At the end of each calendar year, we take time to update some of the stories we developed during the last year or so. This issue brings the first of two installments.
Earthships will land
In June, we foretold the coming of Earthship Village Colorado, a new community 20 minutes east of downtown that will largely be modeled after Taos, New Mexico's heavily touristed Earthship commune.
Earthships are self-contained, off-grid-capable abodes constructed in part from trash (like used tires) and recycled items (bottles and cans). But they're far from junky, with cool architectural touches and features like attached greenhouses. Beyond the aesthetics, their environmental appeal relates to their being able to generate all their own power needs via solar, wind or geothermal sources. The homes will be constructed with alternating- and direct-current abilities (literally switches between the two) and will be able to tie into grid utilities should one desire to for emergencies or to sell excess solar-derived energy. Five- to 40-acre lots with home options ranging from 800 to 3,000 square feet will cost between $200,000 and $600,000.
A model home and visitor center was supposed to break ground at summer's end, but that's been delayed until spring 2015 due to schedule conflicts with the consulting Taos crew.
Also, David Hatch, the Boulder-based real estate investor and developer behind the project, notes the community's name has been changed to Colorado Solar Village, to reflect interest from other people who wished to build straw-bale, cob or geodesic homes.
"There's a lot of ways to do a fully sustainable home," he says. "The principle hasn't changed, we're just expanding on how we're getting it done."
The first of 60 planned houses on 394 acres is under contract, Hatch says, also noting an incentive program for the next seven people who buy a lot: a gifted Nissan LEAF or Ford Focus electric car upon construction completion. Pre-sales are available now. — Matthew Schniper
Reports of elder abuse
In August, I blogged about the success of a new law that created mandatory reporters for elder abuse.
Senate Bill 13-111, which went into effect in July, created criminal penalties for those who don't report suspected abuse of persons age 70 or older to law enforcement within 24 hours. Colorado was one of the last states to create mandatory reporters.
Among those who are required to report such abuse are medical professionals, social workers, law enforcement, court appointed guardians and conservators, fire protection personnel, community centered board staff, financial institutions, care facilities, home care placement agencies and clergy. The abuse can take many forms, including financial exploitation, physical and sexual abuse, and neglect.
In August, the results of the law were already apparent. The Colorado Springs Police Department had seen an 87.5 percent increase in referrals both to and from Adult Protective Services from January to July, from 80 referrals to 150. Other agencies also saw large increases.
Those increases have continued. A specialized police unit that addresses elder abuse has assigned 111 elder abuse cases this year through October 2014. Last year, there were just 81 for the entire year. In the third quarter of the year, police received 43 elder abuse reports, compared to 23 in the third quarter of last year. Those numbers include physical and sexual abuse, along with some neglect cases, but they don't include financial exploitation or all neglect cases — meaning the actual number of elder abuse claims and cases of all types is higher.
Scott Bartlett, lead ombudsman for the Pikes Peak Council of Government's Area Agency on Aging, says, "We've done a lot of training with facilities around how to report and how to identify abuse."
He says neglect and financial exploitation of seniors is getting a lot more attention than it used to. In fact, most of the cases he's seen come his way have been about financial abuse, especially by family members.
Carrie Schillinger, who works for the Area Agency on Aging, says she had a recent personal experience with abuse when her mother, who lives in Connecticut, got a call from a man claiming to be her grandson. The caller pried information out of the older woman by making leading statements. He convinced her he was in jail in Mexico and needed bail, and asked her to wire him thousands of dollars and not tell his mom (Schillinger). The elderly woman took the bait and called her bank.
But the bank teller asked her enough questions that she eventually realized it was a scam and reported it.
"If the bank teller had not been savvy to that scam, my mother would have wired money to another country," Schillinger notes.
In Colorado, bank tellers will also have to be on the lookout, as they are now mandatory reporters. — J. Adrian Stanley
Theft case still pending
Nine months after we reported that two mountain towns had been ripped off for $1 million, and nearly two years after those towns reported the thefts, the Fourth Judicial District prosecutor's office still hasn't filed charges. ("Two water districts lose $1 million," March 12, 2014).
"The case is still under investigation," Lee Richards, spokesperson for DA Dan May, says in a Dec. 5 email. "I'll let you know if/when that changes." That's nearly identical to a message we received on Sept. 5, the last time we checked on the case.
At issue is the theft of $840,000 from the Cascade Metropolitan Water District from 2004 to 2013, and $206,000 from the Arabian Acres Water District from 2005 to 2013. Both districts have seen rate increases to cover the losses, which occurred during the time that Terry Malcom, a convicted felon from Nebraska, handled the books for both districts.
Malcom did time in state prison for theft and forgery and in federal prison for mail and wire fraud before coming to Colorado.
He did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The Cascade district has 350 customers and Arabian Acres has aboaut 145. Besides prior rate increases to cover the embezzlement losses, Arabian Acres will see another increase, effective Jan. 1, due in part to the embezzlement but also related to other factors including the age of their infrastructure, says Peter Italiano, a consultant who helps manage the district. Asked if he'd heard anything from DA May, he says, "Unfortunately, no. He [May] continues to tell us he's working on it. It's ridiculous."
P.J. Anderson, a Cascade district board member, says in an email, "I have not heard anything at all from the DA's office in months. None of us can understand why charges haven't been brought. The last we heard was maybe January or February." — Pam Zubeck
Pueblo arts stay strong
You wouldn't recognize the Shoe Factory as we described it earlier this year ("Paint the town," April 30). In fact, you wouldn't even find it in the same place as before. As of July, the Pueblo artist's co-op vacated its original location above a western wear store and moved down the street to a much larger building directly across from founder Gregory Howell's other enterprise, Kadoya Gallery.
The move, which was prompted by owners of the Cowboy Supply building wishing to go in a new direction, according to Howell, has now allowed the Factory to expand mightily, both in floor space and in programming. The building is still undergoing renovations (many more are still to come, as Howell's working to designate the building as a historic site), but come February, it will host a variety of new assets, including a "museum store" and the Discovery Center, where arts outreach programs will be held (its K-12 Arts Education Program now counts over 400 participants from area schools).
As if that weren't enough, Howell has plans for a restaurant slated to open on Mother's Day that will focus on sustainable, organic foods. Nestled on the same block in what was once Restaurant 1521, The Shoemaker Grill plans to house a deli and a restaurant proper, but also sell boxed meals that come unprepared so customers can pay with food stamps or EBT.
The April story also discussed the hotly debated Regional Tourism Act measure that would allow Pueblo to keep a percentage of local sales tax for the next 50 years (about $43 million) to be put toward expansions and improvements in the downtown area. That is, if Pueblo City Council allowed a $14 million loan to kick-start the project. In June, council denied the loan 5-2 on the grounds that it wouldn't generate an influx of jobs, for which the money is earmarked. By December, with a change in council members and new information from the city attorney, council voted 4-1 to "approve an ordinance to let the city consider tourism jobs as qualifying" for the loan, reported the Chieftain — thus opening the door for the loan to be broached again, which is expected in January. — Edie Adelstein
Fix in for flooding
On July 16, heavy rains soaked the area and inundated Michael and Laurel Chiaramonte's house on Popes Valley Drive. The culprit was a failed stormwater drainage system approved by the city decades ago ("The Waterfall no one wanted," Aug. 6).
The couple pushed the city to do something, because it wasn't their first flood problem, and they figured it wouldn't be the last, considering a waterfall was emptying water from a condominium complex several stories above their property.
In less than a week after our story appeared, the city moved to find a solution to the problem. As a temporary fix, it brought in straw bales and other materials to create "a big temp wall," as Michael Chiaramonte reported at the time.
"The temp wall hasn't been tested by any significant rains since it was installed," he writes in a Dec. 5 email. He adds that he wasn't sure what the city had in mind for the permanent solution.
Tim Mitros, stormwater manager in the city Public Works Department, reports the city hired WH Pacific, for $133,349, to figure out how to stop the flooding for good. WH Pacific hired Kumar & Associates, Inc., to look at stability of the existing slope and other geological concerns.
Kumar recommends installation of a temporary pipe to direct flows away from the damaged slope above Chiaramonte's house, knocking down loose rock, spraying concrete onto the existing claystone surface to prevent further erosion and installing rock nets, Mitros says.
The city is trying to find money to pay for the work, termed Phase 1, which is expected to cost from $150,000 to $200,000 and is to be completed in early 2015, according to Mitros.
Phase 2 involves installation of a permanent pipe to direct runoff to an outlet box, he says, a design on which WH Pacific is currently working. That construction cost will run in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. Again, the city hasn't identified a funding source. Mitros says the project is included in the first year of a five-year, $160-million bond proposal being floated by Mayor Steve Bach that requires voter approval.
Meantime, it's not all good for the Chiaramontes. The city rejected their claim for reimbursement for about $20,000 in flood damage to their home's walls, trim, carpeting and furnishings. — Pam Zubeck