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Noted: Small to work for watershed 

Small hired by watershed

Apparently deciding that political retirement isn't for him, former Springs Vice Mayor Larry Small has accepted a job as director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, after having served on the district's board.

The job was posted in December and advertised for $60,000 a year. Small will be paid $2,500 a month, or $30,000 a year. Small could not be reached by press time, but board member Gabe Ortega, a Fountain City Council member, says Small expressed interest in the job while still serving on the board, and the board hired him after Small left office April 19.

Small served on the district board by virtue of being a Council member. The district oversees improvements in the watershed and relies on money supplied by Springs Utilities. The city enterprise will provide $50 million in installments to the district after water is flowing in the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, expected in 2016, Utilities spokeswoman Janet Rummel says. — PZ

Liston on the shelf

State Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, is gone from the state Capitol, possibly for the rest of the Legislature's session. The veteran lawmaker had to have emergency eye surgery Monday after being diagnosed last Friday with a detached retina. The Denver Post notes that Liston was told to take it easy for at least a week, maybe two. The session will end Wednesday, May 11.

According to his legislative aide, Jerry Wheeler, recovery means "staying as motionless as possible." Liston also can't go to an altitude higher than 7,000 feet, which prevents him from driving over Monument Hill to Denver.

Now it's a game of wait-and-see as to how this will affect the Republicans who, until now, held a tenuous 33-32 majority in the House. Bills must have at least 33 votes to pass the House.

What will his absence mean for his own bills? Only one is still sitting in a House committee, says Wheeler, with the rest having progressed to the Senate. HB 1091, which would create a sales tax exemption for medical equipment, is in the House Appropriations Committee. According to Wheeler, in the past if a legislator left mid-session, leadership would re-assign the bill a new sponsor. In the instance of 1091, Wheeler says Liston will decide, in cooperation with one of the co-sponsors, who should assume sponsorship. — CH

No nuke plant for Pueblo

Pueblo County commissioners voted unanimously Monday to reject a proposal to create an energy park anchored by a nuclear power plant.

Commissioners cited water usage and storage of spent fuel rods in making their decision not to rezone 24,000 acres of land southeast of Pueblo for the energy park, the Pueblo Chieftain reports.

The proposal was filed by local attorney Don Banner with county planners in January. In February, it won planning commission approval, and in March, the application went to county commissioners. They held two long public hearings where, after Japan's nuclear power plant failure caused by a tsunami, opponents far outweighed supporters.

"People know these plants are now as safe as they humanly can be, but they get stirred up, don't do research and just react to headlines," Banner said to the Chieftain. He also said another Colorado city had asked him to explore nuclear power possibilities. Banner said he "respectfully disagreed" with the commissioners' decision. — PZ

Ex-rivals endorse Bach

Brian Bahr, Buddy Gilmore and Tom Gallagher, also-rans in the recent election for mayor of Colorado Springs, released a statement Wednesday morning that endorsed Steve Bach in the mayoral runoff.

In a joint statement, Bahr, Gilmore and Gallagher said their decision was influenced by Richard Skorman characterizing Bach as a developer.

The statement says: "Although both candidates in this runoff election have laid out their plans for the future of Colorado Springs, only one candidate remaining in this race has consistently presented a plan that upholds the conservative, limited government values we believe in. That candidate is Steve Bach." — RR

Illegal trail draws outrage

An illegal trail carved into the wilderness near Rampart Range Road in Garden of the Gods has caused an uproar among outdoor enthusiasts. The trail was made by a handful of downhill mountain bikers, who hacked limbs off centuries-old junipers and crushed native plants to make it. Mountain biking is legal only on designated trails in Garden of the Gods.

After hearing about the illegal trail, Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, a local group of mountain bikers dedicated to community service, trail-building and maintenance, agreed to organize volunteers to repair the area on Saturday, May 7.

"While three or four selfish mountain bikers may have caused this problem, we've got 20 or 25 that are going to show up to fix it," says Jim Schwerin, president of Medicine Wheel. "[This] has been condemned by any mountain biker who has any sense at all."

Kurt Schroeder, of Colorado Springs' Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, says that illegal trails are a problem in other city parks and open spaces as well. Hikers are known to hack trails that have to be repaired and blocked off by parks employees. Trails cut by hikers, particularly in Stratton Open Space, have also become a problem lately. — JAS

GOP rips Dems' redistricting

Two sets of proposed maps are making their way through the Colorado General Assembly's congressional redistricting process. Whether either set actually holds the future of Colorado's district boundaries is still very much up in the air.

Tuesday night, state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, held a town hall meeting at Centennial Hall to discuss the issue. The small crowd included a number of elected officials, and even U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn was a surprise last-minute addition. He spoke in favor of the Republican effort because the Democrats' maps, he says, would negatively affect the unified representation that he gives the area's five military installations.

Looper explains that the Democrats have proposed maps that maintain "city integrity" but would cut parts of unincorporated El Paso County out of Lamborn's 5th District. This area, annexed to the 3rd District, would include Fort Carson and Schriever Air Force Base.

While Democratic lawmakers have prioritized making districts more competitive while still keeping "communities of interest" intact, Republicans have proposed maps that keep all of a county in the same district. Looper calls the GOP maps "very wholesome, very clean, very fair."

By law, the Legislature must pass a redistricting plan by May 11, the end of its session. It must address population shifts in current districts. As Looper puts it, Lamborn's district is a little overweight and needs to shed about 7,400 voters.

Saturday brings another local opportunity for the public to learn about redistricting. Democratic state Rep. Pete Lee will host a 9:30 a.m. town hall at Manitou Springs City Hall, 606 Manitou Ave. Just keep in mind: The last attempt at redistricting 10 years ago wound up in Colorado's Supreme Court. — CH

County IT chief canned

Information technology manager Bill Miller, one of El Paso County's highest-paid workers and a county employee for at least a decade, was among seven employees recently swept off the job in the county's pursuit of "a new direction" in information technology, Commissioner Dennis Hisey says.

Miller, whose salary and benefits totaled $153,000 a year, stirred controversy in years past by hiring companies under sole-source contracts — companies, which then, under his supervision, drove costs upward. In one case, the contract increased by 15 times from the original amount.

But Hisey says Miller "did a good job for us," and adds, "it's a new day, a new direction" as the county tries to move away from systems that are becoming obsolete. — PZ

Immigrant children lose again

Republicans in the state House Education Committee have shot down a bill that would have offered in-state tuition to undocumented children of immigrants. A similar bill was defeated two years ago.

Under Senate Bill 126, widely known as Colorado ASSET, children who attend at least three years at a Colorado high school would have been eligible for in-state tuition at a state college or university. They would not have been eligible for a subsidy to tuition known as the College Opportunity Fund, so they actually would have paid slightly more than their in-state peers. (This fact led supporters to call the bill a money-maker for education.)

Republicans and immigration opponents called the bill a giveaway to families who knowingly break the country's immigration laws. Following the bill's committee defeat, the Higher Education Access Alliance, a group of nonprofits that supported the bill, released a long statement condemning the action. — JAS

Education cut lessened

Colorado's K-through-12 public education system caught a break this week. Sort of.

The devastating cut to the education fund, which was expected to be $250 million, has lost some of its bite thanks to an amendment to the School Finance Act proposed by Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, which takes $22.5 out of the K-12 savings fund and puts it toward school funding. Last year, the General Assembly cut $260 million out of K-through-12 funding.

K-through-12 accounts for about 40 percent of the state's total budget.

On Monday, the House voted in a strong bipartisan showing to move the amended bill on to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. — CH

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

  • Also: No nuke plant for Pueblo, ex-rivals endorse Bach, county IT chief canned and more.

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