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Noted: Plenty of force behind Banning Lewis drilling idea 

Ultra still wants to drill

City legal staff filed several documents Tuesday in an effort to block Ultra Petroleum of Houston from dodging obligations in the Banning Lewis Ranch annexation agreement.

Ultra has bid $26.25 million for the southern 18,000 acres of the massive undeveloped property on the city's eastern edge. KeyBank, which held debt against the property, bid on the smaller north portion. The owners, owing more than $200 million, filed bankruptcy last year.

Ultra is interested in drilling for oil and gas on the property, and wants the bankruptcy court to allow it to set aside the annexation agreement requiring developers to give the city land for roads, fire and police stations, power substations, drainage facilities and other public facilities. In the pleadings, the city says uncertainty over the annexation agreement could complicate completion of the Southern Delivery System pipeline originally designed in part to deliver water to the ranch.

The city seeks to have the bankruptcy transferred to Colorado from Delaware, a motion previously denied, and asks for City Attorney Patricia Kelly to testify at a hearing Thursday by phone, because she couldn't attend in Delaware. — PZ

Wal-Mart finalizes plans

Wal-Mart indeed will build a 210,000-square-foot data center in north Colorado Springs, the company confirmed in a press release this week. Word of a Fortune 500 company building a data center here first leaked in May ("Power play," News, May 12), and City Council approved a $6 million incentive package for Wal-Mart on May 24 ("Data centers: Open for business," News, May 26).

To be located on a 24-acre site in the Interquest development, the data center will employ about 30 full-time employees. Construction begins in October, with a projected completion date in late 2012.

Wal-Mart also won incentives from El Paso County, the state and Academy School District 20. The giant discount retailer employs roughly 3,000 people at its 11 stores in the Springs metro area. — PZ

Parks fees to rise in 2012

In what's become an annual affair, City Council on Tuesday approved raising park and recreation fees to cover costs of providing services. Some fees won't change, but some will go up by 66 percent, such as use of parks by groups of more than 5,000 people for special events and festivals, which will increase to $1,250 from $750.

Fees for youth sports programs are going up by $2 a person for fall tackle football, spring tackle football and flag football. Lifeguard training classes will increase to $175 from $165, and community center charges also will escalate by roughly $5 to $20 for each type of use. The exception is summer camp for elementary kids, which goes up to $336 from $295.

The vote was 7-2, with Angela Dougan and Lisa Czelatdko opposed. Czelatdko expressed concern that the five-minute grace period before charging parents $1 per minute for picking up kids late at community centers wasn't long enough. — PZ

Message sent to Lamborn

As the debate over the debt ceiling continues to rage, the message of the 30 or more people who showed up Tuesday at U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn's district office can be boiled down to a single concept: give us fair taxation.

That's the demand; whether Lamborn heard it is another matter. He was in Washington as the protesters, organized by MoveOn.org, gathered inside his Springs office. They were greeted by a staffer who apologized that he couldn't help them, and said he'd surely pass along the message.

Every plan being floated at the moment would raise the debt limit, but Judi Ingelido, first vice chair of the El Paso Democratic Party, explains what she sees as a frustration: "It is a lack of fairness. You heard our president talk about a balanced approach. We need to make cuts; we all know that. But it's going to have to be the military, and it's going to have to be the wealthier people. There are going to have to be subsidies cut going out to oil companies."

Catherine Mortensen, Lamborn's communications director, said in a press release Wednesday that the congressman's local and Washington offices received about 2,900 calls in total on Tuesday, most from people in favor of seeing the ceiling raised. She added, "Many of the callers seemed to have heard the President's speech the night before, because they were using his language." — CH

Trio of road projects coming

Thanks to an accumulation of unused money over several years for information technology and other support services, three road projects will get done this year that otherwise weren't funded.

City Council granted Mayor Steve Bach's request on Tuesday to spend the leftover funds for three milling and overlay projects: Cimarron Street from East Sierra Madre Street to west of Wahsatch Avenue, $210,000; Cascade Avenue between Colorado and Moreno avenues, $250,000, and Interquest Parkway from Interstate 25 to Voyager Parkway, $1.2 million.

After paying for the three projects, the city still will have nearly $3 million in the support services fund that's not spoken for. Budget officer Lisa Bigelow says the balance will be "programmed into" the 2012 budget, but hasn't said for what purpose. — PZ

Jailhouse ruckus

On Monday, partisan tensions on the Colorado Reapportionment Commission were let loose when the former mayor of Denver, Democrat Wellington Webb, publicly chastised fellow commissioner, Republican Mario Nicolais, over the drawing of House District 37, a number of media outlets have reported. Among his complaints was that the Republicans included the jail population in Arapahoe County to bolster the district’s minority numbers.

“After closer inspection, I came to find out that it was the inclusion of the Arapahoe County jail, with thousands of black and brown inmates, that gave this district its ‘minority influence,’“ Webb said, according to the Denver Post. “While counted for the census, these inmates are certainly not voting for the candidate of their choice nor influencing the outcome of the election.”

The Post goes on to report that Nicolais claimed he did not necessarily mean to include inmates as minority voters, though he added that jail populations have “to be included somewhere.”

“Those are the kinds of games, and why you have to watch the Republicans every step of the way,” Senate Majority Leader John Morse tells the Indy. “Because they are masters at saying one thing and doing something else.” — CH

TABOR time in court

On Monday, Aug. 1, Denver District Court is expected to take up Lobato v. State of Colorado. At the heart of the case is whether or not the education clause in the state constitution trumps the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. Essentially: Is the state obligated to overlook the restrictions of TABOR and raise taxes to increase school funding?

The suit was filed in 2005, alleging that the state was failing to fulfill its constitutional obligation to ensure a “thorough and uniform” education for all K-12 public school kids. According to the state attorney general, the plaintiffs in the suit are arguing that the state is under-funding schools by about $3 billion. The 2010-11 state budget for K-12 was $3.2 billion. (The entire state budget nowadays is $6.9 billion.)

The trial is expected to last a few weeks, but could spend years winding its way through expected appeals. — CH

Compiled by Chet Hardin and Pam Zubeck.

  • Also: Wal-Mart makes it official, parks fees to rise, more.

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