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Noted: Motor vehicles banned in Bear Creek watershed 

No motors on Captain Jack's

Trails in the Bear Creek watershed, including the popular Captain Jack's trail, will soon close to motorcycles and off-road vehicles.

The move is a result of a legal settlement between the U.S. Forest Service, which owns much of the area's land, and the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued in order to force the closures.

Bear Creek was found to be the last home of the threatened greenback cutthroat trout ("Fifty shades of green," cover story, Oct. 3), and the area has long been a source of controversy between recreationalists and environmentalists, both of whom have sought to help the fish. Motorcyclists have spent volunteer time and money doing mitigation work, and the Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities were satisfied with the continued efforts. But the Center alleged the work fell short of what was needed.

"I think the Forest [Service] understands that closure of these trails are necessary even with the lawsuit aside," Center Attorney Tim Ream tells the Independent. "... I do think they were close to making this decision before the lawsuit was ever filed."

The ban goes in place no later than 10 days after the entry of judgment, which happens at the judge's discretion but is expected soon. Portions of trails owned by Utilities technically aren't included in the ban but will also be closed, with access points cut off.

Ned Suesse, trail coordinator for the Colorado Motorcycle Trail Riders Association, which has advocated keeping the trails open, could not immediately be reached for comment. The Forest Service plans to conduct an environmental study to determine best uses in the future. — JAS

Steep opt-out for smart meters

Don't like the idea of Colorado Springs Utilities reading your meters remotely? You can opt out under a measure that was expected to win approval of City Council on Tuesday. But you'll pay dearly.

Besides privacy concerns, activists worldwide have rallied around worries that so-called "smart meters" expose citizens to potentially dangerous radiation. Utilities' new rule would impose a one-time $109 charge to have your smart meter removed, and a $20 monthly charge to have a Utilities worker read your meters.

Also Tuesday, Utilities was to propose rate increases in natural gas, electric and water service, essentially offset by reductions in fuel cost adjustments for gas and electric beginning in January. Bottom line: Typical residential customers will see their bills increase by $1 a month next year, if Council approves the changes. — PZ

Westside deal lives on

The city and Westside Community Center LLC, a charity with ties to Woodmen Valley Chapel, have renewed their 2010 partnership agreement. The nonprofit will continue running the center, at 1628 W. Bijou St., through at least December 2015. Since taking over the center during city budget cuts, the LLC has made improvements to the building and added programming. An average of 8,000 people participate in Westside programs every month.

"Thousands of our citizens are benefitting from the wide range of opportunities provided by our partner organization," Karen Palus, director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, stated in a press release.

Under the new contract, which goes into effect Jan. 1, the city is not obligated to subsidize Westside beyond maintenance. In past years, however, the city has issued an annual subsidy to Westside, and the 2013 budget recommends $75,000 for Westside's operations — still far less than needed for the city's other three centers. — JAS

Park water in dispute

To keep the parks green despite a budget shortfall for irrigation costs, a majority of City Council members want to dip into the city's reserve fund for $545,000. But Mayor Steve Bach is asking for city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities to eat the money. If Bach vetoes the budget based on Council's desire to pull the money from reserves, the Council will need six votes to override the veto.

Already, Utilities has taken several steps to reduce the cost of watering parks. "In 2010, we implemented a conservation rate program, which has saved the parks more than $2 million in water irrigation since that time," says Utilities spokesman Dave Grossman.

In addition, Utilities has been rehabilitating timers, sprinklers and other equipment to make park irrigation systems more efficient, according to Grossman. Those steps have reduced the city's usage by 48 million gallons each of the last two years, resulting in a cost reduction of $358,000, he says

Thirdly, Grossman says, Utilities gives the city half of the premium charged for short-term water contracts to outsiders, such as Donala Water and Sanitation District and Cherokee Metropolitan District, which has yielded the city roughly $500,000 annually.

If Bach wins out, Utilities' ratepayers will essentially be called upon to subsidize parks irrigation. But Councilor Angela Dougan was quoted in the Gazette as saying that Councilors, sitting as the Utilities Board, should be able to find the money "in a matter of hours." — PZ

Compiled by J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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