#Colorado Springs “vote yes” on stormwater ballot issue folks gearing up for campaign

Heavy rains inundate Sand Creek. Photo via the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Independent.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The Nov. 6 election will be the fourth time voters have been asked to provide longterm funding for stormwater, the other failed attempts coming twice in 2001 and the regional effort in 2014 that went down 47 percent to 53 percent. (Voters in April did allow the city to keep up to $12 million in one-time excess revenue from 2016 and 2017 for stormwater.)

But now, the city faces a lawsuit alleging violations of the Clean Water Act filed by the Environmental Protection Agency and state water quality regulators, stemming from the city’s neglect of its stormwater system and waivers the city gave to developers to sidestep building drainage facilities. Suthers says passage of a stormwater fee, which would raise $17 million a year from residents and property owners, would help the city avoid costly fines from the lawsuit, though some city councilors disagree.

Most of the money to be raised by Invest in COS, the “vote yes” committee, will come from business people and construction contractors, says Rachel Beck, government affairs manager with the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC. “They understand the link between reliable infrastructure and their ability to do business and economic health,” she says. The monthly stormwater fee for commercial property owners would be $30 an acre.

Having hired consultant Clear Creek Strategies of Denver, the committee will use mailers, TV and radio, but so far doesn’t have a slogan for the measure, dubbed 2A on the ballot, Beck says.

Suthers interprets a pre-campaign poll that showed the issue passing comfortably as the community seeing stormwater as a priority, he says. “It also indicates the public has confidence in the city’s leadership and hopefully that will result in greater support.”

Laura Carno, a conservative political operative who lives in Monument and opposed the city’s 2C roads tax measure in 2015, might sit this one out, she says, adding she knows of no organized effort to defeat the fee.

[Douglas Bruce], though, is putting together a “true grassroots organization,” though he himself cannot vote, because he remains on probation for a felony tax-evasion conviction that is under appeal.

Bruce also plans to write a statement against the measure, though the city is not required to mail Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights notices to voters, since those are required only for tax hikes, not fee questions.

Bruce says he’ll target the flat rate in his campaign, noting, “The idea that Suthers’s campaign donors who live in mansions in the Broadmoor [area] don’t have to pay any more than grandma in her trailer, that’s an abomination.”

Notably, the city’s now-defunct stormwater fee charged fees based on impervious surface, meaning those that contributed most to the runoff problem, such as owners of large homes and businesses and parking lots, paid more. The city’s Stormwater Enterprise was shut down in 2011, after fees were suspended in late 2009 as a result of a ballot measure Bruce wrote that called for ending “the rain tax.”

Denver councillors move Platte to Park Hill project forward

Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin)
Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin).

From The Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

The vote [August 14, 2017 was 10-3, with councilmembers Rafael Espinoza, Paul Kashmann and Debbie Ortega the three “no” votes.

The project aims to reduce the potential for flooding in Denver’s northern neighborhoods, from Globeville, Elyria and Swansea to northwestern Park Hill. The projects are designed to capture and funnel the water from the neighborhoods to the South Platte River.

But critics of the interconnected projects say their sole purpose is to aid the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) $1.2 billion initiative to expand I-70 on Denver’s northern flank.

CDOT officials have said the I-70 project, which includes ripping out a 50-year-old viaduct and adding a tolled express lane to each direction of the highway between I-25 and Chambers Road, has its own set of flood-mitigation elements. Those elements will be built, but might be reduced in size due to Denver’s projects, according to the agency.

Critics of the I-70 project, including those who have filed lawsuits, say halting the project may force the state to shift the highway’s route further to the north. CDOT said it looked at what’s called the “reroute option” and found it would cost more than $3 billion, farm more than the Central 70 project, and clog the surface streets of north Denver with traffic.

Kashmann, one of the no votes, said he believes Denver’s drainage project and CDOT’s I-70 project “are tightly interwoven, and the city is far more than an interested party.”

Kashman said he believes CDOT is saving money on the Central 70 project by having the city do the Platte to Park Hill project.

Espinoza said the project helps CDOT while harming City Park Golf Course, which will be redesigned with a larger detention pond on the west side as part of the Platte to Park Hill effort.

“If you vote for this, you’re saying to vote for the priorities of CDOT over this asset [City Park Golf Course],” he said.

But halting the Platte to Park Hill project won’t halt the Central 70 project, Councilman Paul López said.

Nor would a “no” vote lead CDOT to decide to reroute I-70 traffic onto other highways further north, he said.

“If you vote no on this, it won’t bring back the reroute [option],” López said.

Nor would a no vote eliminate the risk of flooding in the neighborhoods, Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman noted.

Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore said the project’s planned redesign of the City Parks Golf Course will bring native landscaping to the course. The councilwoman is the target of an ethics complaint, over her vote on Aug. 7 in favor of the contracts, due to her marriage to a city parks official…

City Park Golf Course, as it exists today, is “a human-created, overwatered ecosystem” devoted to non-native turf grass, Gilmore said.

After the project “the landscape will be more sustainable, with wetland areas to help filter stormwater runoff and contaminants in the water. We’ll improve on the non-native environment,” Gilmore said.

Councilman Wayne New said he appreciated the project’s flood mitigation efforts — but, “putting on his golfer’s hat” — said the improvements to the golf course also are important.

“City Park Golf Course needs to be improved,” New said. “It has beautiful views of our city, but it can be something that is notable. It’s a good public golf course, but it can be more.”

The city contracts approved Monday were:

  • A three-year, $6 million, on-call program management contract between the city and Parsons Transportation Group to design and build drainage improvements at the City Park Golf Course and in Park Hill at 39th Avenue.
  • A $7.6 million, one-year contract with Flatiron Constructors Inc to install a 84-inch storm drainage pipe and 24-inch sanitary pipe from 48th Avenue and Dahlia Street to approximately 360 feet north of Smith Road and Dahlia Street.
  • A $44.99 million, three-year contract with Saunders Construction LLC to design and build improvements to the City Park Golf Course.
  • Update: Big Thompson restoration project

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    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    This stretch of the Big Thompson River, from the Jasper Lake bridge to just before the Cherry Cider Store, was scoured and severely changed during the 2013 floods. It was left too wide and entrenched, with vegetation ripped away from the banks.

    The new face of the river has a narrower channel with more areas along the banks for waters to disperse in the event of another flood.

    It has large boulders specifically placed to control the flow of the water and to create pools for fish habitat.

    There are large trees that extend from under the banks into the river, stabilizing the bank, preventing erosion and creating habitat.

    And trees, forbes and shrubs were strategically planted, again to stabilize the banks, prevent erosion and create shade and habitat.

    “We’ve really made it look like a river again,” said Shayna Jones, watershed coordinator with the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition.

    The goal was to mix several different restoration techniques — the planting, the rocks, the tree trunks — to improve the river while keeping it natural, which from the look of the river is mission accomplished.

    “It’s a really good mix of types of restoration,” added Jones.

    Even the planting is mixed for diversity and meticulously planned out. The project team chose all native vegetation and placed different shrubs, trees, forbes and grasses in different zones along the banks. The willows, live stands transplanted from the river corridor nearby, are close to and in some spots in the water, while pine trees are further away up the shore.

    The trees and shrubs are planted in clumps to mirror nature, not in neat rows as a gardener would do.

    Much of the vegetation was transplanted from the natural surroundings, while other plants were specifically grown by the Colorado State Forest Service for river restoration.

    This project is among five already completed by the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition and its partners, which have more planned this year in the Big Thompson as do other entities like the city of Loveland and Colorado Department of Transportation.

    The recently completed work, called the Jasper Lake project, spans a half mile of the river on both the north and south sides of the highway and crosses private, Larimer County and U.S. Forest Service land.

    It cost $800,000 with the money coming from a mixture of federal, state and private sources, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Department of Local Affairs, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Rocky Mountain Flycasters and the Trout and Salmon Foundation.

    Though the river project abuts Narrows Park, that piece of public land has not yet been restored. Owned by Larimer County, that park will serve as the site of a temporary bridge crossing the river while the county replaces the Jasper Lake Bridge this fall, so restoration is planned by the county after that bridge project, according to officials involved with the restoration project.

    The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition worked with contractors and several partners, including private landowners, on this project. Walsh said one of the greatest parts was to meet the people, to listen about the river’s past and to explain the new, healthier river that was being created.

    @EPAScottPruitt tours the #GoldKingMine

    On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
    Eric Baker

    From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

    Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt says his agency “walked away” from Colorado after the Gold King Mine spill under the Obama administration, vowing Friday to make a federal cleanup of the Gold King and other abandoned mines around Silverton a priority…

    Pruitt visited the site Friday with a delegation of Colorado’s top politicians on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the EPA-triggered disaster. He said that he planned to meet with private citizens impacted by the spill, as well as local leaders, to get first-hand information on his agency’s response.

    “I’ve already sent out a letter to all the claimants who have filed claims asking them to resubmit,” Pruitt told The Denver Post in a phone interview ahead of his visit to the Gold King. “Some of those folks I’m sure I’ll meet today, and I’m looking forward to speaking with them directly. Farmers and ranchers, business owners, the recreational activities that occur on the Animas River — all were impacted, and from my perspective it was a wrong that we need to make right.”

    Remediation will take place at the scores of sites that have leeched millions of gallons of heavy metal-laden water from the Gold King and surrounding mines, Pruitt said, despite President Donald Trump’s proposed funding cuts to the EPA’s Superfund cleanup program. Silverton’s leaders have expressed concern about the EPA’s efforts taking too long or being delayed indefinitely.

    “I can absolutely commit that this will be a priority,” Pruitt said. “I’ve shared with Congress that if money is a concern about fulfilling our responsibilities under Superfund, I will advise them.”

    Pruitt said he is working to create a list of 10 Superfund sites — of the more than 1,300 nationwide — for the EPA to focus on.

    “I don’t know yet (if the Gold King and surrounding mines will be on that list),” he said. “We are evaluating all of the sites right now. Either way, it is going to be a priority.”

    From the Associated Press via The Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    The Environmental Protection Agency will reconsider whether to pay farmers, business owners and others in three states for economic losses caused by a mine waste spill that government crews accidentally triggered in 2015, the agency’s leader said Friday during a visit to the site.

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who toured Gold King Mine with Colorado lawmakers on the eve of the disaster’s second anniversary, said he told people to resubmit claims rejected under the Obama administration. It’s not clear if the agency could pay on its own or how much of the potential payouts would need to be approved by Congress…

    The EPA has designated the area a Superfund site to pay for a broad cleanup…

    Pruitt, who had promised to visit the mine during his confirmation hearing earlier this year, said he has sent letters to people whose claims were rejected by former President Barack Obama’s EPA.

    In January, the agency said federal law prevented it from paying claims because of sovereign immunity, which prohibits most lawsuits against the government…

    It’s uncertain whether the White House and Congress, both controlled by Republicans, are willing to pay for any of the economic losses, although the GOP has been most vocal in demanding the EPA make good.

    It’s not clear how much money would be at stake in a new round of claims.

    Claims for $1.2 billion in lost income, property damage and personal injuries were initially filed with the EPA, but attorneys for some of the larger claimants later reduced the amounts they were seeking. A review by The Associated Press estimated the damages sought at $420 million.

    The EPA has spent more than $31.3 million on the spill, including remediation work, water testing and payments to state, local and tribal agencies.

    The agency said last year it would pay $4.5 million to state, local and tribal governments to cover the cost of their emergency response to the spill, but it rejected $20.4 million in other requests for past and future expenses, again citing federal law.

    From CBS Denver (Rick Sallinger):

    In an interview with CBS4’s Matt Kroeshel, [U.S. Senator Michael] Bennet said, “Having designation as Superfund site is only one step in the process. We need to make sure the resources are put into there to do the remediation that’s required at the site.”

    The environmental mess that flowed from the Gold King Mine could happen again. Its owner Hennis says an adjacent mine is filled with even more toxic liquids.

    When asked, “Could we have another disaster?” Hennis replied, “Absolutely and it would be a thousand times worse than Gold King.”

    […]

    Sen. Gardner echoed that this is not a one time only problem, “Not just Gold King, we are talking about a handful of mines around the West that pose a threat to our environment and our community.”

    Drake: Big Thompson Memorial Service Monday, July 31, 2017, 7:00 PM

    Looking west into the narrows after the Big Thompson Flood July 31, 1976

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    The annual commemoration of the 1976 Big Thompson Flood is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the site of a flood memorial one mile east of Drake Road on U.S. Highway 34.

    The flash flood of July 31, 1976, in the Big Thompson Canyon took 144 lives, making it the worst natural disaster in Colorado’s history.

    The memorial service will include speakers, music, announcement of academic scholarships to relatives of flood victims, and light refreshments. Participants should bring a lawn chair for their comfort.

    Information: http://www.1976bigthompsonflood.org

    Fort Collins: Spring Creek Flood spurred increased flood preparedness

    Fort Collins, Spring Creek flood July 28, 1997

    From KUNC (Jackie Fortier):

    As the evening wore on, people living in two trailer parks just south of campus began to panic. Located in a low gully near Spring Creek, between College Avenue and a 15-foot railroad embankment, the trailers had begun to fill with water.

    “The rain kept falling hard on the same areas that had just had the heaviest rain so it was building this flood surge,” said state climatologist Nolan Doesken…

    Over the course of 24 hours, 14 inches of rain fell in southwest Fort Collins in a highly-localized storm.

    “And if anything that was what set the 1997 storm apart, everything was already soaked before it started — I mean really soaked — and then it dumped five hours of heavy rain, with the last hour being the heaviest of all,” said Doesken.

    Most of the water was building up behind the 15-foot railroad embankment near Spring Creek — where the trailer parks were.

    “Spring Creek is tiny. When you look at it, you can almost jump over it most times of the year,” said Marsha Hilmes-Robinson, floodplain administrator for the city of Fort Collins.

    During the flood, the railroad embankment was holding back 8,250 cubic feet of water per second.

    “Think of each cubic foot per second being one basketball going by a location in one second,” Hilmes-Robinson said. “So we had 8,250 basketballs flowing into the area behind the railroad embankment every second. That’s a lot of water.”

    The railroad embankment couldn’t hold. One of the culverts that had intentionally been filled blew out and water pounded through and eventually over the top. As the rain continued to pour through the night, residents of the trailer parks clung to trees and huddled on rooftops before rescuers in rubber rafts could reach them.

    “Then there was the fires, because some of the trailers had floated and the gas lines had been ruptured there was another explosion at a liquor store just to the north of the mobile home park, and then the train cars derailed,” Hilmes-Robinson said.

    Four train cars full of lumber and grain had been knocked off the tracks at the top of the embankment as the water began to go over the top.

    Rescuers worked through the night saving hundreds of people. Meanwhile at Colorado State University, 40 buildings were flooded, sustaining damages over $100 million, including to the newly renovated Morgan Library and the Lory Student Center.

    In all, five women died in the Spring Creek Flood and 200 homes were destroyed, including both trailer parks. Damages to the city and campus totaled $200 million.

    Since the Spring Creek Flood, an extensive rain gauge network has been installed in the foothills and in the city as an early warning system. The city has also taken an integrated approach to new projects, according to deputy director of the Colorado Resiliency and Recovery Office Iain Hyde.

    “When a new bridge or culvert or park is built, [Fort Collins] build risk reduction into that process, really thinking about floodplain management and sound regulations, and those actions are reducing risk but they’re also reducing risk for flood insurance for members of the community as well,” Hyde said.

    Now a gleaming apartment complex and strip malls sit where the trailer parks were. But the new construction had to meet need code regulations put in place after 1997, says Marsha Hilmes-Robinson.

    “Those city codes required the buildings to be raised by 18 inches above the 100-year floodplain,” she said.

    Flood mitigation also means giving the water somewhere to go. Fort Collins has used sales taxes to purchase two-thirds of the land in the 100-year Poudre River floodplain within city limits, turning it into natural areas and parks. The idea is to give the water somewhere to spread out and slow down. So far, it seems to be working.

    @CFWEwater — Barr Milton Urban Waters Tour

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    I rode along with the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education on their Urban Waters Tour of the South Platte River last Wednesday. These rides are educational and fun and well worth the time. It was great to meet some new folks from the water community. Thanks to Amy Conklin for organizing the ride.

    We started at Johnson Habitat Park where the Greenway Foundation has located their SPREE outdoor school. We learned about efforts to increase the volume of water in the river through the Chatfield Reallocation Project which will provide environmental flows through the City of Denver. Joe Shoemaker, Jr. explained the genesis of the Greenway Foundation and how the area we were in was one of Denver’s dumps during his youth. The educational effort was in full swing with young students plying the waters for macro-invertebrates and other life.

    A representative from Trout Unlimited conveyed his excitement about landing big carp from the river. He also told us that a fisherman recently pulled a 24 inch rainbow from the river just upstream from the park.

    Further downstream at Weir Gulch the focus was on widening the channel to more a more natural flood plain to help manage stormwater and improve river and riparian health. The South Platte through here, back in the day, was a braided, meandering stream with a flood plain that was sometimes as wide as a mile.

    A Denver Parks representative explained the big project at Confluence Park — the replacement of the original structures from the first project in the South Platte revitalization effort. Kudos to the contractor that stayed with the project as their profit dried up due to the discovery of coal tar on site. The Denver representative said that the company believed in the project and the benefits to the community.

    The last stop was at the site of Globeville Landing Park. There was a lot of construction going on to build an outfall for stormwater management. Denver is building their Platte to Park Hill Project to mitigate flooding caused by construction and development over the years.

    I highly recommend these tours. You’ll learn a lot, get a bike ride in, and meet some interesting folks. The South Platte River through Denver is a great ride. What a success story.