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After the flood: Colorado making tough decisions about how to rebuild

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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who has said he wants to rebuild "stronger," has set a Dec. 1 deadline for rebuilding as much as possible, before winter sets in. Overall, though, the process will take years.

No doubt many decisions will be tough, although there could be an upside.

"The silver lining with events like this is you do have the opportunity to redo things differently – the layout of roads, the layout of towns," says Michael Gooseff, a professor of hydroecologic science and engineering at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. "Mother Nature has reset the playing field for us."

In many ways, Colorado's task is similar to the one Vermont grappled with after the storm Irene hit two years ago.

Like Colorado, Vermont is a mountainous state, and the deluge of rain poured into narrow valleys, washing away roads and bridges. The state lost some 500 miles of roadway and more than 30 bridges.

"The kind of flooding we had, and that Colorado is experiencing, [caused] erosion, tremendous erosion. The power of the water just ripped apart roads, bridges, and many, many homes and businesses," says Sue Minter, deputy secretary at Vermont's Agency of Transportation.

As in Colorado, Vermont was up against a looming winter season, when construction is largely forced to halt.

Ms. Minter was part of a delegation from Vermont that flew to Colorado shortly after the flood to share some of what they've learned with their Colorado counterparts.

Among the suggestions, according to Minter: Restructure agencies to become regional command centers, redeploy employees to best address the mission of rebuilding infrastructure, and put an "incident command system" in place – suggestions Colorado has largely adopted.

In Vermont, rebuilding and permitting were expedited in the immediate aftermath of the flooding. But that goal of speed, Minter notes, doesn't have to be at odds with careful planning.

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