Battle lines form over oil shale — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

As my friend Ed Quillen once said, “Oil shale has been the ‘Next big thing’ in Colorado for over a hundred years.”

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The White River meanders through Utah on its way to joining the Green River, flowing slowly through land on which an energy company hopes to develop its oil shale holdings.

Opponents and supporters of the proposal by Enefit American Oil have drawn familiar lines in the sandstone of the Colorado Plateau.

Opponents contend that the project threatens the local environment and that development could unbalance the global climate.

Supporters say the project would prop up local economies in two states still reeling from the fall in oil prices that slowed production and put a virtual halt to exploration.

Enefit is seeking a right of way across federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, which listed the route as a preferred alternative in its environmental study of the request.

Oil shale development is a greater threat to the atmosphere than other fossil-fuel development, said John Weisheit of Living Rivers.

“It’s not a contribution to society,” Weisheit said. “It’s a detriment to society.”

More like a lifeline to struggling northwest Colorado and northeast Utah, said Lannie Massey, natural resource specialist for Rio Blanco County.

“This Enefit deal is a good deal for everybody involved,” Massey said. “It would lessen our dependence on foreign sources” of energy and pump new life into the moribund energy industry.

Enefit’s project has attracted an array of opposition, including the Grand Canyon Trust, Earthjustice, Western Resource Advocates, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, as well as Living Rivers.

The northwest Colorado town of Rangely stands to benefit from Enefit’s project because of the town’s proximity. Rangely is about 30 miles from the area via Rio Blanco County Road 23, which could connect to Dragon Road in Utah, and then into the project site.

The project is expected to require about 2,000 jobs, which would be “a huge boost for this area and for this region, eastern Utah and western Colorado,” said Tim Webber, executive director of the Western Rio Blanco County Metro Recreation and Park District.

Bonanza, Utah, and Rangely are the nearest towns and they sit 20 miles apart as the crow flies, 28 miles apart by road. The rough-and-tumble territory in between is pockmarked with drillpads and Gilsonite mines that cut deep, straight-edge swaths into the earth.

Enefit’s oil shale project sits on private land as well as state land set aside for development to benefit Utah schools and other institutions.

Enefit is planning to mine oil shale under 27,243 acres, most it privately held.

The project under consideration by the BLM is a utility corridor over federal land that Enefit would use to extend utilities to serve the project, which projects production of 50,000 barrels of oil per day for as many as 30 years.

Enefit is planning to build three pipelines, expand an existing road and run a 138-kilovolt power line to the project area 12 miles southeast of Bonanza.

“I fly over that area a lot,” said Bruce Gordon of Aspen-based EcoFlight. The corridor land is “relatively pristine” with good habitat for animals, Gordon said.

The area is “pretty industrialized and disturbed already,” said Enefit Chief Executive Officer Rikki Hrenko-Browning.

Enefit could develop its private holdings without crossing federal land, but that would require a constant stream of heavy trucks and other heavy equipment, resulting in reduced air quality, the BLM said in its draft environmental impact statement.

The BLM needs to better understand the oil that would be produced by Enefit, as well as take into account the potential effects on water quality and of spent shale, said Anne Mariah Tapp of the Grand Canyon Trust.

The possible effects of a spill of oil into the White River or Evacuation Creek — and how to clean it up — have gone unstudied, Tapp said.

“Water quality is as important as water quantity,” Tapp said.

The BLM also should have a better idea of what will happen with 23 million tons of spent shale produced every year, Tapp said.

Spent shale — as the rock left over after the process is referred to — contains poisons, such as arsenic, as well as minerals, such as lithium.

Enefit is planning a “zero-liquid discharge” process in which all water to be used will be captured, treated and reused, said Hrenko-Browning. [ed. emphasis mine]

Plans also call for Enefit to have ongoing reclamation in areas of surface mining, Hrenko-Browning said.

Once the BLM completes its process, Enefit will seek permits from the state, including the state mining permit.

Rangely and western Rio Blanco County are working hard to diversify the regional economy, said Massey.

There is more at stake than that, however, Massey said.

Colorado, Utah and Wyoming contain the largest oil shale resources in the world.

“If we can get somebody to commit money and improve the retort process,” Massey said, “it would be a benefit to all of us in the oil shale region.”

#Colorado Springs Utilities board votes for status quo — The Colorado Springs Independent

Colorado Springs City Hall back in the day via the City of Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs City Hall back in the day via the City of Colorado Springs.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The Colorado Springs Utilities Board voted Wednesday to maintain the status quo of governance by hanging onto their jobs overseeing the billion-dollar enterprise.

The vote was 8-1, with City Council President Merv Bennett opposing the move. Bennett chairs Council, while Councilor Andy Pico chairs the Utilities Board.

Says Bennett in an interview: “I was disappointed on the vote. I’ve been really clear that we need to change the governance because of how much time it’s taking. It’s so technical. I spend 55 to 60 hours a week [on city business]. Utilities is so important to us that having a board whose total focus on that is important. City Council needs to focus on the city. My desire was to have an appointed board. But I will accept the decision of the group and move on. It’s possible a group might decide to petition something onto the ballot, and that’s OK.”

That “group” is the Colorado Springs Forward nonprofit, formed a couple of years ago with the mission to direct policy and politics in local affairs.

#ColoradoRiver: The June 2016 eNews is hot off the presses from Northern Water #COriver

View of the Granby Hydropower Plant with Granby Dam in the background. Photo via Northern Water.
View of the Granby Hydropower Plant with Granby Dam in the background. Photo via Northern Water.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Granby Hydropower Plant dedication ceremony

Northern Water’s second hydropower plant is operating and producing clean, renewable power. The Granby Hydropower Plant located at the base of Lake Granby Dam began producing hydroelectric power in May. On June 3, Northern Water hosted a dedication ceremony at the plant. Attendees included Colorado water leaders, state representatives, Grand County commissioners and representatives from Mountain Parks Electric (recipient and distributor of the hydroelectric power). Speakers included Northern Water General Manager Eric Wilkinson, Northern Water President Mike Applegate, Colorado Water Conservation Board Director James Eklund, Mountain Parks Electric General Manager Tom Sifers, Grand County District 2 Commissioner Merrit Linke and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Area Manager Signe Snortland.

“The history of #Colorado Springs is a history of bold and ambitious water projects” — Mayor John Suthers

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Usually a water treatment plant just sits off to the side of a city, pumping along with little notice unless something goes wrong.

But more than 300 people gathered Friday at the Edward W. Bailey treatment plant on Colorado Springs’ east side to dedicate the Southern Delivery System.

A choir belted out “God Bless America” with its inspiration, Pikes Peak, as a backdrop. People who had worked on the project over its more than 20-year history reconnected. At the end, there was a grand toast with — what else? — a jigger of water from keepsake mini-jugs.

“The history of Colorado Springs is a history of bold and ambitious water projects,” Mayor John Suthers told the crowd. “Without those bold and ambitious water projects, Colorado Springs would be a city of only 20,000 or 30,000.”

Instead it has grown to 450,000, and with SDS makes it possible for the city to get bigger.

That made most of the people at the ceremony happy. Suthers and others praised the regional benefits of SDS, urging cooperation in areas such as economic development and transportation.

“Water has been our community’s greatest challenge and its greatest resource,” said Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities. “Nothing happens without water.”

Forte detailed the history of the $825 million water pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, explaining that planning dates back to 1996, when the idea crystallized in the Colorado Springs Water Plan. It was one of four alternatives in the document, but the only one that made it to the finish line.

It was a tortured run, however, filled with disputes in Lake, Chaffee, Fremont, Pueblo and Crowley counties. Forte nodded at the entanglements only briefly.

“There were lots of opportunity to build character and relationships,” he deadpanned as the crowd started chuckling.

Instead, he concentrated on the accomplishments that led to SDS, recognizing former officials such as Lionel Rivera, who was mayor of Colorado Springs when a deal was made in 2004 on Arkansas River flows through Pueblo. Seated next to Rivera was Randy Thurston, who pushed his fellow members on Pueblo City Council to approve the agreement. He enumerated the benefits of SDS to Colorado Springs’ partners Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

Forte also lamented that SDS required 470 permits, which was a good set-up line for Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who joked: “How many of you thought SDS stood for Still Doing Studies.”

On a serious note, Gardner praised the collaboration it took to build SDS, saying more projects like it are needed, citing their importance in Colorado’s Water Plan.

“If we do not invest in water projects, Colorado will see a shortfall of 500,000 acre-feet per year,” Gardner said. “That’s five times the supply of Colorado Springs.”

While the event maintained a festive spirit, some from Pueblo County who attended were more low-key in their assessment of SDS.

“Technologically, it’s an amazing accomplishment,” said Bill Alt, whose property on Fountain Creek is being destroyed because of increased flows from the north. “I’m not sure all the cooperation they were talking about is there. I’d have to say the stormwater agreement probably benefit everyone.”

Jane Rhodes, who also owns land on Fountain Creek, said there are still challenges ahead in dealing with Fountain Creek flooding.

“The first of the $50 million payments will come, and one of those projects is on my land,” Rhodes said. “I’m glad SDS is done so the projects can get started.”

From 9News.com (Maya Rodriquez):

Fifty million gallons: it’s the amount of water that will be flowing through a new water system every day.

It’s called the Southern Delivery System, or SDS. It is the largest water system built in the western U.S. so far in the 21st century.

The planning for it began 20 years ago. After nearly a billion dollars and more than 470 permits later, it’s now a reality in Colorado Springs.

“In the whole western United States, water is probably the most precious commodity that we have and all of us need to do what we can to steward water,” Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte said.

That is where the system comes in – it is designed to treat water efficiently, as more and more people move to southern Colorado.

“This is all the piping that goes put to the finished water tank to be delivered to the customer,” said Operations Superintendent Chad Sell. “One of the most state of the art facilities in Colorado.”

The system serves more than a half million people in Colorado Springs, parts of Pueblo and the communities of Fountain and Security. Within 50 years, though, 900,000 people are expected to get their water from SDS.

“I think the long-term vision that put this in place means we’re good for the next 50 years,” said Colorado Springs Utilities Board Chair Andy Pico. “We have water. Water in the West is critical.”

Even as they celebrate the opening of the SDS as it stands now, they’re already planning for a second phase that will eventually expand it to handle more water for more people.

Colorado Springs officials say the SDS project did not receive any state or federal dollars. The 830-million dollar project, which also came in more than $100 million under budget, is being funded through bonds and will be paid for by its water customers of today and the next 30 years.

From KRDO.com (Angelica Lombardi):

After more than 20 years of planning and construction, Colorado Springs Utilities dedicated the historic Southern Delivery System water project at the Edward W. Bailey water treatment plant Friday morning.

On April 28, history flowed out of this historic Southern Delivery System for the first time.

It took decades of planning and six years of construction and Friday morning the hard work was recognized.

“I’ve been involved in this project for 14-plus years. To see it complete with excellence and all the people who contributed. I was overwhelmed,” said Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities…

“It’s amazing for Colorado Springs and our partners. It means water for the future. We call Southern Delivery ‘water for generations’ and what that means is our children and grandchildren will be able to have water in Colorado Springs for 50, 60-plus years from now,” said Forte.

The water is pumped out of the Pueblo Reservoir and makes its way through 50 miles of pipeline going through three pump stations and ending at Colorado Springs…

It took more than 470 permits to finalize the project.

SDS Facts

  • The Water Treatment Plant has approximately 200 miles of electrical wires and cables, enough to stretch from the Water Treatment Plant site nearly to the International Space Station or the Pueblo Reservoir four times.
  • The Water Treatment Plant used enough rebar to fill 54, 50-foot rail cars or a train half-a-mile
  • If the concrete masonry blocks used in construction of the Water Treatment Plant were stacked, they would be four-and-a-half times taller than Pikes Peak.
  • The raw water tank at the Water Treatment Plant has a capacity of 10 million gallons, enough to fill 200,000 bathtubs.
  • 5,401 truckloads of pipe to SDS projects
  • Net tons of steel used for pipe furnished was 37,810.
  • From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    Some 400 to 500 people gathered at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant, 977 N. Marksheffel Road, Friday morning to dedicate the Southern Delivery System pipeline project.

    The project, 20 years in the making,d represents the service, safety, commitment and excellence brought to bear by hundreds, even thousands, of people, said Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte.

    He noted that the project adds another noteworthy item to Colorado Springs’ water history, which began in the late 1800s when city founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer built the El Paso County Canal from Fountain Creek on what is now 33rd Street, Forte said.

    SDS, he noted, will provide water for generations to come.

    SDS first appeared in the city’s water master plan in 1996 and was geared to supply water to the 20,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch, which had been annexed into the city in 1988. Only a fraction of that property is built out, but SDS now is viewed as a crucial component of the city’s existing system to ensure redundancy. Most of the city’s water comes from transmountain systems built in the 1950s and 1980s. SDS brings water from Pueblo Reservoir.

    Although Rep. Doug Lamborn heralded the project for not requiring federal money, the Pueblo Dam and reservoir project was part of the Frying Pan-Arkansas project built in the 1960s and 1970s by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, along with a special district that collected property tax money in the region. SDS, obviously, wouldn’t have been possible without that reservoir on the Arkansas River.

    City Council President Merv Bennett demonstrated the span of time needed to plan and build SDS by noting 11 Councils have played key roles in the project. He recognized El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, a former Council member, who he said laid the groundwork for relationships with Pueblo officials; former Mayor Lionel Rivera, who oversaw the project as both mayor and a Council member; Randy Thurston, former Pueblo City Council member; former Vice Mayor Larry Small, who now runs the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which grew from SDS negotiations; and Margaret Radford, former Council member who now works for an SDS contractor, MWH Global.

    CSU Chair Andy Pico boasted that the project was originally envisioned to cause water rates to increase by 121 percent, but it has required increases to rates of only 52 percent. The $825 million project came in $160 million under budget.

    Mayor John Suthers also spoke. His role might have been one of the most pivotal, because he sorted out a mess created by his predecessor, Steve Bach, in terms of the city’s stormwater situation, which had become a nearly insurmountable barrier to the project.

    First, Suthers had to deal with federal and state clean-water regulators who have accused the city of failing to comply with the Clean Water Act for years before Suthers took office in June 2015. Those negotiations are ongoing. Second, Suthers had to find a quick solution to stormwater improvements to satisfy Pueblo County commissioners, who threatened to reopen the city’s SDS construction permit. (Bach opposed a ballot measure in 2014 that would have funded stormwater work.)

    Suthers finessed a deal in which the city agreed to spend $460 million in the next 20 years to upgrade and maintain the city’s drainage facilities. Pueblo officials accepted the deal, clearing the way for water to begin flowing through the SDS pipeline in late April, as scheduled. (Bach was invited to, but did not attend, Friday’s SDS dedication.)

    Suthers said the city would have remained a tourist town of 20,000 but for its water resources. “Our future is bright, and we are poised for continued success,” he said.

    In a surprise development, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., showed up and lauded the city for the project. “It can’t be said enough how important water infrastructure is to the state of Colorado,” he said. “It’s our past. It’s our present, and it’s our future. It’s my hope this [project] can be replicated throughout Colorado, because water will continue to drive our success.”

    Others who spoke included CSU’s Chief Water Officer Dan Higgins, and the project director since 2007, attorney John Fredell, who became the face of SDS in the past decade through contracting, negotiations with neighbors, legal wrangling and interviews with the media. About 470 permits were required for the project.

    As Forte said, “We never would have reached this point today without one person,” that being Fredell.

    When Fredell stepped to the dais, he received a standing ovation from a crowd that included elected officials, contractors, project partners, officials from surrounding towns and Pueblo, Utilities employees and citizens.

    Fredell, in turn, thanked Forte for his “trust and vision and leading every step of the way.”

    After the speeches, the crowd was invited to open gift boxes at each chair which contained a commemorative coin and a little glass of SDS water, used to toast the project.

    All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water. Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.
    All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water. Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.

    To take a trip back in time through the Coyote Gulch history of the Southern Delivery Click here and click here.

    #ColoradoRiver: Reclamation Awards $17.8 Million Contract for Generator Rewinds and Excitation System Replacements for Wayne N. Aspinall Unit

    Aspinall Unit dams
    Aspinall Unit dams

    Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):

    The Bureau of Reclamation awarded Toshiba America Energy Systems of Colorado a $17.8 million contract on Friday, June 10, 2016, to overhaul two generators, install new stator cores and frames, and improve oil and air cooling systems for its Wayne N. Aspinall Unit. Additional work will include new digital excitation systems for Blue Mesa, Morrow Point and Crystal power plants near Montrose, Colorado.

    Work performed under this contract will replace update existing equipment to allow generation at full rated capacity and improve responsiveness to the dynamic demands of the electrical grid.

    Each of the Unit’s power plants and dams are used to generate hydroelectric power and control water flow in the Gunnison River. The Wayne N. Aspinall Unit has a combined generating capacity of 291,000 kW.

    Blue Mesa, Morrow Point and Crystal power plant and dams are part of Reclamation’s Wayne N. Aspinall Unit of the Colorado River Storage Project, which retains the waters of the Colorado River and its tributaries for agricultural and municipal use. The project furnishes the long-term regulatory storage needed to permit States in the upper basin to meet their flow obligation at Lees Ferry, Arizona, as defined in the Colorado River Compact and still use their apportioned water.

    Separate utilities board for #Colorado Springs?

    Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground
    Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    When you pay that bill to Colorado Springs Utilities each month, you might not realize that Colorado Springs owns the four-utility organization, and it’s run by the City Council, which also functions as the Utilities Board.

    Mayor John Suthers, Council President Merv Bennett and Colorado Springs Forward, a powerful nonprofit, want to see an appointed board take over governance of the $1 billion-a-year public entity.

    Most City Council members don’t. They want either an elected board or no change at all. So Suthers and Colorado Springs Forward are pushing for a compromise – a hybrid board, with a majority of appointed members plus a few elected ones.

    What’s the best model to govern Utilities? Through the City Council, as is done now, a different elected board, an appointed board or a combination of both? And if members will be appointed, who should appoint them?

    Current Utilities Board members could recommend a switch to any of those new models, but they don’t decide whether a change actually gets made. That will be up to voters, the ratepayers themselves, who are expected to see a ballot proposal in April.

    The hybrid board

    This model is widely regarded as dysfunctional, and the Utilities Board voted unanimously May 25 to reject it as an option.

    “The hybrid governance model is rare, for good reason,” said Jeff Tarbert, consulting facilitator for the Utilities Board’s governance review. “Any model that has the consequence of creating unintended factions or creates confusion concerning where a board’s ultimate fiduciary duty lies makes effective governance more difficult.”

    Bennett said, “All the research we’ve done, in every instance, it (the hybrid model) created dysfunction. I could accept either (appointed or elected); I much prefer an appointed board.”

    Board member Keith King said he sat on the Colorado League of Charter Schools’ hybrid board for 14 years and watched as fighting factions formed.

    “In the end, it was a non-functioning board. A hybrid does not work well because people who are elected then are appointing people to the board. It makes for conflicts,” King said.

    The league structure was changed four years ago. Now all its members are elected, King said.

    Colorado Springs Forward leaders said in a statement to The Gazette they prefer the elected model: “While we see many advantages to the all-appointed option . we believe the hybrid of appointed and elected is the better alternative .”

    The status quo

    Some Utilities Board members believe they’re doing a fine job in that role even while serving on the City Council.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said City Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler.

    “They say they want people who would focus exclusively on Utilities. Tell me who that is. Give me a name. Those who are qualified are probably CEOs of other companies, and I don’t think they’re going to have any more time than I do.”

    That’s a reversal from Gaebler’s position six months ago, when she said serving Utilities and its committees took too much time. “I don’t think it’s fair to ask that much of a council that has a whole other role at $6,250 a year,” she said then.

    Gaebler’s previous viewpoint resonates with some of her colleagues. As council members, they have their hands full working on marijuana regulatory reforms, a new strategic plan, a review of the City Code and myriad landslide, land swap, planning, rezoning and other issues.

    The time crunch has become intense for a council facing contentious issues in a city of nearly a half million people while also supervising Utilities in the increasingly complex energy and water arena.

    But Gaebler and others say they can oversee Utilities if they’re given better resources.

    “The longer I look at it, the more I’m inclined to leave it with the City Council,” King said. “I’m not sure we’d be getting higher-qualified people running Utilities than what we’re already doing. If the council could have staff, the ability to do research, the ability to really govern . I think we would be able to govern it well.”

    Board member Bill Murray pointed to a J.D. Powers study that ranked Utilities No. 2 in the West among mid-size utilities for customer satisfaction as proof that ratepayers have no issue with Utilities’ governance.

    “In this particular case, the name of the game is control of the Utilities,” Murray said. “The mayor needs to control Utilities because he needs the money.”

    But while some board members say they provide good accountability for Utilities, critics say City Council members lack scientific knowledge to run the enterprise effectively.

    “This board – being elected and being politicians – they’re so easily swayed,” said Jacquie Ostrom, who served on Utilities’ Customer Advisory Group last year to help develop its Electric Integrated Resource Plan. “CSU works so hard to schmooze them and be their friend. We need to gain information and knowledge outside of CSU. . There’s just no way these politicians can bring the kind of expertise we need.”

    “In the past,” said board member Don Knight, “we’ve had board members who won’t believe a single word the staff tells them, and we’ve had board members who will never question the board. Whether appointed or elected, we need a board that will know when you have to dig deep and question, when something doesn’t seem right on the surface or is an incomplete solution.”

    Environmental activist John Crandall said competency is an issue, citing a previous City Council’s decision in 2011 to sign a $111.8 million contract for unproven coal-plant scrubber technology without putting the project out to bid.

    “My emphasis is on competency,” said Crandall. “That’s what I want to see on the board, and we’ve never had that. It’s a hell of a job.”

    Monument attorney Leslie Weise, a clean-air advocate, said City Council candidates aren’t asked about their qualifications to serve on the Utilities Board.

    “It’s almost an afterthought that you have this extra duty to run a $1 billion business that’s highly technical, regulated and complex,” Weise said. “From what I’ve observed, it’s not functioning.”

    Some ratepayers favor a governing board of experts in air quality, water quality, medical effects of air pollution and other specialties. That’s not the plan, though. Current members want a board of management experts, such as CEOs with business backgrounds.

    The appointed board

    A random check of municipal utilities about the size of the local department shows all have unpaid, appointed boards.

    “I come from a nonprofit environment, where all our boards are appointed,” Bennett said. “Personally, I think we can get better talent through an appointed board.”

    Said Suthers: “Utilities is getting more and more complex – the role of renewables, when to terminate coal-fired power. I would like to bring more expertise to the table. I would love to feel more comfortable with the Neumann Systems (scrubbers). You don’t get that kind of expertise in an elected board.”

    Lincoln Electric System in Nebraska has nine board members representing the utility’s service area. The City Council can recommend nominees, who are chosen by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

    The Knoxville (Tenn.) Utilities Board of seven commissioners nominates its own replacements, who then are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council. The board also appoints a president and CEO.

    The public utility in Tacoma, Wash., has a five-member board appointed by the City Council.

    The five-member board for the Orlando, Fla., utility consists of the mayor, three Orlando residents and one from unincorporated Orange County.

    Orlando has a nominating board that vets candidates for appointments. When a seat opens, a few nominees are selected, and the sitting utilities board interviews them and chooses one.

    And the five-member utility board for Chattanooga, Tenn., is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.

    But even if the Colorado Springs City Council appointed the Utilities Board, most current members don’t favor that model.

    “I have not seen any appointments, whether by the mayor or fellow council members, that have not been approved for confirmation,” Knight said. “I don’t think we do a really good job of a complete vetting and getting the people’s input on it. The other concern I have, I’ve also seen nobody (appointed) ever get dismissed.

    “If I buy stock in any company, and I don’t like what the board of directors is doing, I can sell my stock. I can’t do that as a CSU ratepayer. The ultimate accountability is to the ratepayers, and those are the voters. When you’re appointed, you’re also beholden to the person who appointed you.”

    A new elected board

    Like Knight, most other current Utilities Board members say if any change is made, it should be to a separate elected board.

    Murray said he’d be willing to turn Utilities governance over to an elected board. “But that would be the only way I’d do it. . We’re very concerned about the appointment process because, historically, the mayor appoints, and you’ve never even seen who applied.”

    Utilities Board Chairman Andres Pico, who initially balked at the idea of shedding board responsibilities, now says he’s willing to consider that change, but only to an elected board, which ratepayers overwhelmingly preferred in a recent survey by Utilities.

    “With a company, the stockholders pick the board the majority of the time, and the board answers to the stockholders,” Pico said. “And that’s the same here: The citizens are the stockholders. I adamantly think an elected board is the way to go.”

    Colorado Springs Forward, whose PAC endorses and donates money to candidates, said it can’t support an all-elected board because that would set up “a situation where election politics and special-interest agendas will dominate the election process, creating a highly politicized board.”

    The Utilities Board expects to decide in July whether to recommend a change and, if so, what change or changes.

    Whether appointed or elected, Bennett said, a change is needed. “We need a City Council who gives 100 percent attention to the city and a Utilities board who gives 100 percent attention to Utilities.”

    “We’ve got a lot of capable people here in the city, and I think we can find the folks who can do the job,” said Councilman Larry Bagley, who is leaning in favor of an appointed board. “I don’t have any qualms about it being a separate board or different people doing it. I think it’ll work.”

    Has the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill groundwater reached Pueblo Reservoir?

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas and Tracy Harmon):

    Pueblo County Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen is calling for sediment testing along the Arkansas River and at the bottom of Lake Pueblo to see if there is possible contamination from the now-closed Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill in Fremont County.

    McFadyen said Tuesday during a press conference that she is concerned about the impact the possible “growing uranium and molybdenum plumes could have on Pueblo County.”

    However, state health officials say the concerns are unfounded. But McFadyen remains concerned.

    “This has been going on for 40 years and we can see that the situation is not getting any better and it’s time for us downstream from Canon City to take a stand,” McFadyen said, referring to the ongoing battle over the Cotter Mill cleanup.

    Jeri Fry, director of the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste Inc., shared the history of the Cotter controversy and presented maps from a 1987-89 study sowing ground uranium and molybdenum plumes that stretch from the Cotter Superfund site toward the Arkansas River.

    “It’s likely that the molybdenum and the uranium plumes have grown since then. We just want answers,” McFadyen said. “And if the Arkansas isn’t contaminated, then that’s a very positive finding . . . We don’t find what we don’t look for.”

    However, the concerns are unfounded, according to Colorado Department of Public Health Public Information Officer Warren Smith and Cotter Corp. Mill Manager Steve Cohen. They agree that Arkansas River water is not impacted by contamination from the Cotter mill.

    “The Arkansas River is sampled routinely and the results have been showing that the river water quality has not been impacted,” Smith said.

    “We constantly collect samples and data every quarter and there is no evidence that Cotter has impacted the Arkansas River.”

    Both state and federal health officials study the data and “nobody has ever found anything to suggest that,” said Cohen.

    “I am personally disgusted that the Pueblo County commissioners would have a meeting about this and not invite us to speak on the topic,” Cohen said.

    And Jennifer Opila, Colorado Department of Public Health site director, said:

    “I understand that the sediment has not been sampled (since 2004), but without impact on the water quality, there is no information that would lead us to believe the sediment would be contaminated. There is no contamination of the Arkansas River near the Cotter site, so Pueblo Reservoir would not be impacted.”

    “This issue and all other potential issues will be looked at as part of the remedial investigation as we work toward final cleanup,” she said.

    McFadyen said she is aware of water testing, but is calling for sediment testing and if it is positive, “Cotter should pay to treat it.”

    McFadyen said in 1986, the USGS suggested on behalf of the federal government that sediment and not only the water be tested in the Pueblo reservoir.

    “With the plume growing toward the Arkansas River, it’s time. It’s time to take action,” McFadyen said.

    She said the possible contamination also could affect Colorado Springs because of the Southern Delivery System, which pipes water from Lake Pueblo up to that community.

    State health officials overseeing the Cotter Corp. mill have not felt the study of Minnequa and Pueblo reservoir water quality pertinent since 2004.

    “A 2004 review of water quality of the (Minnequa and Pueblo) reservoirs as well as the Arkansas River and associated drainages concluded that they are not impacted by the mill contaminants,” Smith said.

    Part of the reason that the downstream reservoirs have not been tested since 2004 is due to the absence of high levels of radium-226, thoium-230, molybdenum and nickel in bodies of water much closer to the mill.

    “Sediment sampling in Sand Creek (just north of the mill site), the Arkansas River and the Fremont Ditch indicate that constituents of concern are similar to (natural) background data. These locations are closer to the mill than the Pueblo reservoir and the Minnequa Reservoir,” the state health review concluded.

    While the legacy contamination is still present in Lincoln Park groundwater plume (though declining), remedial measures have been effective in preventing public exposure to the Lincoln Park plume. A 2008 water use survey concluded that only one Lincoln Park water well exceeded a drinking water standard for contamination.

    The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry draft public health assessment in 2010, conducted at the request of Colorado Citizen’s Against Toxic Waste, found that Cotter contamination did not present a current threat to human health or the environment, according to state health documentation.

    “We need to understand all of the materials and how they are moving through the groundwater and how after these 30-40 years they have reached the river and if they are moving on downstream,” Fry said.

    “That is a terrible trick to play on our neighbors. When you see a barn burning, do you go tell the authorities or do you just turn your head? And I am telling the authorities. Let’s all band together and get this tested.”

    More From KOAA.com (Lena Howland):

    “This site is leaking into the neighboring community and it has contaminated the wells and it is a slow moving problem and because of that, people aren’t aware of it,” Fry said.

    Fry is calling for more testing of water near the site and they’re looking for help from the community.

    “Until we know where it is, we can’t realistically, effectively clean it up,” she said.

    She fears the waste may have spread downstream through the Arkansas River and to the Pueblo Reservoir, which has caught the attention of Pueblo County Commissioner Buffie McFadyen.

    “I do believe it’s time for Pueblo to get involved and work with the citizens of Fremont County to not only demand a remediation plan that’s realistic to cleanup the site, but also to demand testing along the Arkansas in the sediment and in Pueblo Reservoir,” she said.

    McFadyen, now also demanding more testing of the sediment specifically.

    And the possibility of tainted water is unsettling to some locals in Pueblo.

    “This water comes from the same area, I imagine it passes through, so it’s picking up stuff definitely,” Patricia Hitchcock, a Pueblo resident said.

    While others say, this isn’t anything to worry about just yet.

    “I think there’s always a little bit of concern about stuff in the water, it wouldn’t keep me out unless it was really serious, but a little bit of concern. In 10 years, I haven’t gotten sick once from the water,” Daniel Rottinghaus, a Pueblo kayaker said.

    Cotter officials tell News5 these claims of contamination in the Arkansas River are simply not true and that they routinely test the water and sediment.

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    Tuesday morning, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste gave a presentation to commissioners about their suspicions that the toxic substances have leaked into Pueblo Reservoir.

    Why should we in Colorado Springs care? Because one source of water for Colorado Springs and Fountain is the Pueblo Reservoir, via the Fountain Valley Authority line and the Southern Delivery System pipeline.

    Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen is, Pueblo County Commissioner is overseeing efforts to learn more about the situation.

    Here’s a community newsletter about the issue.

    And here’s a presentation made today by the citizen group.