Missing that hour of sleep? ⏰ Spring forward with BRL Today!

This morning’s top story from John Herrick will catch you up on everything we know about the lawsuit against Boulder County by Michael Brown, the former FEMA director under George W. Bush who resigned amid public outcry over his handling of Hurricane Katrina. The outcome of the case could affect the timeline for debris clean up, which the county hoped to complete by July.

Also in today’s edition, we’re sharing an update on last week’s story about the future of outdoor dining on West Pearl. Changes have been made to the article to clarify details of the proposed post-pandemic outdoor dining pilot program being developed by the city and Downtown Boulder Partnership. In the spirit of transparency, we’re re-upping that story here with a note of explanation.

Don’t forget to send us your photos from around town as part of our Lens on Boulder series. Until then, here’s one I snapped on my phone this weekend during a birthday hike near NCAR. 🥾⛰️

– Jezy, managing editor

Afternoon clouds above Boulder’s iconic flatirons on Saturday, March 12. Credit: Jezy J. Gray

Quickly

🌤️ Mild Monday: Expect mostly sunny conditions today, with highs in the mid-50s. Temps should tick up on Tuesday before a slight cool-down later in the week as rainfall chances enter the forecast.

🗳️ Voting on vote centers: Boulder County Elections is looking for input on vote center locations for the 2022 general election. They’re also asking for feedback on locations for 24-hour mail ballot drop boxes. Fill out the survey here.

🍎 First-grade fundraiser for fire victims: First graders at Meadowlark School in Erie raised more than $9,000 for the Impact on Education Fire Relief Fund by making and selling items like keychains, buttons, magnets, and more.

🔥 Marshall Fire town hall series: Elevations Credit Union is hosting a series of virtual town hall events focused on mortgages and rebuilding for people affected by the Marshall Fire. Panelists during tomorrow’s 6:30 p.m. session will answer questions about insurance coverage.

🚓 Death at Flagg Park trailhead: A 24-year-old woman was found dead in her car this weekend in Lafayette. At approximately 8:09 a.m. on Saturday morning, a hiker near the Flagg Park trailhead reported “a female in a car with blood on her face and a bullet hole in the windshield.” The name of the deceased is currently being withheld, but will be released along with the cause and manner of death by the Boulder County Coroner’s Office.

Correction: Friday’s edition of BRL Today included an item about the scheduled hearing on a lawsuit brought against Boulder County by former FEMA Administrator Michael Brown. We wrote that the suit “alleges the county violated open meeting laws when it awarded a contract to DRC Emergency Services LLC to clean up debris at homes destroyed by the Marshall Fire.However, the county has awarded a bid, and will have to negotiate the contract. The lawsuit seeks to block the contract from happening.

Top Stories

Former FEMA director, famously criticized for his response to Hurricane Katrina, sues Boulder County for its handling of the Marshall Fire

Boulder County officials will head to court on March 18 to defend their decision to hire a private contractor to clean up toxic ash and debris from properties destroyed by the Marshall Fire. 

The legal snag in the post-fire response comes after Michael Brown, the former FEMA director for George W. Bush, who resigned amid intense criticism over his handling of Hurricane Katrina, alleged in a complaint that the county violated open meeting laws when it decided to award a bid to DRC Emergency Services, LLC. DRC, based in Galveston, Texas, specializes in disaster recovery. 

FEMA is expected to reimburse the county for most of the approximate $55 million cleanup, according to county estimates. But Brown argues that the alleged missteps might lead FEMA to decide that the county didn’t follow proper bidding procedures and require that it pay the money back. That could potentially leave county taxpayers on the hook for cleanup costs, he alleges.

The outcome of the case could affect the timeline for cleanup, which the county hoped to complete by July. More than a thousand homes were destroyed by the fire, and some residents need what’s left of charred homes, cars and other belongings removed before they can begin rebuilding.

Updated: What’s the future of outdoor dining downtown? The city is working on a plan with the Downtown Boulder Partnership.

To serve Covid-weary customers amid indoor dining restrictions in the early days of the pandemic, the City of Boulder expanded outdoor dining for restaurants and closed the West end of Pearl Street to car traffic through Emergency Order 2020-16. Now, with case numbers dropping, restrictions lifting and the Boulder Business Recovery Program coming to an end, the city is considering what outdoor dining might look like after the order expires on April 30.

The city is working with the Downtown Boulder Partnership to explore the possibility of extending the use of extra outdoor dining space with a proposed post-pandemic outdoor dining pilot program. Under the proposal, the city would own the “parklet” infrastructure on the street, which would be leased by participating restaurants. Businesses currently do not pay for their use of the extended outdoor space.

Depending on the amount the city would subsidize the project, parklet rental could cost restaurants anywhere between $24 and $61 per square foot if they are located off the bricks, which would amount to $4,800–12,200 per year for a 10×20-foot patio, according to the city’s March 8 study session memorandum. 

The city surveyed 1,226 Pearl Street residents, workers and visitors and found that over 60% said outdoor dining provided a “significant improvement.” Representatives of 54 restaurants were also surveyed. Among restaurants already participating in the temporarily expanded outdoor dining program, 60% said they were “very interested” in the pilot program. Only 22% of those not participating in the current program were interested.

Continued closure of West Pearl could be possible as the city weighs options regarding outdoor dining in downtown Boulder — but according to the CEO of Downtown Boulder Partnership, who goes by the name Chip, it’s not part of the proposed pilot program being discussed between the city and the nonprofit.

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BRL Picks

🎨 Art therapy for fire victims. Reminder: Current and displaced Superior, Louisville and unincorporated Boulder County residents affected by the Marshall Fire are invited to attend free art therapy sessions at the Superior Chamber of Commerce Business Assistance Center. Slots are still available for Wednesday’s 6 p.m. session, designed for residents who lost everything, ages 18+. Sign up here.

🌳 1,200 trees for Earth Day. Celebrate Earth Day by ordering tree saplings from Boulder County high school students. The idea is to plant 1,200 trees through the Tree-Plenish campaign. Place your online order for Eastern Rosebud, Blue Spruce, Douglas Fir and Red Maple saplings ($5 a piece) through March 30.

🌱 Seed swap. Bring your homegrown seeds or unopened store-bought packets to swap and exchange at the Meadows Branch Library on Saturday, March 19, 1–3 p.m.. Empty seed envelopes will be available, along with the opportunity to learn about Colorado native plants from Wild Ones Front Range volunteers.

COVID Updates: March 14, 2022

  • 54 daily new cases (7-day avg.)  Down 22% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 9 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) Down from avg. of 40 since July 2020.
  • 55% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 71% since July 2020.
  • Goodbye state at-home testing: Beginning tomorrow, the rapid at-home testing program administered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) — the first program of its kind in the United States — will be folded into the federal testing program, currently offering two sets of four free tests for each household in the country.

What We’re Reading

📖 Universal pre-K in Colorado. A bill currently moving through the state legislature would create a new department of early childhood education to provide access to preschool for kids ages four and under. “The new agency will house and streamline a number of programs that impact young children and their families that are currently scattered over several state departments.” [CPR News]

📖 Rent stabilization for mobile home parks. In more legislature news, state democratic lawmakers are putting forward a bill to cap rent increases at mobile home parks. “Unsubsidized affordable housing is going extinct in Colorado, and lawmakers feel this year’s policy is necessary to preserve the largest source of ‘naturally occurring’ affordability in the state.” [Denver Post]

ICYMI from BRL

🇺🇦 ‘It could have been me’: A Ukrainian-American in Boulder County watches war unfold from over 5,000 miles away. Longmont resident Valeria Schweiger talks about processing grief, stress and fear as violence engulfs her native Ukraine.

🏠 Green housing expert offers advice on rebuilding after the Marshall Fire with resiliency and long-term cost savings in mind. “Passive house” building consultant Andrew Michler discussed the outsized contribution of buildings on carbon emissions, the “unprecedented” Xcel Energy incentives for Marshall Fire victims and more.

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– The BRL Team

Jezy J. Gray

Jezy Gray was the former managing editor of Boulder Reporting Lab. In addition to years of writing on the culture, politics and history of my home state of Oklahoma, he was the final editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Voice, a local bi-weekly newspaper where I led a small but mighty team of journalists to regional and national honors in feature writing, diversity reporting, LGBTQ+ coverage and more.