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As water worries complicate its fight with the city, Smokebrush plans to relocate 

Digging in, but heading out

Two months ago, the Smokebrush Foundation sued Colorado Springs over carcinogens blowing onto its property from a city demolition site. The suit remains ongoing, but executive director Don Goede says Smokebrush won't be holding tight as it plays out; instead, the foundation will up and move.

The demo site, at 25 Cimino Drive across from America the Beautiful Park, had a gas plant on it for decades, which left behind contaminants such as benzene and other hydrocarbons that the Environmental Protection Agency considers unsafe at any level. (See "Chemical reactions," cover story, April 24.)

A city-hired contractor began razing two buildings on the site earlier this year, and Smokebrush founder Kat Tudor says that outside her Trestle Building offices on March 4, she was slapped with airborne debris. The city stopped the demolition and allowed Smokebrush officials to arrange soil sampling, but it downplayed the hazard, prompting Tudor and Goede to sue the city and the contractor, Hudspeth & Associates of Englewood.

Now Goede says Smokebrush, which actually owns a stake in the Trestle Building, is negotiating for rental space in Manitou Springs' Business of Art Center.

"We're just done," says Goede, who runs a yoga studio on site. "It's been ridiculous, and now with the plume."

The "plume" is from contaminated groundwater found in a monitoring well that sits mere feet from the Trestle Building. Citing maps contained in a 2008 study done for the city based on 2007 testing, Smokebrush attorney Randall Weiner notes in a letter to his client that groundwater contamination of benzene and benso (A) pyrene, a poly-aromatic hydrocarbon, exist in Monitoring Well 17, immediately south of the Trestle Building. The groundwater there is only 13 feet below the surface; it's unclear whether the water has migrated and if so, how much.

Bobby Hill, president of the association that oversees the Trestle Building — which includes a dentist's office, a design studio, a software company, a photography business and a couple law offices — says the building's stakeholders are waiting for further test results before deciding what to do. They also want to know more about the monitoring wells: Who monitors them, how often, and what have they found over time? They've asked the city for more information, he says.

Weiner says in the letter his clients could "inform the appropriate state agency through a notice letter and demand that the state take action. Second, we would do a Citizen's Suit that would demand that the property be appropriately tested and cleaned," as provided for in federal law. That cleaning job likely wouldn't include America the Beautiful Park, from which Smokebrush took soil samples that showed many substances either weren't detected or were detected at minuscule levels.

The city has decided not to conduct further testing at the park. "Multiple environmental studies were performed on the ATB property in the late 1990s and early 2000s, prior to it becoming a park," the city said in an April 23 statement, which doesn't address the possibility that the situation may have changed.

The possibility hasn't escaped the notice of some citizens. "We're getting a lot of phone calls from concerned parents about the park," Goede says.

As resident Linda Kilis says via e-mail to the Indy: "We used to frequent the playground at least three times a week. However, after reading the article, I cannot confidently take my child there not knowing whether the playground has been proven to be safe from contaminants."

zubeck@csindy.com

  • Digging in, but heading out

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