PROTECT Program aims to safeguard Utah communities from natural disasters
SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was in Utah Friday to talk about transportation funding. He also joined a roundtable discussion with Utah firefighters, where they focused on the increasingly long and severe fire season and the work they will do with new federal funding to make their communities safer.
The PROTECT Program will pump a substantial amount of money into Utah for protecting our communities from natural disasters, like wildfires. The program will distribute more than $7 billion nationwide To be divided among communities within each state. Since this is transportation money, that’s where most of the money will go.
“There needs to be dedicated funding for improving the resilience of our transportation asset,” Buttigieg said.
Before the roundtable, Buttigieg toured the burn scar from the Parleys Fire last August that forced the evacuation of nearly 8,000 people. That fire threatened Interstate 80 in Summit County near Parleys Summit, and people were evacuated from the Summit Park neighborhood.
“Being able to see the burn scar, I directly have a sense of what you all are up against,” Buttigieg said.
Like many Utah neighborhoods, there’s only one way in and out of Summit Park.
“We came very close to burning a lot of structures, and it was an intense moment to have all of that evacuation,” said Christopher Robinson, Summit County Council Chair, who took part in Friday’s roundtable discussion.
Robinson said that he was glad to see the federal government interested in funding for preventative planning for those kinds of incidents.
Local transportation and fire agencies can use the federal money to make neighborhoods safer for evacuation.
Chief Dominic Burchett with the Unified Fire Authority said each canyon in Salt Lake County has the same challenge as Summit Park.
“Each one of our communities needs to have access and egress, not only for evacuation, but for the fire crews to get in and help protect their community,” Burchett said.
He added that each fire agency has good ideas for making communities safer.
“But each of those ideas cost money,” the fire chief said. “I think that’s the biggest thing with this bill is it to provide some direction on how and what we can use the funding for to help our communities remain safe.”
The secretary of transportation said that across the country, many communities are dealing with the impacts of climate change that leave them wondering what the next disaster will be.
“We don’t know what the next curveball will be. Some of these events come in an unpredictable way. But what we can predict is that they will be more frequent and they will be more severe, and we all need to get ready for them,” Buttigieg said.
That’s what Congress and the President intended when they approved this funding package.
The Utah Department of Transportation will work with communities statewide on projects and roads that can help with fighting fires.
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