A microphone stands, podium-less, in front of a wide table where the chief water manager from Colorado Springs Utilities sits with other men wearing suits and sport coats.
Speakers using the mic face these officials, leaving their backs turned to a crowd of about 100 people, most of them hostile to Colorado Springs' proposed Southern Delivery System pipeline.
Like many speakers this Thursday night in Pueblo, Willie Olsen rejects the first microphone, walking instead to a second one that a manager from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation used when he started the meeting minutes earlier. Olsen sets a dusty clipboard on the podium and starts speaking.
"Colorado Springs has not been responsible for its sewage since the '60s," he says.
Olsen explains that mud and sewage battered his La Junta home as a 1999 flood unleashed by torrential rain around Colorado Springs surged down the Arkansas River. Reminders of the flood still pop up.
"Today, I grabbed a clipboard from the flood," he says.
Olsen is only getting started talking about problems with the quality and quantity of water entering Fountain Creek by way of Colorado Springs when he hits the three-minute limit. He sits to a burst of hearty applause.
The evening's theme quickly becomes clear, even with most speakers stopped by the time limit: The Springs has a vision of continued growth and the water pipeline that will help make it happen.
Residents living along Fountain Creek, in Pueblo and down the Arkansas River, mostly see that growth bringing new risks to them with no apparent benefit. The leading option is for the pipeline to carry billions of gallons north each year from Pueblo Reservoir to the Springs, but much of the extra water will return south in Fountain Creek after passing through Springs' sewage treatment.
SDS has been in the works for years, and a 60-day public comment period for a draft environmental impact statement on the project was originally set to close in April. Complaints about the challenge of wading through the 600-page report and thousands of pages of supporting documents won a new deadline of June 13.
U.S. Rep. John Salazar asked for this meeting after hearing from constituents disgruntled that they had been offered informational meetings but no chance to make public comments.
Thursday's speakers mostly worried about Fountain Creek. State Rep. Buffie McFadyen, a Pueblo Democrat, says the subject has touched a nerve: "I've never seen an issue unite the lower Arkansas Valley as this one has."
Colorado Springs' new stormwater utility is supposed to combat some problems, but McFadyen notes the strange signal being sent as one elected official publicly battles against the program. (That would be state Rep. Douglas Bruce, who is backing a ballot initiative to make the utility's fees optional.)
Bruce McCormick, Colorado Springs Utilities' chief water services officer, stays quiet through the meeting, but concludes by saying he "appreciates" the speakers' concerns.
"We are committed to working on Fountain Creek," he says.
McCormick sits next to officials from the city's smaller partners in the project, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security, as well as a manager from the Bureau of Reclamation and Rep. Salazar. Salazar stands out as the only one of the six men in shirtsleeves, and his final statement also sets him apart. Withdrawing the draft EIS, he says, might not be "such a bad idea."
"I don't think [the report] really addresses the issues," Salazar says.
Comments on the draft environmental impact statement are due June 13. They can be e-mailed to email@example.com, faxed to 970/663-3212 or mailed to Bureau of Reclamation, 11056 W. County Road 18E, Loveland, CO 80537.
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