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Weary Of Lawsuit & Fearing Delays, Marshall Fire Victims Plan Rally

LOUISVILLE, Colo. (CBS4) - Boulder County has yet to finalize a deal with a company which says it would start cleanup from the Marshall Fire on March 1. The deal was contested by two contractors which didn't get the bed.

Now, a former FEMA director, Michael Brown, and his organization called Demanding Integrity in Government Spending has filed a lawsuit -- some fear potentially further delaying residents efforts to rebuild.

"It was like a tornado outside, and the debris hit you in the face when you left your house," remembered Tawnya Somauroo. Now living in a rental as she and her husband await the change to rebuild, she plans to rally Saturday for an end to a lawsuit she fears could slow down the process.

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"Who is Michael Brown? He's not part of our community," said Somauroo.

Brown, now a talk show host on radio and podcasts, resigned from his role at FEMA in 2005 after heavy criticism over his handling of the early days of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Brown formed Demanding Integrity in Government Spending this year as Boulder County considered hiring a contractor to conduct site clearing of the homes left in ashes from the Marshall Fire that will be partly reimbursed by FEMA.

A lawsuit makes claims including a Open Meetings Law violation as well as a claim about the bid committee being a public body because it included members from the county, Louisville and Superior. The county replied to the suit late this week saying the executive sessions were proper, the grouping of government leaders was of a common type, and Brown has no standing to file suit, because he has not been harmed.

Somauroo and others in a group called "Marshall Together" also filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit claiming hardship on the fire impacted community. The suit is scheduled for a hearing in Boulder courtroom on Friday March 18.

"Nobody speaks for the fire survivor community and the people living here. We speak for ourselves," said Somauroo. "So who benefits from the delay in the cleanup in our community? It's not us. It's not our community. It's not the people exposed to this ash. It's the other companies that lost the bids to contract, might get another bite at it."

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A spokesperson for Brown, Karen Crummy, said Brown had no connection to the contractors who lost bids on the job. Crummy noted there had been no delays so far, because the county had yet to finalize its contract with Texas-based site clearing contractor DRC Emergency Services.

An attorney with the county, David Hughes, said if Brown is granted a preliminary injunction in the suit, there will be delays. He adds the county hopes to finalize the contract by the end of March.

"I fail to see the logic of the argument. I think the county has done a phenomenal job of understanding what needs to happen for FEMA," said Superior Board of Trustees member Neal Shah. "You can't pour concrete in the winter. You need to be able to start pouring that concrete this summer. So getting the debris removed quickly and then getting those foundations poured is a key part of that home building."

Somauroo said she and her husband are getting close to choosing a contractor and hope to get going.

"This on top of it adds more uncertainty and people are not, it's hard to have more uncertainty. We want things to start falling into place, to start moving. We want to see progress."

She has been part of a plan to stage a rally about the issue Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. at the Louisville Arboretum.

"Driving past the ruins of my neighborhood is really hard… Honestly I don't know a single person who is questioning how the contract was awarded," she said. "We would rather the recovery from our disaster look a little better than the initial response to Hurricane Katrina."

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