Fountain Creek: “If the mayor would have gotten behind this, it would have passed” — Jeff Chostner

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Funding for flood control projects on Fountain Creek that protect Pueblo has been jeopardized by last week’s rejection of a drainage district in El Paso County.

That’s the opinion of District Attorney Jeff Chostner, who worked diligently to advance funding opportunity for the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District while he was a Pueblo County commissioner.

“I had talked about the best way to get flood control passed would be to have a vote of the entire district (Pueblo and El Paso counties),” said Chostner. “Combined with Pueblo County, there would have been enough support.”

The Fountain Creek District is authorized by state law to collect up to a 5-mill tax, and the district’s board was seriously discussing how and when to approach voters. The district also had looked at forming a subdistrict within just the Fountain Creek watershed and charging a fee.

In June 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed more than 18,000 acres and 347 homes. It also left behind ground baked hard as concrete, worsening the potential for floods.

That shifted the focus of public officials, who had already formed a stormwater task force, to looking at flood control projects to protect Colorado Springs and away from the obligation to protect Pueblo from increased development on Fountain Creek, Chostner said.

“As a former county commissioner, I’m disappointed that the stormwater measure did not pass. We counted on the goodwill of voters, and it failed,” Chostner said.

“I am looking to see if there’s a way the district attorney’s office can work with the Pueblo County commissioners and their attorneys.”

It would not be the first time the DA has gotten involved. Chostner’s predecessor, Bill Thiebaut, challenged Colorado Springs in federal and district courts on the issues of sanitary sewer spills and water quality. Chostner inherited and pursued the water quality case.

“I kept trying to expand it to Pueblo County,” Chostner said of his last year on the Fountain Creek board, where he served as chairman.

The downside of trying to sell the vote in Pueblo County would have been the perception that Pueblo would be paying to fix Fountain Creek problems mainly caused by rampant growth in El Paso County.

“I don’t blame El Paso County for concentrating on Waldo Canyon.

They chose to look inward, and this should have been a two-county vote,” Chostner. “I think people would understand these are problems we all share.”

Chostner puts a lot of the blame on Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, who campaigned against the drainage district. Bach acknowledges Colorado Springs needs to do something about stormwater, but has tried to bundle it with other capital needs. Bach also wants Colorado Springs to take care of its own needs, rather than join in the regional effort promoted by the stormwater task force.

That grates at Chostner, who as a commissioner told the Colorado Springs City Council it had a “legal and moral obligation” to fund stormwater.

Bach was sitting just a few feet away and kept silent at that meeting.

“If the mayor would have gotten behind this, it would have passed,” Chostner said. “Now, Colorado Springs is the only major Front Range community without a source for stormwater funding. There’s no political courage in El Paso County.”

So when would be the best time for another vote?

“It should be at the earliest feasible time,” Chostner said.

More stormwater coverage here.

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