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Noted: College enrollment up 

More back to school

Despite the mostly grim news coming out community colleges lately (see "Death to higher ed?" News, July 23), the latest being a pay-raise freeze for all professors, Pikes Peak Community College is showing increased life. Initial enrollment for the 2009 fall semester is up by more than 12 percent, perhaps surpassing 13,000, according to PPCC officials.

Colorado State University-Pueblo also reports enrollment is up by 10.5 percent to more than 4,700 students. And the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs confirms its enrollment is likely up to more than 8,000 total students from 7,960 last year.

Final U.S. Census numbers, which partially determine state funding, will be released later in September. — BC

Climbing center downtown?

Amid the empty shop windows and stalled construction projects of downtown, the sign above the old Ute Theatre building at the corner of East Kiowa and North Nevada avenues teases something different: "What's coming here soon?" it asks mysteriously.

Signs in the windows hint that it could be a location of The ROCK Climbing Center, which now operates in Monument. Mock-ups hanging in the window show plans for bouldering caves, as well as larger walls for top-roping and lead-climbing. A sign mentions yoga and other activities.

Calls to the center were not returned Wednesday. The ROCK Climbing Center's Web address is climbingtherock.com. — AL

Baca drilling on hold

It looks like plans to drill for natural gas underneath Baca National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Colorado will be stalled for at least another winter.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Court Judge Walker Miller granted a preliminary injunction Sept. 3, finding that environmentalists had made a strong case that drilling would cause "irreparable" harm to the refuge, adjacent to Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Canadian energy company Lexam Explorations, which owns the rights to minerals under the refuge, caused an outcry in late 2007 when it started moving forward with plans to drill exploratory wells in an effort to find recoverable gas. Many locals complained the drilling would damage sensitive wildlife habitat and possibly contaminate the San Luis Valley's extensive aquifers, which provide drinking water and support area agriculture.

Miller's decision means no drilling will happen until a lawsuit filed by environmentalists is resolved. — AL

Army loses on Piñon ruling

The Army lost another round this week in the debate over expanding the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, when a federal judge threw out an environmental review of the military's plan. According to an Associated Press report, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch in Denver overturned a 2007 environmental analysis of stepping up training at the site, saying the Army didn't adequately analyze the environmental impacts of heightened intensity and longer training.

The ruling resulted from a challenge by area ranchers who oppose the Army's proposal to expand the 370-square-mile training site to 525 square miles. Colorado legislators passed a law this year barring the selling or leasing of state-owned land for the expansion. — PZ

Former Councilor joins Fountain Creek effort

Richard Skorman, former Springs City Councilman, U.S. Senate aide and conservation promoter, is re-entering public life. But don't be expecting him back on Council any time soon.

El Paso County commissioners this week named Skorman to the new Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District Board, as the representative from the Citizen Advisory Group. While working for then-Sen. Ken Salazar in 2006, Skorman helped establish a task force that recently finished a blueprint for overhauling the creek corridor into a beltway for recreation and conservation efforts.

The district can levy taxes with permission of voters from Pueblo and El Paso counties, and also can impose fees. It oversees development along the creek, including a pending controversial proposal for use of land adjacent to the creek as a gravel pit.

Skorman said he debated whether to accept the appointment, but agreed because "it's such an important issue for me."

Skorman, who's unaffiliated politically but often swings to the Democratic side, served on City Council from 1999 to 2006, when he resigned to join Salazar's office as a regional aide. In January 2008, he left that job to launch a community-based conservation effort and did a short stint with the Catamount Institute. Most recently, he set up the nonprofit Conservation Hardware Center, which sells items to save energy and water.

Although Skorman took on the Fountain Creek assignment, he says he's not interested in rejoining Council by applying for the post held by Jerry Heimlicher, who announced his resignation this week. Skorman says he has too much on his plate, running several businesses and caring for his elderly parents. — PZ

Lee enters House race

After grueling months knocking on doors and wrangling for donations, Democratic state Senate candidate Pete Lee got some disappointing election-night news last November.

But 10 months after losing to Republican Keith King by a 56-44 percent margin, the local attorney is preparing to do it again. Lee is running for the state House seat being vacated by fellow Democrat Michael Merrifield.

"Quite frankly," Lee says, "I enjoy campaigning."

That could serve Lee well leading to the 2010 election, when Republicans will look to retake a seat Merrifield snatched from them in 2002. Another boost to Lee's spirits could be simple math. In the Senate district he lost, Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1, but Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters are divided roughly into thirds in Merrifield's House District 18.

Lee plans to formally announce his candidacy at 1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 13 at Front Range Barbeque, 2330 W. Colorado Ave. House Speaker Terrance Carroll, Reps. Merrifield and Dennis Apuan, and others are scheduled to attend and voice their support. No Republicans have yet announced their candidacy for the House District 18 seat next year. — AL

'Amnesty' program yields fruit

Coming clean is easier when you know you're not going to get smacked with a fine. So to encourage more businesses to pay all their city sales taxes, Colorado Springs opened an "amnesty" window this summer. Businesses that weren't paying all their sales tax — or weren't paying at all — could turn themselves in, pay up, and face no further penalties.

The city brought in $376,730.44 in delinquent taxes through the program, and added 19 businesses that had been operating under the radar onto the tax rolls. Violating businesses normally face a 10 percent penalty, plus up to 18 percent in interest charges; for the amnesty program, the penalty was waived and interest rates were reduced to 6 percent.

"This program allowed us to help local businesses who had either gotten behind in sales and use taxes or didn't realize they were liable for the city taxes," says Terri Velasquez, the city's chief financial officer. "At the same time it provided a way for the city to collect badly needed revenues in the face of continuing budget shortfalls." — JAS

Compiled by Bryce Crawford, Anthony Lane, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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