Monday, May 14, 2012

More on the stormwater albatross

Posted By on Mon, May 14, 2012 at 9:54 AM

Stormwater under the Platte Avenue bridge a couple years ago.
  • Stormwater under the Platte Avenue bridge a couple years ago.

As we reported last week, Pueblo County commissioners remain agitated over the city's abolishing its stormwater enterprise.

In its May 3 letter to the City Council and Mayor Steve Bach, they urged "immediate action" to solve a "funding deficit."

"Life and property within both El Paso County and Pueblo County are in peril each day that the city fails to control its stormwater flows in Fountain Creek," the letter says.

The letter refers to the stormwater enterprise, which was abolished in 2009 after voters approved a measure prohibiting exchange of money between the city and its enterprises. The campaign to rid the city of the "rain tax" was led by anti-tax crusader, Douglas Bruce, who now sits in jail convicted of tax evasion — a real role model.

Anyway, Pueblo's letter cites the Independent's Dec. 31, 2009, report "After the Storm," which provides background on the issue.

Pueblo commissioners then tie the stormwater fee to the Southern Delivery System.

Colorado Springs Pueblo

After the enterprise was dismantled in 2009, the Springs City Council assured Pueblo County that a replacement funding source would be developed, Pueblo County commissioners note, but more than 2.5 years later, no such funding has been secured.

Pueblo County issued a construction permit for SDS, and that permit could be rescinded if Colorado Springs doesn't live up to its promises.

County President Pro Tem Jan Martin wrote a letter to Pueblo County dated May 10, two days after Bach talked of a stormwater-related "day of reckoning" awaiting the Springs. In it, Martin says, "Protecting our watershed is a high priority for City Council ..."

Really? Where's the evidence? Rather, the Council is busy getting its package of road projects together to be included in an extension of a sales tax for the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. The tax doesn't sunset until the end of 2014, but Councilors and others are rabid to get it renewed and want it on this November's ballot.

Earlier this month, the Council's priority was calling two special meetings to deal with the $1.15 million severance package of Memorial Health System's outgoing CEO and kick the board out of office. Another special meeting dealing with Memorial issues has been set for next week.

A movement to place a stormwater ballot measure on the November ballot, or any other ballot, isn't even up for discussion. The only attention it's gotten is when Bach vowed to "find efficiencies" in the city budget to carve out a few bucks for channels and drains, while calling on the Council as the Utilities Board to do the same. He's hoping they find upward of $10 million a year.

The city's stormwater backlog is $300 million, at a minimum.

This community has lost kids in flooding channels, for God's sakes.

Martin's letter lists things the city is doing about stormwater, but all three points she makes were pre-existing promises the city made to get the SDS permit, and the money comes from Utilities. And her third bullet point, fixing the sewer system, was triggered at least in part by a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit filed against the city.

Colorado Springs City Council

Maybe Colorado Springs thinks a few kind words of assurance will placate Pueblo County. But history disproves that. Tenth Judicial District DA Bill Thiebaut of Pueblo has sued the Springs on more than one occasion over Fountain Creek, most recently winning a ruling involving Utilities' certification from the state to use the creek for SDS' return flows. The state will have to reassess whether it figured correctly in saying SDS won't cause much harm, if any, to the creek.

And let's get real. Isn't it about time to do something?

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