U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, are among those who introduced a bill that would give communities impacted by wildfires greater flexibility during the cleanup and recovery process.
The Making Access to Cleanup Happen (MATCH) Act would make changes to the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program to “expedite disaster cleanup, save taxpayers money, and prevent further disasters,” according to a press release. The EWP is a federal recovery program that helps communities impacted by wildfires, floods and other natural disasters.
Specifically, the act would direct the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to put together a list of wildfire recovery activities for potential EWP sponsors and establish a procedure for the sponsors to consult with state natural resource conservation offices, the press release said.
It would also ensure that these activities count towards the EWP program’s 25% sponsor match requirement.
The introduction of the act comes two years after Utah County had one of its most devastating wildfire seasons on record. In 2018, the Pole Creek Fire burned over 102,000 acres and prompted mandatory evacuations in Spanish Fork Canyon. Around the same time, the Bald Mountain Fire burned over 18,000 acres and led to mandatory evacuations being ordered for Woodland Hills and Elk Ridge.
In September, Curtis hosted a round-table discussion with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials in Utah County to talk about ways to improve wildfire recovery.
In the press release, Curtis said the act would “allow certain watershed rehabilitation work” carried out by a sponsor before an EWP project is approved to “count toward the sponsor’s required financial contribution to the overall project.”
Doing so “will allow communities the flexibility that they need to recover from wildfire more quickly without using any additional taxpayer dollars,” Curtis said.
Other supporters of the MATCH Act include Rep. John Garamendi, D-California, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado.
In November, Romney and Bennet co-authored a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office requesting the agency review the EWP Program. The senators expressed concern with how the Natural Resources Conservation Service “approves and completes projects, and other hurdles that communities face in the process of receiving EWP funds.”
Romney said in the press release that MATCH Act would help communities impacted by wildfires overcome “bureaucratic hurdles” and “streamline the mitigation process.”
Utah politicians issued statements of support for the act being sponsored by Curtis and Romney, including Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge.
“This legislation will cut through the bureaucratic red tape we face and help our county and our impacted communities as they continue to recover” from wildfires, Ainge said.
It also received praise from local leaders whose cities were impacted by the Bald Mountain and Poll Creek fires, including Woodland Hills City Councilwoman Kari Malkovich, who said the MATCH Act would help the city prepare for potential flooding, debris flow and mudslides.
Elk Ridge Mayor Ty Ellis said the act would help eliminate delays in emergency recovery that his city experienced after the Bald Mountain Fire.
With the MATCH Act in effect, “we would be better equipped to handle the threats we will face this summer from wildfires,” said Ellis.
In December, Ellis testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources about the impact the Bald Mountain Fire had on Elk Ridge. After that testimony, the congressional committee unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by Curtis to name a mountain standing between Elk Ridge and the area where the Bald Mountain Fire burned “Miracle Mountain.”