2014 Colorado November Election: Colorado Springs City Council approves IGA connected with stormwater enterprise ballot issue

August 28, 2014
Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs City Council Tuesday approved an intergovernmental agreement connected with a ballot issue to form the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority. The vote was 7-2.

The issue is expected to be placed on the ballot by El Paso County commissioners at their meeting next week. It would establish the authority to include the county, Colorado Springs, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and Manitou Springs. The authority would raise about $39 million annually through fees to address a $700 million backlog in stormwater projects.

Stormwater control on Fountain Creek was one of the premises Colorado Springs Utilities used to obtain permits from Pueblo County and the federal government in order to build the Southern Delivery System.

Colorado Mayor Steve Bach immediately opposed the measure. He said the average bill of $92.40 per year would be 77 percent higher than the fee for the former stormwater enterprise and roughly the same amount homeowners now pay (in property taxes) for all city services combined.

“I believe this IGA is not fair to the citizens of Colorado Springs,” Bach said in a statement.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.


Woodland Park stormwater management

August 27, 2014

From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):

These are the facts accepted by all parties: Last summer and this summer, Green Mountain Falls has seen destructive floods following unusually heavy rains. The town was not affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire. The floods are not the result of runoff from a burn scar. And Woodland Park, located up the pass, has added major developments in recent years, including some alongside Fountain Creek.

Public officials interviewed for this story said they weren’t ready to start playing the blame game. But some people in Green Mountain Falls, especially those who live or own businesses along the creek, are getting edgy. A few have seen bridges washed out multiple times. Mayor Lorrie Worthey says even her home, which is located on a hill, recently had a flooded mudroom.

“There is more water coming down from Woodland; Woodland has grown a lot,” Worthey says carefully. “With that, we are going to get more water.”

Bill Alspach, Woodland Park’s public works director and city engineer, also is cautious when speaking of the Green Mountain Falls flooding. “Woodland Park has strived to be a good steward of the headwaters,” he says.

Woodland Park development affects two watersheds, Fountain Creek and the South Platte. Since the 1990s, the Fountain Creek side has seen the building of Walmart and Safeway stores, each with sprawling parking lots. An apartment complex is also currently under construction.

Alspach says Green Mountain Falls shouldn’t be affected by such development because Woodland Park has had strict stormwater development requirements since 1994. Driving behind the Walmart, he points out two large, grassy retention ponds that slowly release runoff during storms. He’s checked those ponds during downpours, he says, and they’ve been doing their job.

The Safeway doesn’t have such ponds, but Alspach says that’s on purpose, because allowing the water to run off there was found to reduce peak flows in the creek. The apartment complex also has retention ponds, and sits next to a $2.1 million stormwater project that was recently completed by the city and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Water flows in an underground box culvert, and is slowed by barricades before it hits a large channel.

He also points out private and public retention ponds that dot the town, especially in newer developments.

Woodland Park just forked over $100,000 for stormwater repairs needed after a damaging July storm, and is still paying off bonds from major stream work in 1998 and 1999. Alspach says he’s working his way west-to-east along Fountain Creek, doing upgrades. By the end of next year, he hopes to be close to finishing all the improvements in the city area, and to have a study in hand of what needs to be done on private and Teller County land that stretches between the eastern edge of the city and the Walmart.

All this work has been done, Alspach notes, with money from grants, Woodland Park’s limited general fund budget, a special streets fund and stormwater fees. It’s been done despite the fact that the town is too small to be bound by state permits for water quality.

“We have really endeavored to do the right thing for a long time,” he says.

More stormwater coverage here.


2014 Colorado November election: El Paso County Stormwater issue on November ballot #COpolitics

August 25, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

It’s the end of the third quarter in the proposed stormwater funding plan, and a group of residents who have been working on the issue for two years have their game faces on. They saw a contract approved by the El Paso County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that outlines how a regional stormwater authority would work and be governed should voters approve it in November.

But as the task force members and their consultants huddled after the meeting, there was little time to feel cocky about the victory. It’s a milestone, said Dave Munger, co-chair of the regional stormwater task force, but the game isn’t finished – or won – yet.

“The fourth quarter will be the election,” he said.

Munger’s co-chair and consultant to the group Kevin Walker added: “Nov. 4 is when it will be over.”[...]

If the committee work was the first two quarters of the game, then the third quarter got rough and tumble in recent meetings as [Colorado Springs Mayor] Bach, council members and the rest of the task force hashed out the details of the stormwater contract, called an intergovernmental agreement. The council approved the contract, without most of Bach’s proposed changes.

Bach held a news conference Aug. 13, announcing that he would not support the proposed stormwater authority. The same day the task force held a news conference to tout its plan.

And now the campaign season, or the fourth quarter, begins, Walker said.

Voters will be asked to OK an annual stormwater fee, which would be roughly $92 a year for a home with 3,000 square feet of impervious surface. If approved, a regional authority expects to collect about $39.2 million a year for 20 years.

Most of the money would be spent on construction projects and maintenance and operations of existing flood control projects.

About 10 percent of the fees collected would be set aside for flooding emergencies.

More 2015 Colorado November election coverage here.


2014 Colorado November election: Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority issue to be on ballot, Mayor Bach balks

August 20, 2014

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

El Paso County commissioners Tuesday voted 4-0 to put an issue on November’s ballot that would create the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority to pay for storm water control. Voting for the measure were Chairman Dennis Hisey, Amy Lathen, Darryl Glenn and Peggy Littleton. Commissioner Sallie Clark was absent.

The authority would raise $39.2 million annually to address a $700 million backlog in stormwater projects in the Fountain Creek watershed.

Stormwater control is one of the premises Colorado Springs Utilities used in gaining approval from the Bureau of Reclamation and Pueblo County to build the Southern Delivery System, a pipeline to ship water from Lake Pueblo to El Paso County.

“With this step, the hard part’s over,” Hisey said.

Last week, Colorado Springs City Council approved, on a 7-2 vote, an intergovernmental agreement with El Paso County and other cities in the Fountain Creek drainage.

The next day, Mayor Steve Bach said he opposed the authority. proposals for ways to fund stormwater control within Colorado Springs.

A list of projects, which will be attached to the ballot proposal has yet to be approved, and will probably be in place by the El Paso County commission’s Sept. 2 meeting, Hisey said.

That would give Colorado Springs City Council time to review the list.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

The approval is a huge step in “controlling stormwater,” said Commissioner Amy Lathen, who has played a major role in the regional stormwater task force that first met in August 2012. Dave Munger, co-chairman of the task force, was at Tuesday’s meeting and joined a small contingent who let out a smattering of applause after the commission’s vote.

Munger echoed Lathen about the need to solve stormwater issues regionally.

“Everyone, just about everyone, is aware of stormwater and its significance. Everyone agrees that it is a regional problem,” he said, noting that governments working together will create “a synergy that we’ve never realized.”

The decision appeared to be an easy one for the commissioners. But some debate arose after Colorado Springs Deputy City Attorney Tom Florczak gave the commissioners 18 projects the city insists be added to a list attached to the county’s 
resolution.

Florczak said the City Council did not include a project list in its resolution that passed on a 7-2 vote Aug. 12.

“The concern of the administration was that by having the list, it is limited,” Florczak said.

“It boils down to one word, flexibility,” said Steve Gardner, the Colorado Springs director of public works who was with Florczak on Tuesday.

After the City Council’s vote on the PPRDA, Mayor Steve Bach held a news conference announcing that he would not support the stormwater initiative.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.


Fountain Creek erosion mitigation project results encouraging

August 15, 2014
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A project to restore a small portion of Fountain Creek could have benefits for longer reaches.

“There are 51 miles of bank on each side of the creek from Colorado Springs to Pueblo,” said Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. “Now we know a method to use to control erosion.”

Small was giving a report to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which gave the green light to a $146,000 state grant toward the $189,000 project last year to undertake the project on Frost Ranch, located in El Paso County about 25 miles north of Pueblo.

The project restored the channel and fortified the bank along 480 feet of the Frost Ranch. Past floods had eaten away about 70 feet of the bank, including vegetation. Three tiers of dirt secured by netting rising about 4 feet were chosen as the way to restore this particular area. About 7,500 willow plants, along with grasses and other vegetation to hold the shore.

Work began in April and was completed in mid-May.

The first test of the work came on May 23, when the creek swelled to 3,000 cubic feet per second, rising nearly to the top of the newly constructed embankment, Small said. The work held, and the moisture spurred plant growth. About 75 percent of the plants survived.

A larger wave of water, 5,000 cfs, came on July 23. While some of the water overtopped the bank and deposited sand along the top, the bank stayed in place.

The roundtable applauded the district’s efforts.

“Frost Ranch has been an excellent neighbor to the creek,” said SeEtta Moss of Canon City, who was appointed to the roundtable to represent environmental interests. “I’m delighted to see what’s been done.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Colorado Springs City Council OKs regional stormwater contract — Colorado Springs Gazette

August 13, 2014

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Members of the regional stormwater task force cheered Tuesday when the Colorado Springs City Council voted 7-2 to approve a contract for a stormwater funding program that was two years in the making.

With a sigh of relief following the vote, council member Jan Martin said the city has been trying to find a way to pay for millions of dollars in stormwater, flood control and drainage projects needs for a decade…

The contract and proposed November ballot language that would create a regional stormwater authority still needs to be approved by the other parties in the intergovernmental agreement: the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain and Manitou Springs. All have indicated they will OK the contract.

The contract – the result of dozens of public meetings, community surveys and hours of public discussion – outlines the terms and duties of a Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority, a governmental agency that would plan regional flood control projects.

Voters are expected to be asked to OK an annual stormwater fee, which would be roughly $92 a year for a home with 3,000 square feet of impervious surface. If approved, a regional authority expects to collect about $39.2 million a year for 20 years. Most of the money would be spent on new construction projects, and maintenance and operations of existing flood control projects. A pot of money – about 10 percent of the fees collected – would be set aside for flooding emergencies.

An 11-member board would oversee the planning of the regional stormwater projects, and Colorado Springs would have six seats on the board.

But not everyone is happy. Mayor Steve Bach plans to hold a press conference Wednesday to detail his objections to the contract. He says it binds the city to a list of projects and does not give the city flexibility in cases of flooding emergencies. The contract infringes upon the city’s ability to manage its affairs, he said.

The stormwater contract requires that money collected from property owners in each city be spent in their city over a five-year rolling average, except for the emergency fund. Bach said spending the emergency pot of money will be decided by the authority’s board, which could reject a Colorado Springs project, he said.

“(The emergency fund) will not be returned to each city over a five-year rolling average,” he said. “Is it fair for third-party bureaucracy to have no responsibility to return it if we have an emergency in our city?”[...]

Bach also raised concerns about the proposed ballot language. He said it doesn’t detail the amount of the fees that will be assessed on each property.

“We need to be straight with the voters,” Bach said…

El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, a member of the stormwater task force, noted that Colorado Springs is guaranteed a majority of the seats on the board, and said it is disingenuous for Bach to suggest that Colorado Springs, which has 80 percent of the flood control needs, would get short shrift.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs City Council approved, 7-2, an intergovernmental agreement Tuesday that is expected to lead to a vote on a regional drainage authority for El Paso County.

“I supported a regional process (when a stormwater task force started meeting). It made sense at the time and it still makes sense,” said Keith King, council president. “Let’s put it in the hands of the voters.”

Most council members said the agreement is not perfect, but supported the opportunity to ask voters for approval of the authority. Helen Collins said there are too many taxes already and Don Knight said it does not protect Colorado Springs adequately in voting against the agreement.

The authority would raise $39 million in 2016 and is expected grow over the next 20 years to meet a backlog of more than $700 million in stormwater projects and to maintain them. Money would be spent proportionally in the participating communities.

While council OK’d the agreement, El Paso County Commissioners will have to place the issue on the November ballot, which they could do as early as next week. The IGA also must pass muster with Manitou Springs, Fountain and Green Mountain Falls.

It’s important to Pueblo County because Colorado Springs City Council abolished its short-lived stormwater authority in 2009. The authority was one of the premises of the Southern Delivery System, including Pueblo County’s 1041 land-use permit and the Bureau of Reclamation’s contract for use of Pueblo Dam and Lake Pueblo.

Colorado Springs Utilities pledged to avoid worsening flooding on Fountain Creek as a result of SDS in permit hearings.

“Down-streamers like me have watched the stormwater issue for some time and we’re excited something is being done,” said Dennis Hisey, an El Paso County commissioner from Fountain who sits on the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

“This is a collaborative process such as I have never seen,” said Amy Lathen, a commissioner who has worked with the El Paso County stormwater task force since 2012. “We will not take a step without full agreement on the IGA.”

Council spent nearly three hours wading through the agreement’s details, with Assistant City Attorney Tom Florczak, former Pueblo city attorney, leading the panel through changes Mayor Steve Bach wanted.

Bach met Monday and Tuesday with the council and county to negotiate changes, which was portrayed in contrasting ways by his chief of staff, Steve Cox, and Lathen.

Cox maintained that Bach had little time to review the document.

Lathen said Bach had made public, misleading statements about the agreement, particularly in portraying the assessment to property owners as a tax, rather than a fee.

During the council meeting there also was some discussion about how costs would be divided among authority members and an emergency fund. Bach wants to make sure Colorado Springs’ needs are met, and some council members were wary that Colorado Springs would bankroll payments owed by smaller communities.

“We could have a huge storm that messes up the Fountain River through Pueblo,” King said. “Do we need to treat this as an insurance policy?”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace has closely followed the negotiations over the proposed El Paso County stormwater initiative and is crossing his fingers that political bickering won’t keep the issue from the November ballot.

Pace has talked about Colorado Springs’ floodwaters for years and says the stormwater initiative is directly tied to the $1 billion Southern Delivery System, a regional project that brings Arkansas River water stored in Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs.

Stormwater management in Colorado Springs has been on Pueblo’s radar since Colorado Springs Utilities committed to Pueblo and Pueblo County that it would be in compliance with stormwater responsibilities before 2016 – when the water is due to start flowing north.

When the permits for SDS were inked, Colorado Springs had a stormwater fee in place and a list of projects designed to head off floodwaters going south, Pace said. But the fee ended in 2011 and left Pueblo officials wondering if the promised flood control projects would be built.

“We know there will be more water in Fountain Creek because of SDS,” Pace said. “Part of the SDS permit was a guarantee of no increase in stormwater flows.”

Pace said if Colorado Springs’ stormwater issues are not resolved, Pueblo could take Utilities to court and challenge the SDS permits that were based on stormwater controls. No one wants to go down that path, he said.

“The fact that Colorado Springs and El Paso County are moving in this direction is a very positive step,” he said.

Colorado Springs City Council is expected to vote on the proposed regional stormwater contract, called an intergovernmental agreement, for the creation of the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority at its Tuesday meeting. El Paso Board of County Commissioners will consider the contract and ballot language at its Aug. 19 meeting.

The authority, if approved by voters in November, would collect about $39 million a year for the next 20 years to pay for flood control projects in the Fountain Creek Watershed, 928 square miles with a perimeter of 160 miles. Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and Manitou Springs also are considering joining the authority.

Mayor Steve Bach has raised concerns about the proposed contract, saying that it is too restrictive when it comes to the city planning stormwater projects within the city limits. He also worries that the city would not be able to quickly respond to a flood emergency.

“We have to be careful not to put ourselves in a straight jacket,” Bach said. “What if priorities change in a few years? Colorado Springs can’t change its priorities without a supermajority of the (stormwater) board.”

Bach sent a letter to the council July 31 outlining his concerns, which include the need for Colorado Springs to have seven seats on the 11-member governing board. He said he hoped the council would consider his concerns and adjust the contract before approving it.

“I would like to support the IGA,” Bach said. “But if it is so onerous and interferes with the business of the city, I may be forced to oppose the ballot initiative.”

The council appears ready to approve the contract without the mayor’s changes.

Council president Keith King said the stormwater task force designed a regional program so that flood control projects could be planned together among the four cities and county. It would defeat the purpose of a regional project if it were to change the contract to allow Colorado Springs to act on its own.

“I’m afraid we are probably at an impasse,” King said.

Last weekend, the stormwater task force conducted a phone survey asking potential voters whether it would matter to them if Bach did not support the stormwater initiative. The results, however, are “being kept close to the vest,” said Rachel Beck, a task force member.

Councilwoman Jill Gaebler said a conflict between the mayor and council could affect voters. Some, she said, equate the bickering to distrust.

“People want us to work together,” she said.

Gaebler said she believes Bach has the city’s best interests in mind with his proposed changes to the stormwater contract. But his proposal comes too late, she said.

“This task force has been meeting for two years,” she said. “Ever since I’ve been on council, every month an invitation was sent to (the city attorney) and the staff and no one ever attended.”

Richard Skorman, business owner and member of the stormwater task force, said he doesn’t expect the recent strife to influence voters.

“No one should beat themselves up for bringing up issues at the last minute,” Skorman said. “I think everyone at the table wants the same thing.”

Skorman said Bach’s request for seven seats on the board seems reasonable, given that Colorado Springs will contribute roughly 80 percent in fees and need 80 percent of the flood control projects.

“All of those things are important,” he said. “But the biggest goal is for us to finally address flooding problems. There seems to be unanimous support for that.”

More stormwater coverage here.


“…there is a proposal afoot that would extend [EPA] jurisdiction and accompanying regulations far beyond what makes sense” — Sallie Clark

August 11, 2014

Groundwater movement via the USGS

Groundwater movement via the USGS


Here’s a guest column (The Pueblo Chieftain) from Sallie Clark dealing with the Environmental Protection Agencie’s proposed clarification of “Waters of the US” under the Clean Water Act:

Coloradans have a special appreciation for the beauty of nature all around us. Everyone benefits from the beauty and bounty of America’s rivers, streams, lakes and other waterways. Of course, these natural resources should be protected from irresponsible polluters, and regulations are in place to ensure clean water in our communities.

But, there is a proposal afoot that would extend federal jurisdiction and accompanying regulations far beyond what makes sense. The National Association of Counties (NACo) sees this proposal as a critical issue, and in my role as First Vice President of NACo and a Colorado county commissioner, I am concerned about how these rule changes will impact local communities.

A new rule, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, would erase the distinction between bodies of water — such as streams and lakes — and ditches on the side of a road. According to the proposed redefinition of “Waters of the U.S.,” a river would be no different than a public safety ditch; a lake no different than an emergency flood mitigation system.

This latest example of over-regulation makes no sense and creates more confusion than it seeks to address.

Local water conveyances, such as ditches and flood control channels, may fall under federal regulation in this unworkable proposal. It is unclear how far it would extend into drainage systems. That means counties would be required to obtain federal permits to do routine maintenance work on a roadside ditch or storm-water drain. These are essential components of effective water management.

In many cases, the nation’s counties are responsible for maintaining storm drains and other water conveyance systems that keep people safe from rising waters. They often pay a high price to wait for the federal government to issue permits. This new red tape would slow down the process even more and potentially put more people in harm’s way by inhibiting projects that keep water off of roads and away from homes.

The costs and delays of this federal over-regulation would have a significant impact on public safety and economic prosperity. To give a concrete example of some of these concerns, maintaining drainage is critical to keeping our roads safe and open for use, and it requires daily attention. Increasing fees due to additional regulatory permitting for all runoff, as anticipated by the proposal, could bring maintenance efforts to a halt.

How this regulation would be administered is unclear and would be especially cumbersome if it went directly through federal offices not adequately equipped to accommodate heavier permitting.

The expense for plan preparation would add costs not accounted for in our existing budgets.

If fully exercised every basic culvert maintenance or repair could be held up, placing not only a burden on counties financially, but also putting citizens at risk due to delays, as all work would have to first be reviewed and approved by a federal agency.

The approach taken by this proposal would drain local budgets and create delays in critical, time-crucial repairs with no demonstrated long-term environmental benefit.

Federal over-regulation and unfunded mandates unnecessarily hinder counties’ ability to get things done for local citizens. All of us want to protect the environment, but we cannot allow over-regulation to do more harm than good.

Sallie Clark is first vice president of the National Association of Counties and an El Paso County Commissioner.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


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