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News briefs from the Front Range

New schools without taxes?
State Democratic leaders believe they've found a way to give struggling school districts a chance to fill holes, patch roofs and build new schools to ease overcrowding. They want to skim the fresh cream off the top of a very old source of money. State-owned School Trust Lands have been around since Colorado gained statehood, and revenues generated through their use have long been dumped into a permanent fund. A small portion of the interest on that money has been harvested and used for educational purposes.

Today, that land is making much more than it ever has, something state Treasurer Cary Kennedy says is a result of economic growth. So leaders are proposing a bill that would harvest $30 to $40 million of $90 million in estimated 2008 revenues from the lands to use for capital projects at crumbling schools. The arrangement would be continued for five years. Money would likely be awarded through matching grants, and the bill would not raise taxes.

Kennedy, House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, state Sen. John Morse, Rep. Michael Merrifield and Rep. Marsha Looper gathered Monday in Colorado Springs to support the bill. "We want to harness some of that growth," Kennedy said. "This asset belongs to Colorado's schoolkids." JAS

More military for Springs?
Sen. Wayne Allard sent a letter to Army Secretary Pete Geren this week, asking Geren to increase Fort Carson's brigade combat teams from four to five. Fort Carson is "one of the premier locations for America's soldiers," he stated. The move would add 2,500 to 3,000 new Fort Carson soldiers to the city.

"Butts Army Airfield at Fort Carson has an active runway and a hanger [sic] facility and the Pinon [sic] Canyon Maneuver Site provides additional land for training and maneuvering and remains an invaluable resource to the Army," Allard wrote in the Nov. 19 letter.

Allard also said the Colorado Springs economy is a major attraction.

Fort Carson is already growing as the result of the recent addition of the 4th Infantry Division, an expected boon to the economy that has schools, governments, the housing industry and others planning for an influx of families. The Army is in the process of placing six new brigade combat teams nationwide. MdY

Shooting area survives
District Ranger Brent Botts says his decision to keep Rampart Range Shooting Area open came after tests showed lead bullets and shells weren't causing significant environmental damage.

However, Botts is looking to improve conditions at Rampart, known for its trash, overcrowding and lack of supervision. He's considering an earthen berm at the bottom of the shotgun range to trap lead, as well as reconstruction and maintenance of existing berms and barriers. Another concept: a free permit system to ease overcrowding.

During the public comment period through Dec. 31, Botts hopes to hear ideas on how to improve Rampart or to have a volunteer group step forward to steward the range. He thinks the best-case scenario would be a company running the range.

A coalition soon will consider whether more shooting ranges are needed in the Springs area, and where any such ranges would be located. Send specific suggestions for Rampart's future to: District Ranger, Pikes Peak Ranger District, 601 S. Weber St., Colorado Springs, CO 80903. JAS

Rep. Udall backs study of Fort Carsons Pinon expansion

Despite the irritation to ranchers and their allies, U.S. Rep. Mark Udall backs study of the Fort Carsons proposed expansion of Army training grounds in southeast Colorado.

I think it is a good thing to have the Army make their case because they havent yet, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2008 told reporters late last week. My concern has been that the ranchers and the people who live in that part of the state dont get an answer as to what ultimately is going to happen as soon as they would possibly like it.

The 2008 military construction bill contains a provision to prevent the Army from expanding the 235,000-acre Fort Carson training grounds for a year. Nonetheless, Udall and Colorados two current U.S senators Wayne Allard, a Republican, and Ken Salazar, a Democrat pushed for the additional legislation to study the 418,000-acre expansion proposal into ecologically sensitive cattle country east of Walsenburg. MdY

OpticalReverb opens gallery
There's a definite sense of relief and excitement in Jason Zacharias' voice these days. His art-display business, OpticalReverb, and the works of the nearly 200 artists that it represents, have a home at 4 Ruxton Ave. in Manitou Springs.

Brenda Wheatbrook, proprietor of The Creative Flow, a store that occupies the location, approached Zacharias about showing both his artists' works and her own jewelry creations in the building.

The store, which Zacharias says he'll likely call OpticalReverb at The Creative Flow, will serve as his home base. He will continue curating shows at OpticalReverb's rotating locations (Phantom Canyon Brewing Co., The Warehouse Restaurant and Green Mountain Falls' Stones, Bones & Wood).

But this new partnership with Wheatbrook and her business partner, Ann Sorensen, should help his company in one area where those other locations haven't: In a tourist-laden atmosphere, he should be able to sell more of his artists' works. He also expects to have more creative freedom.

An opening reception is tentatively scheduled for Friday, Nov. 30, but passersby are welcome in the meantime. PF

Weigh in on wind
Residents worried about whether their electricity comes from coal or wind have the chance to state their minds this month as Colorado Springs Utilities hosts an online survey. Results will help officials try to develop a long-term energy plan.

Utilities predicts the city will need a new power plant by 2013 if current growth and energy-use patterns continue. Some residents have questioned whether efforts to conserve electricity and find alternative sources could help eliminate the same gap.

The survey will assess interest in alternative energy sources and gauge how much residents would be willing to pay for it.

Complete the survey at csu.org.

AL Compiled by Pete Freedman, Anthony Lane, J. Adrian Stanley and Michael de Yoanna.

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