Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cleanup costs for Colorado Springs downtown land: $4.4 million

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 2:19 PM

The green and pink properties are now owned by the city but if owned by the developer would speed development around America The Beautiful Park. The orange portion is now owned by the developer, and the city wants to acquire it for a trail and stormwater facility. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • The green and pink properties are now owned by the city but if owned by the developer would speed development around America The Beautiful Park. The orange portion is now owned by the developer, and the city wants to acquire it for a trail and stormwater facility.
A land swap is on the City Council agenda for a vote Tuesday that would sell city property adjacent to America the Beautiful Park to entities controlled by Nor'wood Development Group, which is owned by David Jenkins, the region's biggest developer.

Nor'wood is the master developer for the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area where the property is located.

Appraisals conducted by the city of two city-owned tracts and one owned by Jenkins were obtained by the Independent.

A vacant parcel at 125 Cimino Drive is valued at $1,118,500. A neighboring parcel directly north is valued at zero, because of contamination. (More about that in a bit.)

The Jenkins parcel at 301 Cimino, which the city says it needs to create a trail in tandem with the Cimarron and Interstate 25 interchange, is valued at $904,000.

Those appraisals were done in February by East West Econometrics of Louviers, Co.

The reason for the zero value is that the two city tracts are polluted with various contaminants left over from the use of that property decades ago for a coal gasification plant. The city is being sued over contamination from the north parcel.

LT Environmental Inc., Arvada, was hired by the city to provide an estimate to clean up the toxic sites. In a Feb. 14, 2017, report to the city, LT put the cleanup cost at $4,455,612. That breaks down to $722,521 for the 125 Cimino property and $3,683,091 for 25 Cimino.

Council wants Jenkins to indemnify the city against problems arising from the pollution, and a presentation to Council states the developer will assume that obligation.

Here's the city's overview of the deal, according to backup materials provided for Tuesday's Council meeting:
As part of the CDOT I-25 /Cimarron Improvement Project (“Project”), CDOT is required to construct a trail and stormwater BMPs in conformance with the City’s Drainage Criteria Manual, Vol. II. CDOT proposed a trail and stormwater vault in the existing Cimarron right of way. The trail proposed by CDOT was ADA compliant, but not truly accessible and not preferred by the City’s Park Department. The BMP proposed by CDOT is a vault which will take significant City resources to maintain. If the City obtains the property at the northeast corner of I-25 and Cimarron Street, known as 301 Cimino Drive (the “CSJ Property”), CDOT has agreed to install a trail that the City Parks Department believes will be more accessible and a water quality pond that will require less maintenance effort from the City. The CSJ Property is owned by CSJ No. 7, LLC and Urban Enterprises, LLC. An independent appraisal of the CSJ Property was obtained by the City and indicates the CSJ Property has a fair market value of $904,000.00.

The City wishes to exchange two (2) City-owned properties in the immediate vicinity for the CSJ Property (see Figure 2). These properties are identified as 25 Cimino Drive and 125 Cimino Drive (the “City Properties”). The City Properties are currently vacant. An independent appraisal of the City Properties was obtained by the City and indicates the City Properties have a combined fair market value that is $543,600.00 less than the value of the CSJ Property.

On November 26, 2006, City Council adopted a Statement of Intent (SOI) in support of the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area. On August 26, 2008, City Council adopted a new SOI in support of the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area, which replaced the previous SOI. The 2008 SOI provides, among other provisions, for the transfer of half of 25 Cimino and all of 125 Cimino to the CSURA in support of the Urban Renewal Plan. The remaining half of 25 Cimino was to be converted into parking. Under the 2008 SOI all of the City Properties were intended to be part of the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Project. The land exchange will accomplish one of the purposes of the 2008 SOI by making the City Properties available for redevelopment in support of the Urban Renewal Plan.

CSJ No. 7, LLC and Urban Enterprises, LLC desire to exchange the CSJ Property for the City Properties. A condition of the land exchange would be that CSJ No. 7, LLC and Urban Enterprises, LLC will assume the responsibility for and release the City from any necessary environmental remediation of the City Properties.

The proposed land exchange would offer the following benefits to the City:
• Acquire needed property for bike/pedestrian trail from Midland/Greenway Trail intersection;
• Relieve the City of any environmental remediation obligations it may have with respect to the City Properties;
• Support the implementation of the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Plan and fulfill the intent of the 2006 SOI and 2008 SOI; and
• Exchange can be completed with no financial obligation from the City.

The City, in accordance with the Real Estate Manual, obtained appraisals for all three (3) properties. Environmental studies and cost estimates have also been completed. These costs were supplied to the appraiser. Based on the amounts of these costs the appraiser has valued the CSJ Property and the City Properties accordingly. A financial evaluation of the land exchange is shown in Table 1. As can be seen from this table, the CSJ Property’s value exceeds the City Properties’ value by $543,600.00.

CSJ No. 7, LLC and Urban Enterprises, LLC are not seeking remuneration for the difference in the values of the properties; however, they would like the difference recognized by City Council as a donation. As such, if Council approves this land exchange, the Division Manager of Traffic Engineering will bring a resolution to Council after the land exchange has closed in order for Council to accept the donation in accordance with section 4.4 of the Real Estate Manual.

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El Paso County looks to off-load detox facility

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 2:19 PM

Detox currently is located next to the Criminal Justice Center on East Las Vegas Street. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Detox currently is located next to the Criminal Justice Center on East Las Vegas Street.
After AspenPointe bailed on the "Lighthouse" detox facility in 2008, no one stepped up to provide an alternative. The hospitals were screaming about it, because their emergency rooms were filling up with drunks.

Then-Sheriff Terry Maketa solved the problem by erecting what's called a sprung structure, funded, in part, with money he received from the federal government for housing deportees in jail pending deportation. Hospitals also have helped pay to run it. (Maketa has since fallen from grace and faces trial next month on several charges arising from a grand jury indictment.)

The last time we wrote about the detox program was last year when the county quietly transferred the program from the sheriff's office to community services. ("El Paso County hopes to improve access with new oversight," News, Jan. 6, 2016)

The county's release:
At the regular meeting of the Board of El Paso County Commissioners today, Commissioners listened to a report proposing a change of direction for the County Social Detoxification Program.

The County has gone above and beyond for the past eight years to provide this community benefit, even though the service is not Statutorily required. When the County took on the program it was intended as a “temporary solution.”

As El Paso County continues to grow, hospitals and doctors have expressed concerns that a purely social detox model is not sufficient to meet the needs of the community. Experts in the medical community have suggested that El Paso County needs a medical model detox center staffed by medically trained experts able to assist individuals to move toward long term sobriety.

“We recognize that there is a growing need in the County, but we do not have the proper facilities, expertise, staffing and statutory designation to provide a more medically based model,” said Julie Krow, El Paso County Department of Human Services executive director. “Based on the general direction offered by the Board of County Commissioners today, we look forward to working with leaders in the medical community, law enforcement, non-profits and others to establish a detox model with more robust medical and clinical services to better serve our community.”

In 2016, the operational cost of the El Paso County social detox problem was just over $2 million. El Paso County contributed about 25 percent of that total cost. The Penrose-St. Francis healthcare system, Memorial Healthcare and Aspen-Pointe (Managed Services Organization for State funds) contributed the rest of the funding.

El Paso County will continue its financial support for Detox services and is committed to working with the state and its providers as well as the local hospitals through a smooth transition to a new and enhanced medical and clinical model for detox. Administration proposes that the County no longer manage the social detox program.

Not only will a true medical services provider will be able meet longer term needs of patients, it may also be able to bill Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance carriers to help pay for those services; something which the County cannot do.

AspenPointe, formerly Pikes Peak Mental Health, used to run the “Lighthouse” facility, which struggled for years to maintain operations due to funding issues. In 2008, the facility closed with only two months’ notice. Without a legitimate community detox program, emergency rooms filled up with people who were intoxicated. The county jail, which was at full capacity, was not able to accept such individuals. Law enforcement officers spent time many nights driving patrol cars with individuals who were intoxicated in the back seat.

Area hospitals and the community approached the County and asked for a solution. In 2009, a Community Social Detox/Triage facility was established in El Paso County. The County has operated the licensed facility, with Certified Addiction Counselors (CAC), providing admission, assessment, detox treatment/service plan, and discharge after care plan for individuals. However, detox is not a statutory function of County government so, from the very start in 2009 it was thought that this should be a temporary solution to address and urgent need in the community.

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UPDATE: Second round of 2C road work begins in Colorado Springs

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 12:23 PM

While potholes might not be as abundant, the city's streets are still a wreck. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • While potholes might not be as abundant, the city's streets are still a wreck.
UPDATE:
Good news. Pikes Peak is slated for work this year. From the city:
That portion of Pikes Peak will be repaved as a roadway construction project because the road condition requires they mill much deeper down than when 2C paving work is conducted. That project is similar to work done on Centennial between Fillmore and Garden of the Gods. Work should start later this year.

———ORIGINAL POST 12:23 P.M. TUESDAY, APRIL 25, 2017————————-


'Tis the season for road work, and the city is announcing its second year of 2C taxpayer funded road projects throughout the city.

The project list includes portions of Pikes Peak Avenue through downtown, but does not include doing something about the pothole-filled street running east of downtown to at least Union Boulevard. We've asked about that and if there's something new to report, we'll update.

2C was approved by voters in November 2015, giving the city sales tax revenue totaling $250 million over five years to tackle the city's crumbling road system.

Here's the news release:
The second year of 2C-funded paving operations is underway, thanks to voter support of the temporary 0.62 percent sales tax dedicated solely to road repairs. Today, Mayor John Suthers, City Councilmember Yolanda Avila and several City and community leaders kicked off the 2017 2C paving work at a special event on Foxridge Drive commemorating the second of five years of 2C roadway improvements.

“With the start of our second year of 2C paving, we are building upon the significant progress made in 2016 with almost 230 lane miles paved. Our citizens made a commitment to move our city forward when they approved Issue 2C. We still much work to do to improve the overall condition of our roads, but the return of cone zones throughout Colorado Springs signals that we are well on that path,” said Mayor John Suthers.

City Continues with Local Companies for Concrete and Paving Work in 2017
The City has contracted again with Martin Marietta Materials and Schmidt Construction to pave an estimated 224 lane miles for the 2017 paving season. Paving work officially began with milling operations April 17. Click here to view the 2017 list of scheduled streets to receive 2C-funded paving.

Concrete work for 2017 also continues with the same five local companies that provided 2016 pre-overlay concrete work.

AA Construction Company, Inc.
Blue Ridge Construction, Inc.
CMS of Colorado Springs, Inc.
DRX Enterprises, LLC
Even-Preisser, Inc.
Trax Construction, Inc.

Planned concrete work for 2017 is on schedule and projected to be complete in late August. Upon completion of the 2017 concrete program, crews will focus on the 2018 list as funds are available. Crews will conduct concrete repair work simultaneously with paving operations as weather permits.

Foxridge Drive between Drennan Road and West Monica Drive, which connects to several residential streets, is on the 2C paving list for 2017. Estimated completion date is April 28, weather dependent

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Odds and ends from Colorado Springs to La Junta

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 4:36 PM

Kara Skinner is Boulder-bound.
  • Kara Skinner is Boulder-bound.
From City Hall to La Junta, here's a few tidbits of news.

City CFO resigns
Kara Skinner, chief financial officer for the city of Colorado Springs, has resigned.
Skinner says she’s accepted a job as assistant finance director for the city of Boulder and that the move is “in line with our long-term family plan.”

She replaced Terri Velasquez, who was forced out in 2011 just before Steve Bach took office and later sued, collecting a $250,000 settlement from the city.

Here's a news release:
With the pending departure of City of Colorado Springs Chief Financial Officer Kara Skinner, the City will begin recruiting for the position in the coming weeks. Mayor Suthers offered his appreciation to Skinner, who has accepted a job out of town.

“Kara is an extremely intelligent, credible and respected individual and while we congratulate her on the new position, we will absolutely miss her talents and presence here in Colorado Springs. Kara has consistently led the city through complex budgeting challenges and has done so with a sophisticated and professional approach. We wish Kara and her family only the best in their move.”

Skinner joined the city staff in 2006 and worked as a principal analyst and interim finance and budget director before being appointed CFO in 2012.

Given the timing of Skinner’s departure, the City will temporarily divide the responsibilities of her position between Nancy McCauley from the Colorado Springs Police Department serving as interim finance director and Charae McDaniel serving as interim budget director.

The City expects to retain a recruiting firm to fill the position of CFO, while delaying the open position of Assistant Director of Finance until the higher position is filled.

Updated job postings are available at www.coloradosprings.gov/page/hr-careers


City seeks dismissal of Serco suit
The city of Colorado Springs wants a lawsuit filed by fleet maintenance contractor Serco Inc. dismissed.
Police cars like this one are maintained by Serco. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Police cars like this one are maintained by Serco.
In a motion filed April 19, the city argues the lawsuit should be dismissed, because not all avenues to resolve disputes as specified in the contract have been exhausted.
Serco filed suit on March 6 alleging it should be paid more, because it’s losing money. (“Colorado Springs faces lawsuit over out-sourced fleet maintenance contract,” April 5, 2017)

But the city asserts the contract contains an alternative dispute resolution process involving a panel comprised of city officials and an outside attorney to hear and rule on disputes. The contract itself contains no pay clause for the fourth and fifth years on the five-year contract, because Serco persuaded the city to omit that, arguing it hoped to lower its charges. The contract also allows for a consumer price index increase, but Serco has sought a 22 percent pay hike for 2017, to $8.2 million.

The dispute panel has not yet rendered a decision on the pay disagreement.

Sprout sprouts homes
Homes like these are gaining traction. - JEREMY PETERSON
  • Jeremy Peterson
  • Homes like these are gaining traction.
Spout Tiny Homes of La Junta will collaborate with WeeCasa on a tiny home hotel and resort on the Saint Vrain River in Lyons, the company said in a news release.

Also, Sprout has acquired 19.2 acres in Salida and plans a development there. Called RiverView at Cleora, it will consist of 140 long-term lease properties and 60 overnight rentals.

Last year, Sprout designed, built and delivered six homes to Aspen Skiing Company to help fill an employee housing shortage. The company reports a new focus on commercial needs to serve larger clients.

Grants for health
Grants totaling $1.4 million have been awarded in El Paso and Teller counties by the Colorado Springs Health Foundation, created with proceeds of a lease of city-owned Memorial Hospital to UCHealth.

The grants target the foundation’s priorities, including access to care for those in greatest need; workforce shortage of primary care or psychiatric providers; suicide prevention, and school-based healthy eating and/or active living efforts for children and families.

The top five amounts awarded to the 35 recipients were Springs Rescue Mission, $80,000; Colorado Springs Fire Department Community & Public Health Division, Early Connections Learnings Centers, and Atlas Preparatory School, $75,000 each, and Regis University, $67,211.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

AFA chief wants UCCS chancellor job

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 5:08 PM

Lt. Gen. Johnson: Hoping for another university job. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Lt. Gen. Johnson: Hoping for another university job.
The Air Force Academy superintendent apparently wants to remain in Colorado Springs for awhile.

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson is a finalist for the chancellor job at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, according to an internal letter to the faculty obtained by the Independent.

Johnson will finish her assignment at the AFA in summer, after four years.

The other finalists to succeed Pam Shockley-Zalabak, who retired in February, are:

• Dr. Venkat Reddy, interim chancellor and dean of the College of Business Administration and associate vice chancellor for online initiatives.

• Dr. Havidán Rodriguez, founding provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The letter to faculty, from Bruce Benson, president of the CU system, said:
You can read full biographies and curriculum vitae, as well as a full schedule of campus meetings, here. I appreciate your involvement in the process to select the next leader for the campus. You will have opportunities over the next two weeks to meet the candidates, hear their ideas about advancing UCCS and share your views.

Your feedback is an important part of the process. It will inform my decision-making as I consider the final selection. I invite you to share your views with me via the form on the website. This is a critical position for the future of the campus and I appreciate your involvement and your input.
Benson said in the letter he hopes to name a new chancellor "in the coming weeks."

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UPDATE: Colorado Springs reaches settlement in racial profiling case

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 10:15 AM

Ryan Brown and his brother, Benjamin, have settled their case with the city of Colorado Springs. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Ryan Brown and his brother, Benjamin, have settled their case with the city of Colorado Springs.
UPDATE:
This is just in from the Colorado Springs Police Department:
The Colorado Springs Police Department, together with the Office of the City Attorney, made the difficult decision to settle the Brown case. Although CSPD sincerely believes the claims of racial profiling were unfounded, the decision to settle was based on comparative analysis of the high cost of legal proceedings and the risk of financial liability in the event the city did not prevail in every aspect of the lawsuit. However, there has been a complete and thorough Internal Affairs investigation of this incident, and it was determined that the actions of the officers did not violate Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) policy.

On several occasions, the ACLU has inaccurately portrayed CSPD as a department that routinely violates citizen’s rights. The public is invited to review CSPD’s most recent Annual Use of Force report (https://cspd.coloradosprings.gov/content/cases-interest) to gain an informed and fact-based opinion of the level of restraint, accountability, and transparency that is central to how CSPD delivers police services.

In the past, the ACLU has failed to “set the record straight” when allegations of misconduct were disproven, as in the Tally case in July 2015. Today’s ACLU announcement follows that same unfortunate practice.
(See Cases of Interest at https://cspd.coloradosprings.gov/content/cases-interest)

Moving ahead, CSPD has issued over 450 body worn cameras which will be able to provide additional information through video footage of patrol officers’ interaction with citizens from initial contact through conclusion. Body worn cameras provide protection both to citizens and to officers in these types of cases and accusations.

The Colorado Springs Police Department remains committed to consistent, fair, and even-handed enforcement of the law. To accomplish that objective, CSPD takes steps to mitigate bias through hiring practices, training, policies, and outreach to diverse communities. Equally important to these steps is the department’s robust internal accountability system. In the event of a complaint of racial bias, the department thoroughly investigates the complaint and takes appropriate action if a policy violation is found.

—————-ORIGINAL POST 10:15 A.M. THURSDAY, APRIL 20, 2017——————-

Remember Ryan and Benjamin Brown? They are the brothers who were stopped by police and pulled from their vehicle for no apparent reason.

We wrote about their case in this cover story in 2015, ("Obstructed view," Cover, Nov. 18, 2015), and also reported when the ACLU of Colorado sued on their behalf.

The city has agreed to pay $212,000 to settle the case and also make changes in procedures. Here's the news release:
The City of Colorado Springs has agreed to pay $212,000 to settle a racial profiling lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Colorado alleging that Ryan and Benjamin Brown were pulled over because of their race, handcuffed, searched, and detained at gun point and taser point, all without legal justification.

Along with monetary compensation, the Colorado Springs Police Department has agreed to several revisions of its policies on stops, searches, and recording officers.

Ryan Brown posted a video of the 2015 stop online, where it has been viewed more than 165,000 times.

“The racial profiling that Ryan and Benjamin Brown endured is still, unfortunately, all too common for young men of color,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “The difference in this case is that Ryan preserved video evidence of the officers’ aggressive escalation and heavy-handed use of force. Although the police department initially refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, city officials ultimately did the right thing by agreeing to fair compensation.”

In March 2015, Ryan and Benjamin Brown were driving just a block away from their home in a predominantly white neighborhood when they were pulled over by Colorado Springs police. To justify the stop, an officer later claimed that the men had been observed driving slowly through “a high crime area,” terminology that the lawsuit alleged is law enforcement code for “driving while black.”

A taser-wielding officer ordered Benjamin Brown, the driver, out of the car. He was handcuffed, searched without cause, and detained in the back of a police vehicle, even though he had been cooperative, no weapons or contraband were found, and there was no evidence to suggest that he had been involved in a crime.

Ryan Brown then began recording the scene on his phone. His repeated requests for the officers to identify the reason for the stop were ignored. Officers worked together to force him out of the car, push him to the ground, face down in the snow, search him, and cuff him, all the while at gunpoint. Officers grabbed his phone, stopped the recording, and threw it in the snow.

Brown filed a complaint with CSPD following the incident. He received a brief boilerplate letter in June 2015 informing him that the Department had conducted a “complete and thorough” investigation into the incident and concluded that the officers’ conduct was “justified, legal, and proper.”

In October 2016, the ACLU of Colorado filed the lawsuit in federal court, which began nearly 6 months of negotiation between the parties around policy changes and compensation.

“I knew that what happened to my brother and me was wrong, and that I needed to speak up,” said Brown. “I am grateful to the ACLU of Colorado for holding the police accountable, for standing up for our rights, and for winning policy changes that will hopefully prevent others from having their rights violated.”

Multiple Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) policies have been improved as a result of the settlement. Official CSPD policy now clearly identifies the constitutional requirements that must be met before an officer may conduct a pat-down search. CSPD removed policy language that gave undue weight to an individual’s refusal to cooperate as a factor in establishing probable cause for a search or arrest. CSPD policy on recording police was also strengthened to reflect constitutional and statutory protections against unjustified seizures of electronic devices.

Colorado Springs will make available online all of the changes to its policies as a result of the settlement by July 1, 2017. The Chief of Police has also agreed to meet in person with Ryan and Benjamin Brown to discuss the incident.

Ryan and Benjamin Brown were represented by Silverstein and ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Sara Neel, as well as cooperating attorneys Darold Killmer and Andy McNulty of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP.
Here's a link to the settlement agreement.

The agreement states the ACLU Foundation of Colorado will receive $58,707.40, while each of the Brown brothers will be paid $76,646.30.

In case you've never seen it, you can view the video of the stop here.

We've asked the city for a comment and will update if and when we hear something.
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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

GOP chair charged, but hours later DA's Office dismisses charges

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 5:17 PM

cspdbadge.png
The Colorado Springs Police Department no more than announced the filing of charges against a man who struck his friend crossing a street last month than the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office dismissed them.

On March 28, El Paso County GOP Chair Trevor Dierdorff, 45, put his vehicle in reverse to try to snag a parking place outside the El Paso Club downtown. His vehicle struck Melvin Tolbert, 79, who was crossing the street. Both were headed to an event at the club and knew one another. Tolbert ran Platte Floral for many years.

On April 2, Tolbert died of his injuries.

"Mr. Dierdorff was charged with Careless Driving Causing Death, a Class 1 Misdemeanor Traffic Offense, and Drivers to Exercise Due Care, a Class A Traffic Infraction," the CSPD announced in an email at 12:53 p.m. today, April 19.

At 4 p.m., the DA's Office issued a news release saying:
According to Colorado state law, it is not illegal to drive in reverse on a roadway. In addition, “Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.” (C.R.S. 42-4-803)

Additional investigation revealed that Mr. Dierdorff did check his rear view camera while reversing and that Mr. Tolbert was not in his path when he started reversing.

In reviewing applicable law, the District Attorney’s Office has concluded that charges are not appropriate in this case. The charges filed against Trevor Dierdorff will be dismissed.

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Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site hosts big Army drill

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 2:39 PM

A dusty landscape is seen at the training ground, dated in 2003, before the Army intensified its use of the PCMS. - PHOTOS COURTESY NOT 1 MORE ACRE!
  • Photos courtesy Not 1 More Acre!
  • A dusty landscape is seen at the training ground, dated in 2003, before the Army intensified its use of the PCMS.
In this week's edition, we report on one of the biggest exercises ever to be held at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado.

More than 5,000 soldiers have gathered there to conduct drills with Stryker vehicles, helicopters and other equipment.

Here's a description from Fort Carson:
Approximately 5,000 Soldiers from 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Sustainment Brigade as well as other Fort Carson units and about 750 Soldiers from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Fort Hood, Texas, are participating in Operation Raider Focus exercise at Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) from April 18 to May 6. The training at PCMS is to prepare Soldiers for any possible mission should the unit be called to support contingencies around the globe. During the exercise, crews will train against each other using different scenarios to build team cohesion and ensure task proficiency. Approximately 1,500 military vehicles, to include 300 Stryker fighting vehicles, and 30 helicopters, to include UH-60 Black Hawks, AH-64 Apaches and CH-47 Chinooks, will be used in the exercise. Many of the vehicles will convoy to and from the training site starting on April 18. Equipment and vehicles that cannot be driven on roadways will be transported via railway to and from PCMS. Approximately 685 tactical vehicles in the 1st SBCT are equipped with Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below with Joint Capabilities Release (FBCB2/JCR) computer systems which will have a resource protection map as the background map image as Soldiers navigate across the terrain. The system with the background maps is intended to allow Soldiers to track friendly and hostile force movements while ensuring archaeological site protection and safety during the exercise.
The Mountain Post also says it's committed to being a good steward of the environment. Here's more on that from Carson:
Environmental personnel are involved in all levels of planning for military training, construction and other activities that could affect the PCMS environment. All cultural and environmental sites will be marked with awareness signs which will be placed along main supply routes and tank trails to provide an additional level of awareness to vehicle drivers, commanders and crews. Seibert Stakes will mark areas that are dangerous to vehicle travel or areas that need protection from vehicle traffic due to excessive erosion, areas that are environmentally or culturally sensitive, have been repaired and re-seeded after training use or are being rehabilitated for other reasons. Boulders will be placed around sites determined more sensitive and need more protection from vehicle traffic.

After Operation Raider Focus is completed, there will be an immediate basic remediation work plan implemented and a full assessment for longer term remediation. Soldiers will lead the remediation with the engineer assets that are in place in the unit. Funding is not required at this time for the remediation since it is being done by Soldiers. Fort Carson will use its two re-seeding vehicles to immediately repair any future land damage that results from training at PCMS. We are continually working to maintain the natural resources at PCMS.
Of course, not everyone agrees that Carson and the Army have done a good job, or that it's even possible to reclaim prairies that have been severely damaged by heavy vehicles.

Here's another photo that critics say shows the impact of the training:
Trails left by the Army's vehicles in one training area at the PCMS.
  • Trails left by the Army's vehicles in one training area at the PCMS.
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Who thinks we should honor coal?

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 8:35 AM

Wind power is growing across the globe. - VIVIANDNGUYEN
  • viviandnguyen
  • Wind power is growing across the globe.
Some who truly care about the environment feel that the era of fossil fuels is drawing to a close, not withstanding President Trump's embrace of coal.

And a lot of progress has been made in shifting the emphasis from coal and natural gas to cleaner forms, like solar and wind.

The Institute for Energy Research reports that about 9.9 percent of all energy consumed in the United States in 2015 was from renewable sources, and they account for about 13.4 percent of the nation’s total electricity production.

While it's still a small portion, interest in renewables is growing, leading those at the spear of energy research to dismiss the idea of coal making a significant comeback, though there are those who continue to campaign for dirty energy, among them our very own daily newspaper.

The Gazette's recent editorial on Earth Day, a time we reflect on what we've done and can do to spare Mother Earth from ourselves, said this:
On a day we celebrate the Earth, it is reasonable for people to also acknowledge the role fossil fuels play in helping maintain and even improve our planet's condition.

Fossil fuels continue providing most of our energy and will do so for generations to come. Without fossil fuels, we cannot build a single solar panel or wind turbine....

We cannot function without fossil fuels, let alone improve our environment and perfect the harnessing of sunshine and wind.

That may explain why the Denver-based Independence Institute has made national headlines by sponsoring an "Earth Day Fossil Fuels Art Contest."
It's worth noting the newspaper is owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz who is building what reportedly will be the biggest wind farm anywhere in Wyoming.

Here's more on the contest
, which offers a $100 gift card to the winner to spend on gasoline.

Here's some more on the Independence Institute, which is sponsoring the contest. This comes from the thinkprogress.org report:
A tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, the anti-government group has an annual revenue of about $2 to 3 million. Though they are not required to disclose their donors, public records show much of their money comes from several of the most infamous donors to the nation’s right wing and climate science denial movements.

A ThinkProgress review of the Independence Institute’s funders (according to data provided by Conservative Transparency, Guidestar, and CitizenAudit) revealed that since 2001, its funders included at least:

• $146,000 combined from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, a pair of tax-exempt foundations controlled by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation and the Center to Protect Patient Rights, entities closely tied to the brothers.

• $2,565,766 combined from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, two affiliated donor-advised funds that funnel donations from supporters to non-governmental organizations that promote limited government and free enterprise. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the Koch brothers and “other ultra-wealthy industrial ideologues appear to be cloaking an untold amount of their donations to conservative political outlets” by using these funds as pass-throughs. A 2015 investigation by the Guardian revealed that the two secretive organizations had directed roughly $125 million over three years to spread disinformation about climate science and fight President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Richard Skorman elected president of Colorado Springs City Council

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 4:09 PM

Richard Skorman took his oath of office this morning and was elected Council president this afternoon, April 18. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Richard Skorman took his oath of office this morning and was elected Council president this afternoon, April 18.
A year ago, Richard Skorman was the bane of some members of City Council. He was leading opposition to Mayor John Suthers' land swap of city open space with The Broadmoor, which was approved by Council in late May.

As head of Save Cheyenne, Skorman led the opposition in a lawsuit against the city. The group lost in District Court but has appealed the ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Skorman resigned from Save Cheyenne to seek a Council seat in the southwest District 3 where he lives and where the open space, known as Strawberry Fields, is located.

Skorman fought his way through the election, and despite heavy spending in favor of his opponent, Chuck Fowler, he prevailed.

Now, Skorman is at the top of the heap on Council, having been elected on a split vote today, April 18, to be president.

Voting for him were Bill Murray, Jill Gaebler, Yolanda Avila, David Geislinger and Skorman himself. Voting for Merv Bennett, who's served as president the last two years, were Andy Pico, Don Knight, Tom Strand and Bennett himself.

Gaebler wound up holding on to her president pro tem seat by the same vote split.

So that's the way it shook out with the newbies having a say — Avila, Skorman and Geislinger. Will this mean future 5-4 votes down those same lines? Hard to say.

Meantime, we asked Skorman, who previously served on Council from 1999 to 2007, how he feels about his new position. Reached by phone, he says, "I'm excited. I'm honored and a little bit nervous."

He served two years as vice mayor, but all of his Council service predated the conversion to a mayor-Council form of government in 2011, so he admits, "There's a lot for me to learn," and adds, "Merv's been very gracious and is helping me already."

The president position isn't just ceremonial. The president has something to say about Council agendas, for instance, which can make or break a proposal.

"I'd like to make sure, number one, that Council has all the resources it needs to do its job well," Skorman says. "I'd like to weigh in on what's put in front of Council and make sure this Council can be constructive and proactive on issues we care about.

"The devil's in the details, but certainly, I want to make sure there's that balance, and the mayor isn't getting only his own issues on the agenda," Skorman says, adding that the April 4 election "sent a message."

Skorman will begin his new role presiding at the April 24 and 25 Council meetings.

Tomorrow, Council meets as the Utilities Board at 1 p.m. at Plaza of the Rockies where a new chairman and vice chair will be chosen. Strand tells the Indy he's interested in becoming chair (he's now vice chair). Pico is currently serving as chairman.

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Neumann Systems Group seems to have vanished

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 3:30 PM

Something's up with Neumann Systems Group.

That's the outfit headed by David Neumann, former Air Force physicist who invented pollution control equipment that's now removing sulfur dioxide from emissions at the city-owned downtown Drake Power Plant, which burns coal.

Colorado Springs Utilities struck a deal with Neumann years ago to design and install his new technology on Drake, which served as a guinea pig, for the new approach. In exchange, the city was granted a cut of the action on future sales.

But now the company seems to have vanished.

The last Facebook post on its website was entered in 2015, and its office phone number doesn't work anymore. When we called it Tuesday afternoon, we got this message, "You have reached a number that is no longer in service."

An attempt to reach the Neumann website yielded this:
screen_shot_2017-04-18_at_3.03.02_pm.png
The company's Colorado Secretary of State filings show a change of address for the company was made in December 2016, noting its new address is a home north of the city. The home is owned by Diane Neumann, to which David Neumann quit claimed the house in 2007.

So we asked Colorado Springs Utilities, which has spent about $170 million on the NeuStream technology to scrub pollutants from Drake's emissions, about the company's status.

From Utilities' Amy Trinidad via email:
The Neumann System Group successfully fulfilled its contract with Colorado Springs Utilities by providing us with the technology to reduce sulfur dioxide from the emissions at the Martin Drake Power Plant. The equipment is operating as expected and we are on track to meeting new Regional Haze mandates pertaining to sulfur dioxide at the end of this year. It was last September when we took full control of this system. Since that time, our employees have been operating and maintaining it.
When we noted to her that that didn't answer our question, she responded in an email, saying, "We cannot speak on behalf of NSG. You will have to reach out to Dr. Neumann. NSG's work with Utilities is complete."

So we drove to the company's headquarters at 890 Elkton Drive. On the door we found this notice:
PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck

So we walked over to Suite 103. There was no sign. We peered into the window and saw this:
emptybuilding.jpg

We've sent Neumann an email to the last address we had for him and also left him a voice mail on the number have for him. We'll report back if and when we hear anything.

While the Neumann technology has been shown to work perfectly, perhaps a device that makes coal more palatable in today's world of a growing interest in renewables was doomed from the start?

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El Paso County commissioners oppose a statewide sales tax to fund infrastructure

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 2:49 PM

Commissoner Mark Waller and his colleagues oppose a statewide sales tax hike. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY
  • Courtesy El Paso County
  • Commissoner Mark Waller and his colleagues oppose a statewide sales tax hike.
An idea to raise sales taxes statewide to fund transportation got a kick in the shorts on Tuesday when the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to oppose the measure, which isn't even an approved bill yet.

State lawmakers are pushing through a measure for the November ballot that would raise sales taxes by .62 of a percent to fund the state's deteriorating highways.

But county commissioners here are cool to the idea.

Commissioner Mark Waller set out five reasons why he's opposed:
"It's just not the right mechanism for our community," he tells the Indy. "We're already incredibly sales tax heavy. Number two, all the dollars we're sending to Denver aren't coming back. "Number three, when I started in the legislature in 2009, the general fund budget was $7 billion. Today, it's close to $11 billion dollars. All the state leaders complain that we have a revenue problem. No we don't. We have a spending problem. I think we have an obligation before we ask taxpayers for money to find some general fund dollars. Four, [Interstate 25 north of Monument] doesn't make it on the list if we support it. They're not even creating a prioritization list to go to voters with. Lastly, this is about funding critical transportation infrastructure needs. If that's truly what it's about, why did they put the multi-modal piece in it? I don't think that's appropriate."

Waller admits money is needed for the state's roads, bridges and highways. "There is no doubt that our transportation spending is woefully lacking," he says. But a tax increase isn't the way to go, he says.

He also predicted the measure would fail, because it would need to win in El Paso County, and it won't. "I don't think this community has the appetite to pass a tax increase," he says.

Commissioner Stan VanderWerf complained, too, about the I-25 project not being guaranteed funding in the tax package. The four-lane road, which needs widening, has become a productivity issue for the economy. "We are talking about thousands of man years [spent stuck in traffic]. This is a prioritization problem, not a revenue problem."

Other commissioners expressed similar concerns.

In a related development, the county issued this news release about an effort to advance the I-25 widening project:
Members of the newly formed I-25 Gap Coalition, representing cities, counties, business and economic development interests up and down the I-25 corridor between Denver South and Colorado Springs, will hold a press conference to discuss plans to advocate for accelerating transportation improvements in the gap between Castle Rock and Monument.

What: Media Announcement and Interview Opportunities

When: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 1:30 p.m.

Where: 100 Third Street, Castle Rock, 80104, County Admin Building, Douglas County Hearing Room

Speakers:

* Roger Partridge, Douglas County Commissioner
* Congressman Mike Coffman (CO-06)
* Mayor John Suthers, City of Colorado Springs
* Mark Waller, El Paso County Commissioner
* Dirk Draper, President & CEO, Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC
* Frank Gray, President & CRO, Castle Rock Economic Development Council

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Colorado Springs City Council members take oath of office

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 11:04 AM

Council members seated in the courtroom, L to R, Don Knight, David Geislinger, Richard Skorman, Council President Merv Bennett (speaking), Yolanda Avila, Jill Gaebler and Andy Pico. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • Council members seated in the courtroom, L to R, Don Knight, David Geislinger, Richard Skorman, Council President Merv Bennett (speaking), Yolanda Avila, Jill Gaebler and Andy Pico.
Newly elected Colorado Springs City Council members were sworn in Tuesday, April 18, in the courtroom of the historic Pioneers Museum.

Don Knight, Jill Gaebler and Andy Pico, who were re-elected to four-year terms, took the oath of office along with new members David Geislinger, Richard Skorman and Yolanda Avila.

The short ceremony included remarks by Mayor John Suthers, presentation of the flag, a prayer and soloists singing the national anthem and "America the Beautiful."


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Monday, April 17, 2017

Birth control bill advances in Colorado Assembly

Posted By on Mon, Apr 17, 2017 at 3:33 PM

Believe it or not, it's the state's business how frequently a woman seeks to fill a birth control prescription.

Sounds straight out of the middle ages, but to better accommodate busy women, the Colorado General Assembly is considering a bill that would allow a woman to get 12 months worth of birth control prescriptions at one time.

Here's a release from Planned Parenthood about the bill, which might pass this year after failing last year:
A bill (HB 17-1186) to allow Colorado women to fill birth control prescriptions for a one-year supply today cleared another hurdle in the Senate.

“This is an incredible step toward for women and families. It means fewer trips to the pharmacy for people with busy lives or who live in rural areas with longer travel times. It also will result in reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, with a longer reliable supply of birth control. It just gives more stability to women and gives families’ ability to plan their lives,” said Sarah Taylor-Nanista, Vice President of Public Affairs of Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado.

Currently, women can only receive up to three month’s supply of contraception at a time. More than 90% of women in the U.S. use some type of birth control at some point in their lifetime.

Taylor-Nanista praised the lawmakers who supported the measure, a very different outcome than the disappointing defeat of a similar bill last year.

The bill failed in a Senate committee in 2016, never making it to the full Senate. This year, the bill had bipartisan sponsors – Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood), Rep. Lois Landgraf (R-Fountain) and Sen. Don Coram (R-Montrose) – and bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. The 12-month contraception bill passed unanimously in the Senate State Affairs committee last week.

Sen. Coram called the bill a common sense measure that he was proud to carry.

HB 17-1186 still needs final approval in the Senate.


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Friday, April 14, 2017

Strawberry Fields planning continues, county pact still alive

Posted By on Fri, Apr 14, 2017 at 3:16 PM

PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
Work continues on the master plan for Strawberry Fields, the open space acquired by The Broadmoor in a land swap with the city last year.

More on that in a minute.

First, now that The Broadmoor and city have closed on the land swap, it made us wonder what became of The Broadmoor's deal with the county to use Bear Creek Regional Park for pony rides.

Remember when the resort wanted to build a stable just east of the park? That was in 2015. The Broadmoor struck a deal with the county to pay $18,000 a year for 20 years to use the park.

In light of its new plans, we wondered if The Broadmoor ever paid anything, or perhaps pulled back the agreement.

Here's what the county's Tim Wolken, in charge of park matters, tells us via email:
The agreement was based on the Broadmoor constructing an equestrian facility adjacent to Bear Creek Regional Park. Since this has not occurred, the Broadmoor has not used the trails and the lease payment has not been required.

In recent discussions with the Broadmoor regarding the agreement, they asked that the agreement not be formerly cancelled until the legal action has concluded regarding the property swap with the City. 
So it would seem that The Broadmoor is hedging its bets.

The legal action referred to is the nonprofit Save Cheyenne's lawsuit challenging the land swap. It lost in District Court and has appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Meantime, on Thursday night, N.E.S. and The Broadmoor staged the second planning meeting for the Strawberry Fields property.

Apparently, things got a little heated, based on this description, found on Save Cheyenne's Facebook page:
The 2nd NES The Broadmoor meeting was highly contentious. A more detailed outline will follow, but among the issues inciting outrage were the lack of answers to questions like how many horses are planned for the development, continued outrage over the change in the building envelope which takes up most of Mesa (i.e. blocks public access) from what the City Council had originally approved, an addition now of another building structure (an office) North Cheyenne Canon will lose its National Historic Designation as a result of this, and Strawberry Fields is, according to US Fish and Wildlife is in the heart of the high critical habitat for the Mexican Spotted Owl.

Several people have been in touch with USFWS Endangered Species, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Sierra Club - Colorado Chapter,Colorado Parks and Wildlife asking that a full survey of the area be done as has Weston, the general environmental survey company hired by the City, recommended in documents acquired in an Open Records request.

Officials at USFS believe that Strawberry Fields is an ideal habitat for the spotted owl because of the topography including mature pines and small caves high in the sandstone for nesting, the numerous slot canyons, the abundance of rodents nearby and close proximity to water. Owls are often seen in the area which has been quiet for over 120 years. There are owls which come from the slot canyons of Turkey Creek Ranch and nest on Fort Carson in the winter as well as a siting near Cheyenne Mountain State Park. So, as you are walking, keep your phones ready to grab a pic and send it to us if you see one. Special thanks to Kent Obee Ruth Obee and Jim Lockhart for speaking out.

Go here for an overview of the first meeting on March 8.


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