From The Denver Post (Jon Murray):
Lawyers for opponents of a huge northeast Denver flood-control project raised legal objections and notified the city about the possibility of lawsuits this week over two major components.
The “Platte to Park Hill” project is aimed at improving the flow of storm runoff toward the South Platte River. The city says it would provide heightened flood protection for some neighborhoods. And it also would divert water away from the planned state project to expand Interstate 70 and lower a portion below ground level, a source of controversy among opponents of the I-70 project.
The letters to City Attorney Scott Martinez, who says he is confident the project follows the law, cite potential legal violations and allege city officials have misled residents.
They target plans to regrade the western portion of City Park Golf Course to create a detention area and a mile-long open drainage channel along 39th Avenue, from Franklin to Steele streets, in and near the Cole neighborhood.
On Wednesday, Denver Public Works officials announced that the golf course option had been selected for the detention area over an alternative. They also disclosed that the overall project is now estimated to cost $267 million to $298 million, up at least 54 percent since the previous estimate last summer, because of an expansion in project scope.
Attorney Jerome M. Reinan sent one letter Tuesday. He says he represents a group of Cole residents, including Ed Armijo and Heidi Sue Harris.
He alleges city officials and contractors have misinformed neighborhoods about the project’s intent, which he characterizes as protecting I-70 and development in River North closer to the river. He also argues that the city has misused money raised by the wastewater rate over the years and violating the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. His final contention is that the drainage channel would take advantage of a low-income and minority neighborhood while disturbing contaminated soil.
Though the Cole neighborhood “is a generally underserved, low-income, minority neighborhood,” Reinan writes, “it has the organization and legal assistance it needs to prevent itself from being victimized by its elected officials.”
The allegations in the letter have been widely discussed among residents and examined by local media in recent weeks. City officials have pushed back against such assertions, saying the project would increase flood protection the most substantially for neighborhoods closer to I-70 while providing a basis for future projects that would provide relief further south.
“We are confident any city project, including this one, goes forward well within the bounds of the law,” Martinez said Friday. “As the process progresses, we strive to provide any clarity and certainty around any legal questions that may arise.”
The other letter raising the possibility of legal action was sent to Martinez on Monday, before the golf course’s selection was announced, by attorney Aaron D. Goldhamer. He says he represents former Colorado Attorney General J.D. MacFarlane, who served from 1975 to 1982.
Goldhamer’s letter cites past court decisions, the city charter and more recent documents involving Denver Parks and Recreation to argue the City Park Golf Course detention area would “remove city park land from current uses and would appear to violate applicable law,” which allows only parks and recreation uses on park land.
Goldhamer’s letter said MacFarlane hoped to avoid seeking legal intervention.
In a two-page response Martinez sent to Goldhamer on Friday, the city attorney disputed that argument.
“I want to assure Mr. MacFarlane that the recreational and open space values of the City Park Golf Course will be maintained,” Martinez wrote. “Dual use of parks facilities and compatible storm water management purposes are used nationally and have historically been lawfully used in Denver at many parks.”
He cited other golf courses and parks in the city and metro area that are graded to detain water during heavy storms while allowing golfing and recreation during dry weather.
There’s an interesting political wrinkle to Goldhamer’s involvement.
He’s currently running to represent the open Colorado House District 8 seat, which includes City Park. He is locked in a tight Democratic primary June 28 with Leslie Herod
Goldhamer said in an interview that his concern in drafting the letter was for good government, and “that speaks to me both as a candidate and as an attorney.”
He said city officials seemed determined to move forward with the drainage project, despite opponents’ objections.
“I think they’re going to proceed apace,” he said, “unless and until they have an injunction stopping them.”