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Manitou Eyes Zydeco Watertap Proposal 

A developer's plan to build a couple dozen million-dollar estates and a 27-hole golf course in Red Rock Canyon may be in serious jeopardy, with unavailability of water the straw that broke the camel's back.

A recent study revealed that an 80-acre landfill that operated on the site from 1970 to 1987 has leaked carcinogenic toxins into the groundwater, making it unusable. And even if the water weren't contaminated, the report adds, there's not enough there to supply the envisioned project.

The report was completed by Fort Collins-based Stewart Environmental for their client, Zydeco Development Company, a Santa-Fe based company that wants to develop the Red Rock Canyon property.

Zydeco's options are severely curtailed by the fact that Red Rock Canyon lies in unincorporated El Paso County. Manitou and Colorado Springs are the sole entities capable of supplying water in the quantities Zydeco would need, and both are loathe to service areas beyond their city limits. The company's president, Richard Yates, has ruled out annexation by either municipality.

With prospects for development of Red Rock Canyon on the apparent downswing, a multitude of eyebrows were raised when Manitou Springs City Manager Dan Wecks broached the possibility of selling 27 water taps to Zydeco at a June 12 work session of City Council.

Wecks told Council that the idea evolved out of the City's ongoing problem over an easement that gives maintenance vehicles access to a secondary water tank in the area above Crystal Hills in eastern Manitou Springs.

The easement, purchased by Manitou in 1984, has been a source of headaches because it passes through a portion of a resident's yard that adjoins water tower property. The easement, says Wecks, precludes vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or more, preventing them from using large machinery to clear away a landslide that occurred in December, 1997, and put the tower ladder within easy reach of vagrants, vandals and youthful adventurers.

Wecks' interest was piqued, he said, when public works director Gary Smith learned that the City might be able to access the water tower by way of another path that runs through a portion of the 787-acre Red Rock property under contract to Zydeco.

Wecks set up a meeting with Zydeco's president Yates to explore the possibility of securing a second easement. He said that, during the meeting, Yates proposed granting Manitou its easement if City leaders agreed to sell Zydeco 27 water taps at the going rate of $135,000.

"It was nothing more than a discussion," Wecks said, "and all I did at that council work session was report what Mr. Yates is proposing. I haven't talked with him since and I haven't recommended any course of action."

Council instructed Wecks to further explore the costs and benefits of Zydeco's proposition, and Mayor Nancy Hankins, an outspoken booster of Red Rock development, lauded it as "a really creative solution to the [easement] problem."

Hankins insists, however, that Council's response isn't an endorsement of development in Red Rock Canyon. "Our sole motivation in exploring this idea is to avoid tearing up people's yards and to find the cheapest solution to the easement problem," she said.

That rationale, however, isn't sitting well with a number of Manitou residents and open space advocates.

Former Mayor Bill Koerner characterizes Zydeco's taps-for-easement proposition as "a back-door approach to annexation."

"I doubt this idea came to light at this particular moment out of sheer coincidence," he said.

Forty-year Manitou resident and former state Rep. Marcy Morrison seconds Koerner's assessment. "Manitou already has a perfectly good easement to the water tower," she said. "Mr. Yates' offer is a way to get water to Red Rock property."

Morrison said she worries that selling Manitou water to Zydeco would put renewed development pressure on Section 16, a stunningly beautiful parcel of open space adjacent to Red Rock Canyon and Bear Creek Regional Park that was threatened with development in 1994.

Resident and activist Rick Laurenzi, meanwhile, believes that the landslide at the water tower could simply be removed by a wheeled backhoe and pickup truck.

"We're talking about a 30-by-10-foot pile of dirt, two-feet deep," he said. "Plus, that landslide occurred in December of 1997. Why is it suddenly an emergency?"

Zydeco spokesperson Tom Kay declined to comment on his boss' proposition and Zydeco consultant Perry Thomas said he knew nothing about it.

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