Fountain Creek: “It’s the right thing to do. And it’s something we should do” — #Colorado Springs Mayor Suthers

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Bllie Stanton Anleu):

After nearly a year of negotiations, a stormwater deal has been reached between the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo County commissioners.

The tentative intergovernmental agreement, which Mayor John Suthers outlined Monday to the City Council, will benefit not only Pueblo and Pueblo County, but also local residents, by providing $460 million in stormwater projects by 2035.

Those improvements are sorely needed, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency noted in dismal audits of the city stormwater program in 2013 and last August. Unless the situation improves dramatically, the EPA likely would sue Colorado Springs and restrict the MS4 permit that allows the city to send stormwater into the interstate water system.

The more immediate concern was Pueblo County’s threat to withhold the 1041 permit it granted to Utilities for the $825 million Southern Delivery System. That massive water system is scheduled to start delivering water April 27, and the intergovernmental agreement would be signed just in the nick of time…

Suthers started negotiating almost immediately after he was sworn in as mayor last June, and the mayor, Council President Merv Bennett and key leaders from Utilities made repeated trips to Pueblo to smooth the frayed relations and ensure that stormwater improvements would be forthcoming.

The talks proved tricky, as Pueblo’s city and county leaders felt increasing pressure to play hardball with Colorado Springs.

Suthers squeezed the city budget hard to produce millions of dollars. When the city’s southern neighbors balked because they had no guarantee, he placed the burden on Utilities to come up with future funding if and when the city fell short.

Along with that assurance, Pueblo County won a promise that if 71 critical stormwater projects aren’t completed by 2035, the pact will be renewed for five years with continued, commensurate funding increases.

The City Council and Pueblo County commissioners are set to vote on the pact in two weeks.

Provided they enact the agreement, it will mark a hard-fought resolution to Suthers’ most vexing challenge during his 10 months as mayor.

“I personally don’t think we could come up with any better result by litigating on two fronts,” he hold the council. “We could litigate with Pueblo at risk of jeopardizing the SDS being turned on … But I have a certain level of confidence the stormwater program we’re funding here will go a long way toward resolving our (legal) issues with the EPA.”

Besides, he noted: “I mean this very sincerely. It’s the right thing to do. And it’s something we should do.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs would pay more than $605 million to cover environmental damage for the Southern Delivery System if a draft intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County is approved.

The proposed deal includes a guarantee to spend at least $460 million over the next 20 years to repair and build stormwater structures in Colorado Springs in a way that benefits downstream communities, particularly the city of Pueblo.

“This has been a tough, arduous negotiation that has taken months,” said Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen. “After years of Colorado Springs’ failure to honor that commitment we finally have a deal the citizens of Pueblo County can rely upon. We now have guaranteed projects, guaranteed funding and a mechanism for enforceability to back up the guarantees.”

A public hearing on the agreement will be at 1:30 p.m. April 18 in commissioners chambers at the Pueblo County Courthouse. The soonest the board is expected to act on the IGA would be April 25, which gives Colorado Springs time to consider it as well.

Mayor John Suthers is presenting the deal to Colorado Springs City Council today. That group, sitting as the Utilities Board, could pass it on April 20 at the soonest.

Colorado Springs Utilities wants to turn on SDS on April 27.

“I want to make it clear we have not voted on this,” said Commissioner Sal Pace. “I intend to listen to the public next week.” [ed. emphasis mine]

In addition to the stormwater projects, the deal includes nearly $20 million for flood control projects on Fountain Creek within the next nine months, $125,000 to keep the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District afloat and $3 million to the city of Pueblo to dredge Fountain Creek.

The $20 million is part of Colorado Springs’ commitment to pay $50 million over five years to the Fountain Creek district under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS. Within 30 days of signing the IGA, about $9.6 million will be paid, which takes into account credit for $600,000 already provided by Colorado Springs Utilities to the district. Another $10 million would be paid on Jan. 15, 2017, ending a dispute about timing of this year’s payment.

“These immediate payments to the District are desperately needed to study the possibility of, and to potentially construct, a dam on Fountain Creek – this is our opportunity to comprehensively evaluate all options to protect the citizens of Pueblo,” said Commissioner Terry Hart.

The $125,000 would fund operating costs of the district, which now has few financial resources to draw upon.

“The $125,000 was a line in the sand for us,” McFadyen said.

The $3 million to the city of Pueblo for Fountain Creek dredging would require an equal match, part of which could come from $1.8 million held by Pueblo County from an earlier agreement.

The stormwater agreement requires a continued working relationship between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs. Engineers representing both areas have rated 71 current projects for benefits to Colorado Springs and to downstream communities. All but 10 of the projects benefit both.

The list will be reviewed and adjusted over the next 20-25 years to assure compliance and reflect changes in the drainage area.

The accounting includes only money provided by Colorado Springs and Utilities toward projects on the list and require expenditures of $20 million annually the first five years, expanding to $26 million per year in 2031-35. If the list is not complete by 2036, spending of $26 million annually would be required for another five years.

The payments would be guaranteed by transfer funds already paid to the Colorado Springs by Utilities.

Ray Petros, Pueblo County’s water attorney explained the agreement to the board today. Colorado Springs would agree to pay Pueblo County’s engineering costs for drawing up the list and to resolve any IGA disputes in Pueblo District Court.

In addition to the $460 million for stormwater, $50 million for Fountain Creek flood control and $5.2 million for dredging, Colorado Springs previously agreed to spend $75 million by 2024 for sanitary sewer upgrades and $15 million for damage to roads related to SDS.

The total cost for construction of SDS is about $825 million.

From KOAA.com (Andy Koen):

Seven years ago, the Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners gave Colorado Springs Utilities permission to build the Southern Delivery System Pipeline through what’s known as a 1041 Permit. That agreement required the City of Colorado Springs to keep water from flowing faster down Fountain Creek.

But a few short months after the SDS agreement was signed, Colorado Springs voters passed ballot issue 300 and the City Council promptly ended the Stormwater Enterprise.

The backlog of storm water improvement languished for a time and it looked like things were headed to court. Commissioner McFadyen expressed relief that things didn’t reach that point.

“Hopefully it saves taxpayers dollars on both sides and actually has an agreement that’s worthwhile and get to the point, it solves the problem.”

In November, Colorado Springs received notice of violation by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for noncompliance with its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit under the federal Clean Water Act. That complaint was referred to the US Justice Department for legal action.

The basis of the violation was for failure to provide adequate resources to develop and enforce the MS4 Program…

All of the money committed by Colorado Springs in the proposed agreement comes from the city’s general fund. However Mayor Suthers said the IGA is a flexible agreement.

“If at some point in time Colorado Springs decides to join the rest of the world and have a storm water enterprise, they’re free to do so and that funding source can be utilized, but the voters have turned that down as recently as November of 2014.”

Both the Colorado Springs City Council and Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners must vote to approve the agreement. Pueblo will hold its first public hearing on the issue at their next regularly scheduled board meeting April 18.

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