Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities plans to file appeal of Judge Victor Reyes’ decision about water quality permit


From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chaćon):

While the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment evaluates its next move, Colorado Springs Utilities said Tuesday it plans to appeal the ruling. “Construction is proceeding,” SDS spokeswoman Janet Rummel said…

The court ruling came after a request for a judicial review from Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition. Thiebaut argued that SDS will lead to potentially damaging water flows back to Pueblo, worsening “the existing flooding and contamination in Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.” Thiebaut has a long history of opposing SDS, and during the permitting process, the labor coalition tried unsuccessfully to get Utilities to promise to use union labor for the construction of SDS…

Rummel said the 401 certification was meant to assure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the SDS project would follow all applicable state water quality regulations and procedures. The certification was a condition of the 404 permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers for SDS. That permit is required under the U.S. Clean Water Act because the project will have permanent and temporary impacts on jurisdictional wetlands.

Thiebaut told the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper this week that Utilities doesn’t have a valid permit for SDS. “In order for the SDS system to proceed, the owners need to obtain one from the state,” Thiebaut told the newspaper. “Approval of a new 401 certification will require a comment period and opportunity for appeal. In the alternative, the defendants can appeal to a higher court. We are prepared either way.”[…]

Rummel said the judge’s ruling means that if the appeal is unsuccessful, the state may be required to do additional water quality evaluation. “That may result in additional mitigation for the project. That is what we believe the worst case scenario to be,” she said.

More coverage from John Hazelhurst writing for the Colorado Springs Independent. From the article:

…thanks to SDS, we’ll have more water than we’ll ever need. Our future is assured: Our urban forest won’t die, we can keep our lawns green, and sustain ourselves indefinitely … right?

Not quite. Even with some surprising decreases to cost projections, SDS will still run about $1.6 billion total, and has already affected our water rates. To help mitigate costs, Utilities would like to make “temporary” deals with users outside the city.

That’s nuts. Doing so will just enable sprawl, further hollow out our tax base, and put us at risk in the years to come. Temporary deals have a way of becoming permanent. It’s best not to make such deals, and use the water to fuel our infill growth.

More coverage from Pam Zubeck writing for the Colorado Springs Independent. From the article:

Instead of a 120 percent increase [ed. in Colorado Springs water rates] between 2011 and 2017, the hike could be less than half that under a new rate forecast being drafted. The change stems in part from the recession creating more competition among contractors — thus, lower construction costs. But the biggest reason is lower interest rates, which could save $700 million from previous estimates. While officials won’t release new projections until the May 16 Utilities Board meeting, chief financial officer Bill Cherrier says, “What I can tell you is, we probably lopped off several years of rate increases. That would be four years of 12 percent increases, instead of six or seven. Even the ones we need, we believe, will be less than 12 percent. Once we get up to a certain level of rates, we’re likely to see virtually no water increases for quite some time.”[…]

Cherrier says the city will issue more debt for SDS in August, and in 2013 and 2014 to finish Phase 1 funding for the pipeline, construction of three pump stations and a water treatment plant, which continues even as the city spars with opponents over a water quality permit.

In 2010, City Council raised rates by 12 percent for 2011 and 2012. Under the initial plan, the typical residential customer’s average monthly bill would have leaped by 120 percent, from $37 in 2010 to $82 in 2017. If the last three years of 12 percent rate hikes aren’t imposed, the typical increase would be 57 percent, to $58.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

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