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Smith steps in, fighting over fish, Venetucci gets water 

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Smith named interim chief

Deputy Fire Chief Tommy Smith was named Monday as Colorado Springs interim fire chief.

Fire Chief Rich Brown resigned effective Tuesday, after 32 years with the department. He will continue as a consultant at full pay ($147,657 a year) and benefits through the end of the year.

Smith has been with the Springs Fire Department since 1991 and has been a firefighter, paramedic, lieutenant, captain and battalion chief, according to a news release. He currently oversees support services, such as training, medical, the fire marshal, fleet and facilities, HR and public communications. As interim chief, his salary will go from $119,054 to $130,959.

Although the city says it will conduct a national search, Bach said the same thing after Police Chief Richard Myers resigned Oct. 3, 2011. His interim chief, Pete Carey, got the permanent job Jan. 25, 2012.

Brown is the latest in a parade of top managers to leave or be forced out since Bach took office in June 2011. In many cases, employees have "retired," and then been paid severance pay anyway ("Take the money and run," News, April 3).

Brown oversaw the city's response to the Waldo Canyon Fire, which destroyed 347 homes and killed two people. Management and oversight of the fire was called into question by firefighters and others, as the Independent has reported. — PZ

Yes to UCCS sustainability

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs students voted overwhelmingly last week to continue another five years with the Green Action Fund, which charges students $5 per semester and strives to reduce the university's carbon footprint.

Results of voting, which ended Friday, were 741 (75 percent) yes and 204 (21 percent) no, with 41 (4 percent) abstaining.

Started in 2008 with a student-approved $5 fee per semester to fund solar panels on university buildings, the first batch of money was used to install a thin-film solar photovoltaic system on the roof of the Science & Engineering Building, according to the UCCS website. The program has since been amended to encompass other sustainability projects, such as planting trees and replacing fluorescent bulbs with energy-saving LEDs. — PZ

Venetucci OK in 2013

Michael Hannigan sounded an alarm earlier this month, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation's executive director saying that the storied Venetucci Farm might not have water for its crops, livestock or pumpkins in 2013 ("Venetucci faces uncertain fate," Between the Lines, April 10).

Friday, Hannigan announced that the crisis has been averted, allowing Venetucci, the last working farm in the Colorado Springs metro area, to continue its normal farming operations in 2013. He credited JV Ranches in Fountain for transferring some of its water to Venetucci, and mentioned that two other entities agreed to lease additional water to the farm.

In an e-mail to the Indy, Hannigan writes, "They will provide us with enough water to do everything we could do in a non-drought year, namely grow lots of great food for people, pumpkins for kids (with luck and cooperation from the weather, about 10,000 pumpkins), and also grow the Baby Pam Pumpkins that are so delicious in the Venetucci Pumpkin Ale." — RR

New round in fish fight

Last year scientists found that Bear Creek, on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, was the last known home of the state fish, the greenback cutthroat trout ("Fifty shades of green," cover story, Oct. 3). In the name of protecting those fish, the Center for Biological Diversity responded by seeking to ban motorcycles from popular nearby trails. And the U.S. Forest Service — which had long worked alongside motorcyclists and other recreationalists, as well as landowners to protect the fish — agreed in a settlement.

But now clubs that support motor sports are threatening to sue the Forest Service again, saying that if closures are necessary to protect the fish, they should apply to cyclists and hikers as well. They're also pressuring the Forest Service to relocate the trail quickly, which would open the area to everyone while protecting the fish.

"The motorized community is concerned that last fall's temporary closure of the trail to motorcycles does not improve habitat conditions for the trout, and cannot stand in the long term as a solution," Ned Suesse, trail coordinator for the Colorado Motorcycle Trail Riders Association, tells the Independent via e-mail. "Our goal is to push toward a solution that adequately protects these fish, and at the same time creates sustainable recreational opportunities for all uses." — JAS

Flood meeting set for May 7

The city will host a flood meeting on May 7 for Mountain Shadows residents and the general public.

This is the last scheduled city meeting on floods, which could drown huge parts of the city this summer thanks to the scarred hillsides left by the Waldo Canyon Fire. The meetings have focused on what the city is doing to address the problem and how residents can protect themselves and their property.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at Sanctuary at Front Range Alliance Church, 5210 Centennial Blvd. — JAS

County seeks power boost

On Tuesday, after the Independent's deadline, El Paso County commissioners were expected to approve a process that will eventually give them more power to influence projects of statewide import.

"County residents turn to County government when they hear about plans for pipelines, power transmission lines, high-speed trains, large scale water projects and expressways," states Commission Chair Dennis Hisey in a release, "but El Paso County has never gone through the statutory process required to establish its proper place at the table when these projects are being planned."

The county plans to assert what is known as its "1041 powers" on issues that relate to transportation, utilities, stormwater and water quality. The county would then be able to require a special permit for projects that pass through the county, and influence the specifics of developments.

County spokesperson Dave Rose says a recently proposed rail line through Black Forest is a good example of a project the County might want more oversight over. He notes that Commissioners weren't even told firsthand that the project was being considered.

"[The 1041 power] is seldom used, but the fact that it's there, and could be used, causes folks to come in and talk," he says.

State statute requires a specific process for a county looking to assert 1041 powers, including a public process. Public meetings here will likely get underway in June. — JAS

City hunts for airport rep

Bids were due April 25 for a consulting contract to promote Colorado Springs Airport, but the city won't reveal how many pitches it received or from whom.

"That is standard procedure for us in an effort to not compromise the selection process," procurement services manager Curt DeCapite says via e-mail. "I can release that info after the contract has been signed."

The contract, valued at up to $150,000, is to be awarded no later than May 29.

Mayor Steve Bach, who sent Airport Director Mark Earle packing in late March, has said he wants to be more aggressive in building the airport's business and attracting an airline. — PZ

Compiled by Ralph Routon, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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