Fountain Creek: ‘What’s the point of having this district?’ — Jay Winner


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Fountain Creek district board is weighted 5-4 in favor of El Paso County, its attorney also represents El Paso County, its manager is a former Colorado Springs City Council member and now El Paso County has claimed some of the land use authority granted to the district by the state Legislature.

“El Paso County has been disingenuous to the other intergovernmental agreement partners on Fountain Creek,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “It seems to me we are outnumbered. They’ve taken control of 80 percent of the watershed this district was supposed to address. What’s the point of having this district?”

The district was formed in 2009 after nearly three years of meetings of a Vision Task Force sparked by flooding in 1999, and a flurry of lawsuits over spills of raw sewage by Colorado Springs Utilities into Fountain Creek.

But Colorado Springs yanked the rug out from under Pueblo County and the Lower Ark district when it abolished its stormwater enterprise in late 2009, and Winner has become distrustful of anything happening north of the county line.

“What’s going to go away next?” Winner asked.

At a meeting last week, there were a few sharp exchanges between Winner, District Executive Director Larry Small and attorney Cole Emmons, who is on loan from El Paso County.

After the meeting, Winner said the Fountain Creek district board had no notice that El Paso County was claiming some of its authority.

Dennis Hisey, chairman of the El Paso County commission, said Emmons notified Small of the land use changes. Aside from that, he said the district’s board, made up of elected representatives and citizens from both counties, did not discuss the new land-use rules until a retreat last month, after the changes had occurred.

But Hisey believes the board is working together in good faith.

“For Jay to say that we’ve wrested power, that’s a stretch,” Hisey said. “I’m not so sure the district wasn’t asserting more authority than it actually has.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

New regulations in El Paso County erode the authority of a district that was formed in 2009 to protect Fountain Creek.

“I believe El Paso County has wrested authority from Pueblo County and the Lower Ark district,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “Does it put the Fountain Creek district in a position where it has to go through the 1041 process if it wants to do a project?”

El Paso County has adopted regulations under 1974’s HB1041 that gives counties authority over projects of statewide impact. The regulations were used in 2009 by Pueblo County to obtain conditions for the construction of Southern Delivery System.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District was created by the state Legislature in 2009, and given land-use authority over the Fountain Creek flood plain from Fountain to Pueblo.

But in the new 1041 regulations, El Paso County is claiming control over utility projects, including SDS, that are built anywhere in the county, including the Fountain Creek flood plain.

“It changes the district’s authority on the aspect location of utilities,” said Dennis Hisey, chairman of the El Paso County commissioners, who also sits on the Fountain Creek board.

In the past, the Fountain Creek district has made decisions on everything from gas plants to gravel pits to motorcycle parks. It still would have authority on any nonutility projects.

But there could be a gray area on the district’s own projects.

“I’m not sure this discussion is over yet,” Hisey said, adding that he still is in discussion with attorneys for El Paso County. “Speaking as a Fountain Creek board member who has been there from the beginning, it doesn’t seem quite right.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Commissioner Terry Hart doesn’t think Pueblo County is getting steamrolled by El Paso County in its dealings on Fountain Creek.

In particular, he believes there are sufficient safeguards in the legislation that set up the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

“There is a requirement for supermajority (seven of nine members) approval that hasn’t been tested,” said Hart, who represents Pueblo County on the Fountain Creek board. “My No. 1 mission is to make sure Pueblo County is protected.”

That said, he doesn’t think it should come down to a test of wills. Pueblo can gain more by cooperation rather than continued fighting, he said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A new foundation is vying for the attention of the district formed to fix Fountain Creek.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity for people to come back to the creek,” said Gary Barber, representing the Fountain Creek Watershed Greenway Fund.

The foundation would be the second devoted to helping the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District get private support to implement Fountain Creek improvement projects. So far it has raised about $15,000, Barber said.

The Fountain Creek Foundation, headed by David Struthers of Denver, has been active in community education through activities and video production; identifying projects that would benefit Pueblo’s East Side; and in promoting a wildlife viewing project near Pinon that is included in the Fountain Creek corridor master plan.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Greenway Fund is taking a different approach, connecting the Colorado Springs business community with youth.

“We’re still about the whole watershed,” Barber said. “But we’ve decided it’s time to get people on our end of the watershed engaged.”

Barber, a Colorado Springs realtor and water consultant, chairs the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. He was the first interim executive director of the Fountain Creek district and helped write the legislation that formed the district.

Part of the concept for the district is patterned after the Denver Urban Drainage and Flood Control District’s relationship to the Greenway Foundation, which have worked hand-in-hand to improve the South Platte River and Cherry Creek since the 1965 flood.

After hearing Barber’s presentation Friday, some members of the Fountain Creek board recalled the Fountain Creek Foundation, which has not been in contact with the district recently.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

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