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Turning off the tap 

City leaders dismissive of developers cheaper water pipeline proposal

click to enlarge Mark Morleys plan would take Arkansas water upstream - of Pueblo Reservoir. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Mark Morleys plan would take Arkansas water upstream of Pueblo Reservoir.

A Colorado Springs developer who believes he has an alternative plan to the Southern Delivery System to bring water to the Pikes Peak region -- a project he says will save utilities' ratepayers half a billion dollars -- is struggling to get city officials to listen to his proposal.

Mark Morley says his pipeline plan would bring enough water from the Arkansas River to quench the thirst of the Colorado Springs area through the year 2030. It would use an expanded Brush Hollow Reservoir near Penrose and rock quarries along its path as its main storage facilities.

The pipeline, which would run alongside Highway 115 -- the road that connects Colorado Springs with Penrose near Cañon City -- would cost about $500 million, according to Morley and City Councilman Tom Gallagher. By contrast, the Southern Delivery System, which is favored by utilities boss Phil Tollefson and supported by most of City Council, would cost at least $1 billion.

Morley owns much of the land around Brush Hollow Reservoir. Because he would profit from the sale of the land to the city, Morley says his plan has been dismissed by city leaders without any real study.

The battle over the pipeline alternative to SDS began when Gallagher, a surveyor employed by the Morley Companies, saw the plan on Morley's desk more than a year ago. He put a proposal together and asked his council colleagues to look at the plan, which would take water from the Arkansas River upstream of Pueblo Reservoir.

Gallagher says the rest of the council told him they weren't interested and would forge ahead with the Utilities-recommended SDS project. Gallagher persisted and told his colleagues that to avoid a conflict of interest he wouldn't vote on any issues involving that plan.

Three weeks ago, the council lashed out at Gallagher for his continued advocacy of the 115 plan, saying his involvement constituted a clear conflict of interest. At the same time, several council members indicated a willingness to learn about Morley's proposal. But that hasn't happened.

One minute of niceties

In a March interview, Councilman Randy Purvis clarified his resistance to the Highway 115 plan.

"Saving $500 million is not the point," he said. "The point is he (Gallagher) is representing both sides."

One of the strongest proponents of the SDS pipeline is Councilwoman Margaret Radford. She was a key player in a pair of highly controversial agreements with Pueblo in which Colorado Springs gave up water rights and Pueblo officials, in return, vowed not to interfere with a study of the SDS project.

"Margaret wants the credit for SDS," Morley says during a recent interview. "And she'll go down with the ship on this one."

Morley says he and Radford met over lunch on Feb. 17, 2004, at a restaurant near the World Arena. The lunch meeting, Morley says, did not go well.

"There was one minute of niceties because she hates me," he said. "Then we got down to business. I said if this option can save the city and its utilities customers half a billion dollars, shouldn't you at least look at it? And Margaret said, 'No, Mark. That's not my job.'"

Last week, Radford confirmed the lunch meeting with Morley but denied all of his claims about the discussion.

click to enlarge Morleys topographical map shows the proposed - expansion of Brush Hollow Reservior.
  • Morleys topographical map shows the proposed expansion of Brush Hollow Reservior.

"As for saving $500 million not being my job, that finding the cheapest option to get water is not my job, well, I don't remember saying that," Radford said. "But it isn't my job. Finding the best option is my job. Do you really want a budget heart surgeon?"

Despite claims by Gallagher and Morley that she has led the effort to quelch the Highway 115 option, Radford said she'd agree to allow Morley to make his presentation before the elected body.

"Personally, yes. I'd be supportive of that," she said. "Maybe one hour. It's a golden opportunity for them to put their money where their mouth is and give their plan the light of day."

Take it up with

the Bureau

For his part, Councilman Scott Hente says he is "more than willing" to hear about the Highway 115 plan. "I get along very well with the Morleys and am certainly not unwilling to listen to a proposal."

But Mayor Lionel Rivera, who led the attack on Gallagher at the April council meeting, sent a terse response to Morley on April 18, telling him he wasn't interested.

"Mark," the e-mail read, "if you believe you have a credible plan then I suggest you present it to the Bureau of Reclamation, just as Colorado Springs is doing with SDS."

Radford, Rivera and other council members say a major problem with the Highway 115 proposal is that Colorado Springs doesn't have the right to take water from the Arkansas River at the point stipulated by that plan. Morley insists the city does have the water rights.

A study of the Highway 115 plan was done in the early 1990s by the Kansas City, Mo.-based Black and Veatch engineering firm. Colorado Springs Utilities paid for that study which, according to Morley, concluded that the Highway 115 plan is feasible.

Last week, at Morley's request, the City Council asked Utilities to provide a full copy of that engineering study. Utilities spokesman Steve Berry said the request has been forwarded to Black and Veatch and he was hopeful the study would be available within two weeks.

Continually shut down

Morley doesn't believe he'll ever be allowed to make his presentation to the council.

"There's no way they'll let that happen," he said.

In an April 13 letter to the council, he wrote, "I appreciate at least five of you requesting a presentation on the Highway 115 option, although I feel this was purely for public consumption. I find it ironic that the majority of you said this is all you have been asking for the past two years when Councilman Gallagher has been shut down continually when he has brought up that option."

Morley says his interest in the Highway 115 plan is not about selling his land around Brush Creek Reservoir. His interest, he says, is in preventing the estimated $40,000 tap fee for a new home if ratepayers have to pay off the $1 billion SDS debt.

"If the 115 plan is not at least considered, and we end up with the SDS pipeline, I and a lot of other builders will simply not be able to afford to build homes in Colorado Springs," Morley said. "SDS would have an unbelievable impact on anyone who wants to buy a home here."

-- Rich Tosches

  • City leaders dismissive of developers cheaper water pipeline proposal

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