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Noted: Initial Incline plans approved 

Editor's note: The brief on solitary confinement was revised Feb. 25 to clarify the source for statistics related to the punishment's costs.

More approvals and permits still needed for Incline

City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to give initial approval to a plan that would open the Manitou Incline trail to the public.

The Incline, a former cable car route that climbs steeply up Rocky Mountain near Mount Manitou, attracts 350,000 to 500,000 hikers every year despite being officially closed to the public. City Councilor Scott Hente, a hiker and Incline fan, helped start the complicated process to open the trail.

Once Colorado Springs grants final approval to the Incline plan, much remains to be done. Manitou Springs City Council must also approve it. A permit is needed from the Forest Service.

Then there's fundraising and volunteer efforts to mobilize. Parking issues to solve. Safety issues to be addressed.

"Like all wonderful attractions, they seem to come with their own complications and issues," said Sarah Bryarly, interim design, development and Trails, Open Space and Parks manager for the Colorado Springs parks department.

But that didn't stem the excitement from advocates of the trail, who showed up in force to the Council meeting.

"I think this is a boon for the community," Hente told the crowd. " I think it's an economic development tool for the community."

A "legal" Incline could open as soon as this summer or as late as next year. — JAS

Charter review put off

After the strong mayor form of government got voters' stamp of approval in November, the city began an arduous process of changing city laws to reflect the new form of government.

But that's just the housekeeping work. With a new government in place, City Councilors agree that bigger changes to the city charter are probably needed. The question is: When and how will those changes come to pass?

Well, on Tuesday, Councilors decided the alterations wouldn't be made on their watch. They overrode a request by Councilor Randy Purvis to put together a citizens' committee to examine needed updates. Council said putting together a committee should be the job of the new mayor and Councilors, who will be elected in the coming months. — JAS

Pueblo's nuclear option

A nuclear power plant — in Pueblo?

In front of a packed house Tuesday night, the Pueblo County Planning Commission voted 5-3 to approve two land-use changes that would enable development of 24,000 acres southeast of Pueblo as an "energy park," which would include a nuclear power plant.

One approval, to amend the regional development plan, was the last word, while the other vote — to recommend rezoning the land — will be considered by the Pueblo Board of County Commissioners on March 15.

County planners oppose the proposal, saying not enough information is available about it. In addition, planning director Kim Headley says there's doubt about how much discretion county officials can exercise over the development in the future if they grant a "vested real property right," as requested, to developers in Phase 1 of the three-phase development process.

Puebloans for Energizing Our Community LLC, run by Donald Banner, is pushing the plan, which was submitted to planners late January.

Tuesday's hearing lasted over six hours and drew 150 people, 20 of whom spoke for the project and 20 against, Headley says.

Planning documents describe "establishing various types of electrical generating facilities including, but not limited to, nuclear, solar, wind, gas and geothermal electrical generating facilities .... Coal-fired generation facilities would be excluded from the designation."

The Sierra Club opposes the idea, saying in a press release that so-called "clean energy" from a nuclear plant carries dangers of polluting water, soil and air from uranium mining, milling and other processes. — PZ

Lawmakers examine solitary

For decades, critics of the practice have warned that punishing people in long-term solitary confinement can be extremely damaging, leaving deep psychological scars. Yet none of them have managed to stop the United States' reliance on Supermax prisons and single-housing units to incarcerate those inmates deemed most dangerous to society.

In Colorado, 37 percent of the 1,400 state inmates held in solitary confinement are developmentally disabled or mentally ill, according to a Department of Corrections 2008 report. That number increased from 15 percent in a decade.

Solitary confinement means 23 hours a day spent alone in a small cell with little stimulus, and can last 16 months straight. According to the ACLU, costs associated with the punishment, above and beyond typical incarceration costs, run from $14,933 to $21,485 a year per inmate.

Calling this the most extreme, and costly, form of imprisonment at the state's disposal, Democratic Rep. Claire Levy of Boulder, joined by Democratic Sen. Morgan Carroll of Aurora, introduced legislation this week that would limit it to only those inmates who pose an immediate threat to other inmates or staff.

According to the bill, prisons would have to evaluate the mental health of an inmate prior to moving him or her into solitary. If it is found that the inmate's mental health would be jeopardized, or that other therapeutic options to mitigate the inmate's behavior have not been exhausted, then the prison would not be allowed to move the inmate. Further, once an inmate is in solitary confinement, the prison would be required to perform a routine mental health assessment every 30 days.

The ACLU is throwing its support behind the bill, stating that it will "end the all-too-common practice of warehousing prisoners with serious mental illness in solitary confinement." — CH

Pension consultant hired

City-owned Memorial Health System has hired October Three LLC of Denver to perform an actuarial study to generate a figure for how much the hospital must pay to leave the Public Employee Retirement Association.

Memorial was surprised to get PERA's estimate of $246 million to pull out. That total includes future payments owed to current and former Memorial employees, along with assurances that those currently retired are covered going forward.

The amount of the consulting contract wasn't available, because October Three will be paid by the hour, Memorial spokesman Brian Newsome said.

The PERA payout would be necessary if Memorial converts to a nonprofit entity as recommended by a nine-member citizen commission and endorsed by a majority on City Council. The plan to ask voter approval for the switch at the April 5 city election was derailed in part by the high PERA figure; Memorial officials now hope for a November ballot measure. The recommended ownership change stems from Memorial's contention that the system cannot grow and prosper under the restrictions of city ownership. — PZ

Civil-unions bill brings hope

"Should government tell us who we should love? We'll look back on this moment and realize it was foolish that [this legislation] took so long."

That was state Sen. John Morse of Colorado Springs, in an interview about Senate Bill 172, at Monday's LGBT Lobby Day at the state Capitol. The bill, introduced on Valentine's Day by fellow Democratic state Sen. Pat Steadman, would establish civil unions and provide significant legal protections for committed gay and lesbian couples across the state.

About 125 advocates took part in Lobby Day, according to LGBT group ONE Colorado, and SB 172 was a focal point. After written requests, many legislators briefly left the chamber floors to talk with participants, though some requests were ignored, or handled by legislative aides.

According to the Colorado Independent, the bill is likely to meet its most formidable challenge in the House Judiciary Committee, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 7 to 4. Colorado Springs Rep. Bob Gardner chairs the committee. — MR

Borman named superintendent

After weeks of controversial headlines coming out of Falcon School District 49, it's sort of odd to hear about the successful appointment of a new superintendent anywhere. But that's what Lewis-Palmer School District 38 has achieved. On the 17th, the Lewis-Palmer School Board voted unanimously to give the job to longtime educator John Borman.

"As the superintendent, establishing effective communication with staff, parents, and community must occur for any of the other difficult work to have a chance to be accomplished," Borman wrote in his application for the job. The district covers Palmer Lake, Monument, Woodmoor and northern Black Forest, and serves 5,800 students.

Borman is currently the principal of Lewis-Palmer High School. He will start in his new position at the beginning of July. — CH

Condemnation OK'd

Colorado Springs Utilities can move ahead with condemning certain property in Pueblo West for the Southern Delivery System water pipeline project, but not until landowners get a new appraisal by an appraiser of their choosing.

After those appraisals are obtained, if an agreement on price can't be reached, the city utility can go to court to acquire the property, the City Council decided Tuesday on a 7-1 vote, with Tom Gallagher dissenting. (Darryl Glenn is no longer a member of Council after assuming his county commission seat.)

Earlier this month, Utilities asked permission to condemn the property after reaching a stalemate on price. Fifteen properties are at issue. Utilities has reached agreement with 118 of the 133 property interests required for construction in Pueblo West. — PZ

The two faces of Littleton

Last week, new El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton took issue with Sheriff Terry Maketa wanting to accept a $1,000 donation for law enforcement from Jeffrey and Julie Sveinsson, who run Cannabicare, a medical marijuana center.

She said it was a conflict of interest for Maketa, who enforces the laws on MMJ centers, to accept the donation. Other commissioners disagreed and approved accepting the gift, however.

Later in the week, the Indy discovered Littleton herself accepted $1,000 from Jeffrey Sveinsson, according to state campaign records. As a commissioner, Littleton doesn't enforce laws that could affect the MMJ industry — but she serves on a body that imposes regulations on it.

Littleton refused to respond to the Indy's request for comment, though she told the Gazette that the donations represent "totally different things." — PZ

Compiled by Chet Hardin, Matt Ruppert, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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