Southern Delivery System: “Stormwater is a terrific concern in Pueblo” — Nick Gradisar

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo water board members [Tuesday, December 16] made it clear to Colorado Springs Utilities that they expect full compliance with all permits for the Southern Delivery System.

SDS Project Director John Fredell made it clear that Utilities has been spending millions to make sure that happens.

After Fredell’s update of progress on the SDS pipeline, water board members had a couple of pointed questions about the details.

“Stormwater is a terrific concern in Pueblo,” said board member Nick Gradisar. “What I hear in the community is that Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in place when the 1041 permit was granted. I would think county commissioners would say there should be at least the same amount of money before SDS is allowed to be turned on.”

Gradisar said he and City Council member Dennis Flores are among those discussing Pueblo community options following the failure of a vote in November to establish a drainage district.

Fredell agreed stormwater funding is needed, not only to satisfy Pueblo, but to benefit Colorado Springs. That said, he also pointed out that both Pueblo County and Utilities knew the enterprise could be threatened by voters during SDS negotiations.

“In 2008, Doug Bruce took his first run at the stormwater enterprise,” Fredell said. “We could not control the vote.”

So, the negotiations for the 1041 permit focused on achieving standards for new development that would not exacerbate flood conditions, Fredell said.

“It doesn’t matter how you do it, you just have to do it,” he added.

Water board member Tom Autobee expressed concern that Lake Pueblo will drop 6 feet when SDS reaches its full capacity.

Fredell said that would not be for many years. During its first year, probably starting in 2016, SDS will pump about 5 million gallons per day. At full tilt, it would pump 78 million gallons per day.

Fredell walked the board through a laundry list of multimillion dollar commitments and benefits to Pueblo County, Fountain Creek, Lake Pueblo and the Arkansas River that Colorado Springs is paying for as a result of SDS.

They total $400 million.

Included in the list are $150 million toward wastewater system improvements since 2000 to prevent sewer lines from breaking as they cross drainages. Colorado Springs had numerous breaks in its sewer system after the 1999 flood and faced state and federal fines. There have not been any breaks for several years.

Utilities has spent $37.5 million in additional sewer line fortification toward meeting a $75 million commitment to fortify more sewer lines by 2024.

Colorado Springs also is partially funding and providing technical support for a study of water rights protection if flood-control structures are built on Fountain Creek, Fredell said.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs Utilities is appealing a judge’s ruling that would compensate the Walker Ranches with $500,000 for mitigation along the pipeline route. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The city of Colorado Springs is appealing a decision by Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes that would require it to pay Pueblo County rancher Gary Walker more than $500,000 in costs in a legal dispute over value of the Southern Delivery System easement across Walker Ranches.

Reyes issued an order last week that Colorado Springs pay costs of $387,000 dating back to May 2011, plus 8 percent annual interest.

Reyes on Thursday issued another order saying the first order is binding because Colorado Springs signed an intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County that it would cover Walker’s costs.

A condition in the 1041 permit for the SDS pipeline tates: “Private property owners shall be treated fairly by (Colorado Springs) and the SDS project shall not create undue financial burdens on existing or future residents of Pueblo County. No landowner should have out-of-pocket expenses from the project.”

Reyes went on to cite Colorado Springs’ actions in paying for second appraisals for some Pueblo West homeowners affected by the pipeline showed that the 1041 permit is binding.

Walker’s attorneys asked for the payment because a condemnation trial on the value of the 5.5-mile SDS easement has been continued several times. The trial was supposed to begin in November, but has been pushed back to April.

According to court documents, Walker’s attorneys intend to prove at trial that the value of the 97 acres involved in the easement and the damage to the rest of Walker Ranches amounts to $25 million.

Colorado Springs appraisers valued the property at less than $100,000.

“By the time of trial, this case will have been pending for approximately four years. Given the extended duration of this case, and considering that the sheer size and scope of the taking has required numerous experts, Walker Ranches requests reimbursement for its reasonable costs incurred through September 2014,” Walker Ranch’s motion for costs says.

“Granting Walker Ranches its reasonable costs now would prevent (Colorado Springs) from gaining an unfair advantage through the granting of the trial continuance. (Colorado Springs) should not be allowed to bleed Walker Ranches dry by dragging this case out even further.”

In a petition filed Wednesday with the Colorado Supreme Court, Colorado Springs argued that the payment of costs was ordered without a hearing or specific findings. Interest was included for years before any actual costs were incurred, the appeal said. It also argues that court costs can’t be granted before a trial has started.

“(Reyes’) order has ignored the controlling law on costs in at least five substantial areas, and this court should protect the citizens and ratepayers of Colorado Springs from paying $509,713.52 based on such an exceptional and unjustified order,” the appeal stated.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.

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