil and damaged trees from their properties. They cannot start rebuilding until their properties are cleared. Some homeowners not willing to wait for the county-led process have begun paying cleanup firms to work on their individual properties.

The Boulder County commissioners on Feb. 10 chose DRC Emergency Services out of 11 bidders, but a contract never has been signed as negotiations between the company and the county continue. The work is expected to cost $52.6 million. The county will oversee the contract on behalf of Louisville and Superior, though the intergovernmental agreement between the three municipalities has not yet been signed.

On Wednesday, Boulder County sent out a news release responding to the latest maneuver in the lawsuit, saying it could sign the contract as soon as March 22. The county previously has said work would begin shortly after the contract was signed.

The lawsuit created animosity in Boulder County between Brown, local elected officials and fire victims. The commissioners blame the DIGS lawsuit on delays while DIGS has maintained the lawsuit was filed 50 days after the fire and there is no order from a judge that would stop the county from moving forward with the contract.

In its Tuesday court filing, DIGS called the county’s blame game a sideshow.

“They have beaten this drum privately and publicly, prompting media sensationalism and the false storyline that Plaintiff is causing and will continue to cause cleanup delay,” the motion said.

Meanwhile, the county on Wednesday called the ongoing lawsuit a distraction.

“Nonetheless, the County believes the lawsuit remains a distraction from important recovery work for the community, especially depositions of staff who should be focused on planning and implementing (private property debris removal),” the news release said. “The County continues to maintain that it complied with all applicable laws in selecting a winning bidder for the (private property debris removal) contract.”


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