Hickenlooper, King strike deal on state aerial firefighting fleet


Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, at Centennial Airport last week where he urged Gov. John Hickenlooper to “get in the game” and support his proposal for the state to purchase its own aerial firefighting fleet.

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DENVER — After a tensions escalated last week between a state lawmaker pushing for Colorado to purchase its own airplanes and helicopters to fight wildfires and a resistant governor, the two sides are suddenly honing in on a deal.

Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, called last Wednesday for Gov. John Hickenlooper to “get in the game” and support his proposal for the state to lease or purchase its own aerial wildfire-fighting fleet, drawing the ire of the governor’s office.

But both sides buried the hatchet at a meeting on Monday, discussing a state report on whether such a fleet is needed and moving closer to a deal.

Today, Alan Salazar, Hickenlooper’s chief strategist, made his optimism known with this tweet:

After dismissing King’s bill last week as “too prescriptive” in that it would force the state to purchase specific aircraft, Salazar told FOX31 Denver Tuesday that the state is now likely to push ahead with plans to appropriate between $10-20 million for the Dept. of Public Safety to purchase aerial resources, likely a few smaller helicopters and planes than what King’s bill proposed.

“The bill now is forcing is to buy planes that we don’t think are well-suited for our altitude,” Salazar said. “What we’ve been saying all along is let’s wait for the report to see what it recommends and the recommendation now is to lease and purchase some aerial resources. But we’re not going to be buying large tankers.”

The report issued Friday, two days after King called out the governor during a demonstration of the air tankers his bill is calling for, concludes that ground crews and early detection are most important in fighting fires but that additional aerial resources would also help.

“I’m very encouraged by the ongoing talks with Governor Hickenlooper’s Office,” King told FOX31 Denver. “Wildfires are a clear and present danger to Coloradans and to our water supply. I’m hopeful the two years of work that have been put into this process will be rewarded with a signature on the bill from Governor Hickenlooper.”

King and Salazar hugged it out Monday and Salazar promised to join King at a signing ceremony, even though it’s not clear the legislature has to pass a bill for the state to move forward on buying helicopters and planes.

Salazar is meeting later Tuesday afternoon with legislative leaders — Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, is a co-sponsor of King’s bill — to determine how to appropriate the money and whether to move ahead with a late bill to do so.

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