Monday, February 5, 2018

Colorado Supreme Court rules Smokebrush Foundation clear to sue city

Posted By on Mon, Feb 5, 2018 at 1:15 PM

Katherine Tudor and Don Goede, founder and executive director, respectively, of the Smokebrush Foundation, as they observed testing samples taken from their property in 2013. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Katherine Tudor and Don Goede, founder and executive director, respectively, of the Smokebrush Foundation, as they observed testing samples taken from their property in 2013.
In April 2013, we wrote about pollution from the city's former coal gasification plant drifting onto a neighbor property owned by the Smokebrush Foundation.

Feb.6, the Colorado Supreme Court issued a ruling in Smokebrush's favor on one matter, which clears the way for Smokebrush to sue the city for damages. For background on the case, see this explanation we published as the Supreme Court prepared to hear oral arguments a year ago.

The ruling said the the city is liable for gas pollution it generated almost 80 years ago that's migrated to the Smokebrush property on Cimino Drive under the Colorado Avenue bridge.

The case could impact other claims across the state that involve pollution migrating to neighboring properties, Smokebrush's attorney Randall Weiner says in a phone interview.

In fact, the city of Boulder recently reached a settlement with Xcel Energy for $3.6 million for contamination beneath city property caused by an old gas plant, he notes. "If cities can obtain monies from utilities for contaminating the sites, then certainly neighbors like Smokebrush should be able to obtain monies to clean up the site" caused by pollution year ago.

Other cities that have such sites include Sterling, La Junta and Grand Junction, Weiner says.

"We've had to jump through so many hoops just to get the opportunity to get justice for the Smokebrush Foundation," he says, noting the case will be returned to District Court in coming weeks where damages will be litigated. "Thanks to Kat Tudor and Don Goede [with Smokebrush Foundation] for having the staying power."

Weiner reports his clients have had no settlement discussions with the city.

Here's the conclusion of the Supreme Court:
For these reasons, we conclude that the City has not waived immunity under section 24-10-106(1)(c)’s dangerous condition of a public building exception for Smokebrush’s asbestos-related claims. We further conclude, however, that the City has waived immunity under section 24-10-106(1)(f)’s public gas facility exception for Smokebrush’s coal tar-related claims. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the court of appeals, and we remand this case to that court with instructions that the case be returned to the district court for the dismissal of Smokebrush’s asbestos-related claims and further proceedings on its coal tar-related claims.
Read the entire ruling here:

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Outdoor fires pose danger in dry spell

Posted By on Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 11:17 AM

  • Jeff Souville via Flickr
If you've glanced at TV news over the past few weeks, you've probably noticed the uptick in creekside fires. It's a scary sign of the underlying conditions: Lots of people are camping outside because there's not enough shelter space, let alone housing, for the growing homeless population during one of the warmest, driest winters in memory.

Brian Vaughan, the new spokesperson for Colorado Springs Fire Department (CSFD), reports that the number of homeless-related illegal fire incidents grew about 50 percent last year, from 186 in 2016 to 275 in 2017. "Because of the way these get categorized, those could be any type of outdoor fire — a grass fire, trash, even smoke," he told the Indy. "And when you've got combustibles around, no water source and maybe people aren't monitoring it closely, that's when we say, 'Look, this is unsafe."

Propane-based heaters, like the ones Blackbird Outreach has been distributing to homeless people, can be a safer alternative, Vaughan says, provided they're at least 10 feet from, say, nylon tents or other flammable materials. Even still, wind and radiant heat can lead to fire danger.

"Today [Jan. 12], fire risk is low because of the rain, but this afternoon we're expecting strong gusts, so it'll probably go back to moderate [fire danger]," Vaughan says. The last "red flag" level risk was about a month ago, but "fuel moisture is low, even up in the mountains."

Those basic laws of physics have got residents and business owners near popular homeless hangouts worried for their property, so much so that over 120 people showed up to a westside meeting on the matter, according to the Gazette.

But it's not just people experiencing homelessness that pose the risk, it's also housed people with recreational fires or inadvertent sparks. For example, a grassfire was lit recently when a resident on East Platte Avenue flicked a cigarette butt onto his dry lawn. The flames crept up the side of his house pretty quickly.

"This goes for cigarettes, barbecuing, starting a lawnmower — anything that throws sparks, you've got to be cognizant," Vaughan says.

For unsheltered folks trying to stay warm this winter, this is the fire code that applies to outdoor fires, provided by CSFD. Included as a link at the bottom is the fire code pertaining to other types of burns. 

When the CSFD Engines or Trucks respond to an outside fire investigation, the parameters our Company Officers work from are as follows:

Fire Code 302: Recreational Fires are extinguished if the fire falls outside of the following guidelines established by the 2009 National Fire Code

Fires which are not contained in a permanent fixture (incinerator, BBQ, outdoor fireplace)

·         Fire cannot be larger than 3 feet in diameter

·         Fire cannot be higher than 2 feet in flame length

·         Fire cannot be within 25 feet of any combustible (homes, tents, trees, bushes, trash)

·         Fire cannot be unattended: sleeping next to the fire is considered “unattended”. Person must be lucid and awake during burning

·         Fire must have means of extinguishment (water, sand, dirt)

·         Fire cannot burn any other fuels except wood or charcoal

Fires contained in an approved fire appliance (store-bought) have the following guidelines:

·         Fire cannot burn any other fuels except wood or charcoal

·         Fire cannot be unattended: sleeping next to the fire is considered "unattended".  Person must be lucid and awake during fire

·         Must have means of extinguishment (water, sand, dirt)

·         Fire cannot be within 15 feet of combustibles or structures. Exception: when the fire is on the premise of one and two-family dwellings the code allows it to be within 15 feet of combustibles or structure

The Colorado Springs Fire Department is partnering with the Colorado Springs Police Department and City of Colorado Springs on the issue of recreational fires in the City.  Collectively, we continue to educate all involved parties to the 2009 National Fire Code and its guidelines surrounding recreational fires, how the CSFD responds, and what occurs when companies arrive on the scene.

The CSFD also urges everyone in our community to carefully read the following link containing specific guidelines and code for all types of burning: 

The following link is a simple, quick reference guide with pictures:

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Deadline for insurance enrollment fast approaching

Posted By on Tue, Jan 9, 2018 at 2:11 PM

  • Healthcare Costs

You have until Friday, Jan. 12, to sign up for health insurance through Connect for Health Colorado, the state marketplace set up by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Plans purchased between now and then will go into effect Feb. 1. After that, you can only access the exchange if you experience a "life-changing event," like marriage, divorce, having a child, losing employer-sponsored insurance or moving to Colorado. So, if you're an individual who isn't covered by an employer or government-sponsored plan and you haven't selected a plan through the exchange, then chop chop! Here's the link.

By the way, you may have heard the President's claims that the new federal tax cuts "repealed Obamacare." In fact, all they did was repeal the provision requiring all Americans be covered. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates 13 million fewer people will be insured as a result of the individual mandate repeal, but other parts of the ACA, or Obamacare, including the state marketplaces and premium subsidies, remain intact. Even though you won't face a tax penalty for not having coverage, health insurance is still a pretty good way to avoid medical bankruptcy.

Over 158,000 Coloradans have already signed up through the exchange so far this year. That's a 2 percent greater enrollment rate than last year, despite all the regulatory uncertainty caused by Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. (Recall, in the end, the majority party in Congress ended up failing to deliver on its central campaign promise of "repealing and replacing Obamacare." They did succeed in making the price of insurance skyrocket.)

As the Indy has previously reported, most consumers still stand to save an average of 20 percent on premiums this year because tax credits will rise proportionately. There are a number of coverage options in this region, so it's important to compare costs, benefits and other factors.
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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Drake deadline doesn't move, but Utilities board takes steps toward early closure

Posted By on Tue, Dec 19, 2017 at 10:54 AM

  • file photo
On Monday, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, whom you may recognize as City Council, made a move on the Martin Drake Power Plant that's sure to bring mixed reactions. They didn't move the plant's current closure date — no later than 2035 — any earlier, but they did direct Utilities staff to continue, and in some cases hasten, the groundwork for early closure possible.

Pick up a copy of the Indy tomorrow for a more complete look at the history, context and impact of the Drake debate, but for now, here's the short version.

The board set the 2035 date in 2015, the same year new technology, costing $178 million dollars, began removing sulfur dioxide from the plant's emissions. Utilities says those scrubbers work really well, but environmentalists and other concerned citizens believe the byproducts of coal burning, including emissions and waste, are harmful to public health.

Then, in April 2017, municipal elections brought in new city councilors/board directors, including Richard Skorman of District 3 and Yolanda Avila of District 4, who are interested in an earlier retirement. As soon as possible is their preference. (David Geislinger, of District 2, is also interested but less avid about that earlier date.)

In addition to shifting electoral sands, the pace of downtown development — particularly the urban renewal in the southwest — puts pressure on the board to clear the way for redevelopment of the Drake site, which sits at the desirable confluence of Interstate 25, Highway 24 and Fountain Creek.

In May, Utilities staff presented the board with potential timelines for decommissioning Drake and scenarios for how to replace its generation. Both 2030 and 2025 emerged as candidates for the deadline, though anytime between 2025 and 2035 is feasible. As for life after Drake, the possibilities boiled down to: Power from inside the city; power from outside the city; or some combination of the two.

Debate about what to do brought immense public participation. (Yes, 200 town hall attendees and about 300 emails counts as immense in Colorado Springs.) Various perspectives were aired, but to summarize: Those who want Drake closed cited health, environment, downtown aesthetics, economic development and image/reputation, while those who want Drake open cited low rates, minimal pollution and consistency.

"We are a split city," Geislinger commented at Monday's marathon meeting.

Utilities staff recommended the board go a route that includes distributed generation (small, high-efficiency natural gas generators and/or on-site solar panels throughout the city) and imported electricity from a regional transmission group (RTO), which is a multi-state power grid that provides transmission to member utilities. That means no new generation at Drake and the closing of Birdsall Power Plant, an inefficient gas-fired plant off North Nevada Avenue that's only used during peak demand. Staff didn't recommend a date, saying anytime 2025 or later is doable.

The board didn't need much convincing to take that route.

"We can always adjust with [this scenario]," director Don Knight noted. "It keeps all the options open."

There was no motion to set a deadline, as all the directors were more or less on the same page that they needed more information before making a final decision. Although some directors, like Knight, Andy Pico and Merv Bennett, would be content sticking with 2035, they're open to expediting if it makes good fiscal sense. Others, like Skorman, Avila and Geislinger, want their colleagues to look at costs other than just fuel, capital and operations.

"We should be careful not to be too pennywise and pound foolish on this," Skorman advised.

Variables the board would like to better understand:
• What exactly would be available through the RTO;
• how will technology and market demand change the math on renewables;
• how polluted is the Drake site;
• what's the value of the land Drake sits on;
• what's the potential for economic development;
• and how could the 2020 election affect emissions regulations and energy subsidies?

To move the ball down the court, the board directed staff to accelerate the construction of a transmission line needed to keep downtown lights on when Drake turns off. With the help of a hired consultant, that should be done in 2023. It's estimated to cost $26 million, with an estimated .25 percent incremental rate impact spread over three years.

The board also gave a tentative thumbs up on the RTO, directing Utilities leadership to keep talking with the Mountain West Transmission Group about potentially joining in 2019. That membership isn't final, though.

Next, the board told staff to move ahead on an environmental assessment and appraisal to find the land's salvage value.

Lastly, the board directed staff to hasten the next Electric Integrated Resource Plan (EIRP) — a study of Utilities' future needs done every five years, as mandated by federal law. The EIRP is due in February 2022, but Utilities will aim to have it done by the end of 2020.

Approval of those motions was unanimous, though director Bill Murray was absent.

The board was also unanimous in their concern for rising rates. The exact cost of decommissioning Drake isn't known yet, but given coal is the cheapest fuel commodity out there and replacement generation is sure to necessitate some new infrastructure, it's going to hit ratepayers in the pocketbook. So, the board discussed increasing investment in demand side management — programs designed to shave demand for electricity — and instituting a tiered pricing scheme like Utilities already does for water, meaning some users would pay higher rates.

Pico noted a committee is already studying tiered pricing for electric. "I think it has some merit," he said.

Though the board took some appreciable steps toward decommissioning the downtown coal plant, many attendees left disappointed there was no new deadline.

"In 18 years [in 2035], I'll be almost 40," said Colorado College student, Rebecca Glaser. Originally from the Bay Area, she's grown to love Colorado Springs and wants to stay after graduation. "But I don't want to raise my future children in the shadow of that plant. ... Many [graduating students] like me will leave. We want to live in a city that looks to the future and strives to innovate."

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

UPDATE: Venetucci farmers laid off as contaminated water spoils finances

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 4:51 PM

  • Nat Stein

UPDATE: We received official statements from both the Pikes Peak Community Foundation and the Gordon/Hamilton family regarding the latter's termination as managers of Venetucci Farm. Since they're written as public letters, we'll post them in their entirety below.

Here's the statement from the foundation:

Dear Friends of Venetucci Farm,

This past year has been an uncertain period for Venetucci Farm, but it is not without its successes. The PFC contamination that affects the Widefield Aquifer continues to challenge the farm’s operations. In 2017, we focused our efforts on the pumpkin giveaway and the farm’s education programs. Thanks to Susan, Patrick, and David, the farm hosted hundreds of school children and provided more than 10,000 pumpkins to the community.

As many of you know, the farm’s principle revenue source is a water rights lease with the Security and Widefield water districts. The administrators at these districts face a herculean task to provide safe drinking water for their communities. The Venetucci wells are part of the Widefield Aquifer, and it’s not clear that the water districts can use our water without treating it for consumption. For this reason, Security and Widefield asked to suspend payment of the water rights until a sufficient filtration system can be implemented for the wells.

Learning recently of this new information, we concluded that there are two options: We can challenge the suspended payment and consume resources that would otherwise be deployed to solve the community’s water problem, or we can join forces with the water districts. We recognize that the community’s priority is safe drinking water. We chose to be good and responsible neighbors by opting to come together with the districts.

We’ve agreed to an abeyance agreement that essentially suspends any payment or challenge until we have clarity on how to remediate the water contamination crisis.

There are consequences to this decision. Without our main revenue source, we must scale back our operations on the farm. We had to eliminate Susan, Patrick and David’s positions, and reduce our operations to a caretaking role. We are working on a management plan for the farm for this year, and beyond. We offered the opportunity to Susan and Patrick to stay on the farm as caretakers until the end of June to allow for a smooth transition.

One uncertainty we face is how long it will take for the wells to become operational. This reality has pushed us to work with community leaders to find other revenue sources for the farm. Our belief is that there are opportunities for a vibrant Venetucci in the future. We are pursuing them.

Once we have a better understanding of our options, I will be in communication with you all.

In the meantime, I want to recognize the diligent work of Susan, Patrick and David. They have been shepherds of the Venetucci legacy; they have fed, educated, and cared for our community. We also have great respect for Roy Heald and Steve Wilson, the managers of the Security and Widefield water districts. They are faced with a complex task to provide safe drinking water in a true crisis.

If you have questions about the farm’s future, please feel free to contact Sam Clark at PPCF: or 719.445.0605.


Gary Butterworth

Chief Executive Officer

And here's the statement from Susan Gordon:

Public Statement re: the Termination of my employment with PPCF

Patrick, Sarah, Clare, and I were disappointed and saddened to abruptly receive the news that we would be forced to leave Venetucci Farm, which has been our home, work, and community for the past eleven years. Honored to be tasked with preserving the Venetucci legacy, we worked tirelessly to restore the farm to health and increase its financial, ecological, and social resiliency. Produce and pumpkin sales, educational programs, and events provided diverse revenue sources and opportunities for the community to engage with the farm. Using the farm as a classroom, our educational coordinator, David Rudin, engaged thousands of school children in the natural world. We couldn’t have done any of this without the many hands and hearts that helped us along the way.

It is unfortunate that the recent water contamination by the Air Force and the subsequent decisions have resulted in an uncertain future for the farm. Losing a productive farm that provides opportunity for people to connect with the land and each other is not something our community or our world can afford. While the loss of the water lease money presents a formidable challenge, it does not preclude the farm from operating as it historically did, supporting itself through diverse income streams.

Eleven years ago as we walked the farm with Bambi Venetucci, we were acutely aware of the responsibility we faced to care for the land and preserve it as a working farm. Nick and Bambi Venetucci provided an incredible gift to this community and we were honored to have been the farmers here for the past decade. We hope that our affection for and care of Venetucci Farm has honored that gift, and that those now responsible for the future of the farm will make decisions that continue to do so.

Susan Gordon

—— ORIGINAL POST: 4:51 P.M. DEC, 7, 2017 ——

It’s been bad news after bad news for Venetucci Farm over the past two years. Now there's another blow to the 200-acre working farm — farm managers Susan Gordon and Patrick Hamilton have been laid off. Production is on indefinite hold. 

Venetucci's problems began in May 2016, when the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory lowering the level of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) considered safe for human consumption. Soon after, the groundwater under Venetucci tested above that level, prompting the farm’s longtime trustee, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation (PPCF), to suspend produce sales mid-season.

Quite new in his role at the time, PPCF CEO Gary Butterworth tried to exercise an abundance of caution in the decision to stop all sales, though many loyal customers felt denied the chance to make their own judgement. (Colorado’s Chief Epidemiologist Mike Van Dyke has since found that eating Venetucci's produce, even with the highest possible PFC uptake levels, likely isn’t dangerous.)

Meanwhile, the foundation underwent some reorganization: staff were laid off; headquarters relocated; and the fiscal sponsorship program ended. Butterworth also indicated a desire to move away from land ownership. He ordered an advisory committee to seek potential plans for offloading Venetucci in a way that honored the intent of its donors, Nick and Bambi Venetucci.

Production was kept on hold through the 2017 growing season. There were murmurings that Colorado College would take ownership of the land. Those negotiations have since stalled, a CC official confirms.

Now, the municipal well on the land, located off US-85 in Security, will no longer support Venetucci’s operations as it has for over a decade. The water isn’t used to irrigate crops. (There are other wells for that, drilled back when no one else was pulling from the Widefield aquifer.) Rather, the water from this particular well is leased to nearby Security Water and Sanitation District (SWSD), Widefield Water and Sanitation District and Fountain Water District, fetching about $250,000 a year. That revenue accounts for most of the farm’s annual operating budget.

Or, it used to.

This week, the water districts entered into an abeyance, meaning they’ve moved to suspend the lease since they can’t serve contaminated water to their customers. 

Butterworth confirmed the news, emphasizing it’s for the “greater good” of the wider Security, Widefield and Fountain communities, of which Venetucci Farm is a part.

Gordon, having just been notified that the foundation is terminating her employment, is distraught. The farm is more than her work — it’s her home and her passion. She was hoping her daughter, who just completed her first season farming her own land down in Pueblo, might one day take over for her at Venetucci.

“That kind of familial continuity, I think it’s integral to good farming,” she told the Indy Thursday. “Under this vision [Venetucci] isn’t a home, it isn’t a family, it isn’t a diverse ecological community. It’s just a spreadsheet. … Yeah, I’m worried about the future.”

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Needle exchange debate by El Paso County Board of Health ends with "no" vote

Posted By on Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 4:28 PM

Not only will there not be a needle exchange program in El Paso County soon, there probably won't be one for many years to come.

Today, Dec. 4, the El Paso County Board of Health decided not to schedule a vote on the program or hear further presentations. That means it's relegated to the trash can.
  • Nathan Forget

Although it was informal, the board took a straw vote in order to advise staff how to proceed.

Those expressing a desire to kill the needle exchange idea at the Dec. 4 meeting were County Commissioners Peggy Littleton and Longinos Gonzalez; retired U.S. Navy surgeon James Terbush; nurse Vicki Broerman and Doris Ralston, CEO of the Colorado Springs Osteopathic Foundation.

Voting to keep consideration alive: Manitou Springs Mayor Pro Tem Coreen Toll; Colorado Springs City Council President Richard Skorman; Kari Kilroy, executive assistant to Memorial Hospital’s CEO, and County Coroner Robert Bux.

Toll's term ends this year, and given her support of the program, it's unlikely she'll be given another term by county commissioners, who appoint the board.

Why? Because the commission voted unanimously on Nov. 30 to oppose the program. Though nonbinding, the resolution adopted by commissioners said needle exchange programs “can be seen as facilitating dangerous and destructive drug abuse” and that “government sponsored syringe exchange programs [are] not in the best interest of Colorado citizens.”

That position, which also is embraced by Sheriff Bill Elder, runs contrary to the Centers for Disease Control’s stance that such programs comprise “an effective component of a comprehensive, integrated approach to HIV prevention....” They’ve also been linked to reduced risk for infection with hepatitis C virus, CDC says, and provide a bridge to critical services and treatment for a plethora of ailments, including sexual transmitted diseases and tuberculosis.

Commissioners’ resolution, proposed by Littleton, asserted that “better enforcement, outreach and education, intervention and treatment, and other preventative measures are needed to stop the alarming increase in drug related crimes, accidents and deaths” and that without referrals to treatment program, needle exchanges are ineffective.

Most other Front Range cities have needle exchange programs in an era in which hepatitis C is spreading and opioid use is skyrocketing.

"We're done," Kilroy told the Independent after the meeting. "There's an issue of rising disease of hepatitis C and there's an issue of needles being found in our community. The state maintains that health boards approve needle exchange programs. There's really no where else for us to go."

Nothing is likely to change for years, she says, given Toll’s expiring term.

"They have already made their wishes completely known," Kilroy says of commissioners, "so it's a good bet whoever they seat would not be in favor of it."

Kilroy said the Board of Health voted 6-2 in 2013 to postpone consideration of the needle exchange program, with she and Fountain City Council member Sharon Brown voting against postponement. Those voting for postponement were then-Commissioner Sallie Clark, Broerman, Bux, C.J. Moore, then-Colorado Springs Councilor Helen Collins and Terbush. Then-Commissioner Amy Lathen was absent.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Planned Parenthood offers free testing for World AIDS Day

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2017 at 10:02 AM


According to the Center for Disease Control, about 36.7 million people worldwide were living with HIV in 2016. Moreover, between the start of the pandemic and the end of 2016, AIDS-related illnesses reportedly took the lives of 35 million people worldwide, according to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. Many HIV-positive people, both in the U.S. and abroad, do not have access to treatment.

In order to draw attention to the virus and its effects, World AIDS Day was established in 1988 — the first global health initiative. On Dec. 1, 2017, people worldwide will be encouraged to use World AIDS Day as an opportunity to educate themselves about recent medical developments, get tested, and lend vocal support to those living with HIV/AIDS.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains will once again participate in World AIDS Day by offering free testing at seven health centers across the state, including their Colorado Springs Center on Centennial Boulevard. The CDC claims that 15 percent of the roughly 1.1 million HIV-positive people in the U.S. are unaware of their status, so getting tested may mean discovering the virus early enough to mitigate its prevalence.

To learn more about where and how to get tested in the state of Colorado, see the full release from Planned Parenthood below.

DENVER, CO— On December 1, 2017, in recognition of World AIDS Day, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) will continue their commitment to raising awareness of HIV and AIDS across their four-state region. Complimentary testing will be available at seven health centers throughout the day.

“As a leader in the field of HIV prevention, PPRM is committed to implementing and expanding access to HIV testing and PrEP services. PPRM recognizes this unique moment in time where on this World AIDS Day 2017, we are in a position to help end HIV. We stand in solidarity with the communities we serve, and renew our promise to be strong allies in the fight,” said Martin Walker, Director of HIV Programs, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

On December 1, Planned Parenthood will offer free HIV testing at seven health centers across the organization’s four-state region. Participating sites include: Salida, Colorado Springs, Greeley in Colorado, Flamingo and Charleston in Las Vegas, and Farmington and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This is the fifth consecutive year PPRM will participate in this campaign. PPRM works tirelessly to train current and new volunteers to be able to provide HIV education and testing which increases PPRM’s capacity to serve every patient who seeks an answer to their HIV status.

For more information about the program and testing locations, telephone 1.800.230.PLAN, visit us online at

Disclosure: Alissa Smith, the Indy's Culture and Calendar Editor, volunteers with Planned Parenthood as a Health Center Activist.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Local organizations gather to provide support during Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Posted By on Mon, Oct 23, 2017 at 9:35 AM


Monique Walker, life coach, mother, medical student and speaker, knows what it's like to live in isolation due to domestic violence. In 2014, she fled an abusive household with her six children, settling in Colorado Springs where she found the support she needed to take control of her life once again. Now, she hopes to provide the same kind of support to others or, at the very least, ensure that others know that there is support available to them.

“Let’s have a serious community conversation,” she says. “It’s not just a Monique Walker issue. It’s a community issue.”

Healthy Family Ties: “An Overdue Conversation” will take place at Library 21c on Friday, Oct. 27. Organized by Walker and various local organizations, the event is meant to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and to gather supportive organizations under one roof.

Walker says that, when she began her journey, she found that the resources available to her were “fragmented,” making them difficult to navigate. With this event, she hopes to ease the process for others. “You never know whose life it may save,” she says. “[This] will give people the opportunity to recognize that even though there’s fragments that help within the community, there is help.”

During the event, in addition to providing information about programs and services, these organizations will lead self-awareness and self-defense training “for community empowerment.”

Walker hopes that offering this event to the community will not only help individuals, but perhaps highlight the seriousness of the issue of domestic violence for those that have not been directly affected.

She says: “If we all get on the same page as a community, and know that there are resources, hopefully it will help some people open their eyes.”

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Bike sharing program to be launched by Downtown Partnership

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 12:20 PM

Colorado Springs' Downtown Partnership has another project coming down the pike.

The Partnership's CEO and President, Susan Edmondson,
announced plans for a public bike sharing project, PikeCycle, during the Partnership's annual breakfast on Sept. 28, saying it was “fine time” Colorado Springs started a program. The bikes will be available for rental and return (to "ports") in and around downtown starting in spring.

Holly Kortum, executive director for Kaiser Permanente in Southern Colorado, which is sponsoring the project, highlighted how the plan aligns with the vision of Kaiser, and was hopeful that it could bring about positive outcomes.

“It improves the air quality, it reduces carbon emissions,
it supports and enhances our growing tourism, and it embraces for us our Olympic City USA brand as a fit, active community," she said.

(Disclosure: The Independent and our sister paper, the Colorado Springs Business Journal, are sponsors of the bike share program as well.)

The project, still in it’s infancy, is slated to start offering bikes in April 2018, with a plan to put over 200 bikes and 364 docks in the Legacy Loop area encompassing downtown, Colorado College and the Olympic Training Center.

Those who want to use the bikes will need to pay. PikeCycle rental membership plans will range from one-day to annual use. All bikes are equipped with GPS technology to keep track of their location, so riders don’t have to worry about returning the bikes to specific ports.

But before the program launches, there are a few kinks to work out. Additional sponsorships are being negotiated, as well as a protocol for repairs. One Downtown Partnership spokesperson says that B-Cycle, the company who will supply the bikes for PikeCycle, will help employ staff for local maintenance. B-Cycle, which also has projects in Denver and Boulder, gives a product warranty to clients, but it excludes theft, vandalism and misuse.

In order to keep cyclists safe on the road and in construction zones, more continuous bike lanes will be created as the project expands.

Projected PikeCycle regions, separated into Phase 1 and Phase 2 - COURTESY OF DOWNTOWN COLORADO SPRINGS PARTNERSHIP
  • Courtesy of Downtown Colorado Springs Partnership
  • Projected PikeCycle regions, separated into Phase 1 and Phase 2

Here's the full press release on the announcement and the Downtown Partnership's Annual Breakfast:

Dan Robertson, Steve Schleiker and Ladyfingers Letterpress recognized with awards

Colorado Springs, CO - A before-the-trend developer, the El Paso County assessor and a creative Downtown business were honored today by Downtown Partnership with Downtown Star awards at the annual Downtown Partnership Breakfast. Now in its 20th year, the annual breakfast was attended by a sold-out crowd of 700 business, community and civic leaders. Remarks by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers were followed by Downtown Star awards presented in three categories: individual, civil servant, and business or organization, to those who have made outstanding commitments to a thriving Downtown. The event culminated with an announcement that Downtown Partnership intends to launch a bike share program next year.

The new PikeCycle bike share program is scheduled to launch in spring 2018. Bike sharing is the fastest growing form of transportation in the world, and PikeCycle title sponsor Kaiser Permanente was on hand to excite the crowd about the project. The first phase of PikeCycle will serve the entire Legacy Loop area, which includes 46,000 households and encircles greater Downtown Colorado Springs. Downtown Partnership CEO Susan Edmondson told the crowd that additional sponsorships are essential to ensure that PikeCycle becomes a reality. More on PikeCycle and sponsorship opportunities can be found online at

Also at the annual breakfast, the 2017 Downtown Star Awards were presented:

Individual: Nearly two decades ago Dan Robertson saw the beauty in older buildings such as the Daniels building and the Giddings building and began converting the upper floors to residential units. It was a gamble to create the first lofts Downtown. Exposing the brick walls and retaining the wood floors and wooden beams lent character and beauty to each unit and planted a seed in our urban environment for loft living. From the Daniels Lofts to the Giddings Lofts, the Carriage House Lofts and – newly opened this year – the Bijou Lofts, Robertson continues to lead the charge on mixed-use development right in the heart of Downtown.

Civil Servant: County assessor Steve Schleiker may not have the most exhilarating of roles, but his is a vital part of a well-functioning community. Schleiker and his team work to take the emotion out of numbers, focus on proactively educating citizens – clearing the fog from often complicated state laws and processes – and respond quickly with a positive, helpful approach. Schleiker and his team also were recognized for the newly revamped county assessor website that makes public data user-friendly, business-friendly and resident-friendly, providing valuable information for investors looking to do business throughout the county.

Business or Organization: Morgan Calderini and Arley-Rose Torsone, founders of Ladyfingers Letterpress, were recognized for their business, which “goes beyond simply selling a product or making a product to fully embracing and enhancing their place in the community.” Their award-winning stationery is sold across the country and beyond, but more than that, they have created a gallery space in their store, host workshops and classes and serve as a community gathering place. This year, they rallied neighboring businesses to improve the business facades – applying for a Downtown Development Authority grant and project managing the entire process – to paint, update and create new signage for three businesses on their block. In addition, they hosted a prize-giveaway trip TO Colorado Springs, offering the all-expense paid trip as a contest to their distributors, “because we want them to know how great our community is, too.”

About Downtown Partnership
Downtown Partnership is the lead nonprofit organization ensuring that Downtown Colorado Springs serves as the economic, cultural, and civic heart of the city. For more information visit, or contact Downtown Colorado Springs at 719.886.0088.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

AspenPointe accepting nominations for annual 'Hero of Mental Health'

Posted By on Fri, Sep 22, 2017 at 10:52 AM

Last year’s Hero of Mental Health Award is presented to School Teacher Brittni Darras by Dr. Mick Pattinson, President and CEO of AspenPointe - COURTESY ASPENPOINTE
  • Courtesy AspenPointe
  • Last year’s Hero of Mental Health Award is presented to School Teacher Brittni Darras by Dr. Mick Pattinson, President and CEO of AspenPointe

AspenPointe, the region’s behavioral health and substance abuse center, is currently accepting nominations for its annual Hero of Mental Health award.

The honor, previously awarded to Brittni Darras, Guy and Jane Bennett, Alan Pocock, Jeannie Ritter, and Mark and Carol Graham, recognizes contributions to the community in the realm of mental health and substance abuse “through either awareness efforts, investment of personal time, financial contributions, or all the above.”

Though the recipient will be announced on Oct. 16, a formal celebration will be held Nov. 2 at the Heroes of Mental Health Luncheon, featuring SNL comedian Darrel Hammond as keynote speaker.

In order to nominate a local hero of mental health, you can fill out the online form or email with a 100-500 word explanation of the nominee’s qualifications. Nomination ends on Oct. 1.

See the full press release below for more information on the award and the luncheon.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Everyday heroes, who accomplish great feats on behalf of others or sometimes entire communities, live among us. We want to know about them and their great deeds. AspenPointe is seeking nominations for its annual Heroes of Mental Health Award, which will be presented during the Heroes of Mental Health Luncheon on Nov. 2 at the Broadmoor.

AspenPointe’s annual Heroes of Mental Health Luncheon recognizes individuals in the Pikes Peak Region who champion mental health and wellness. They can be a driving force in efforts to reduce stigma or a key player in the growth of community programs that treat and fund mental illness and/or substance misuse.

Nominees for the Heroes of Mental Health Award should be residents of, or work in, the Pikes Peak Region and have made significant contributions toward advancing mental health treatment and substance abuse care and/or other forms of wellness through either awareness efforts, investment of personal time, financial contributions, or all the above.

To nominate, please complete our online nomination form at, or email Explain in 100-500 words the nominee’s contributions to mental health and substance abuse. The nomination process ends close Oct. 1. This year’s hero will be announced Oct. 16.

Last year’s recipient, Brittni Darras, is a school teacher at Rampart High School. Darras helped a student who had a plan to complete suicide by writing a personal note to the student. Later, she wrote 139 other notes to her other students. The notes quickly spread awareness of kindness and received national and international media attention. She also received the Colorado Springs Mayor’s Young Leader Award as well as a Denver TedTALK public speaking invite.

Previous award winners include Guy and Jane Bennett, suicide prevention advocates, Alan Pocock, the special education chair and Learning and Educating About Disabilities (LEAD) program coordinator at Cheyenne Mountain High School, Former Colorado First Lady Jeannie Ritter, and former Fort Carson Commander Retired Maj. Gen. Mark Graham and his wife, Carol.

Tickets are now available for the luncheon which will feature SNL Darrell Hammond as keynote speaker. Hammond is famous for his impressions of Bill Clinton, Sean Connery and Donald Trump, but his personal story of overcoming child abuse and substance misuse is less known. Hammond will share his difficult journey of drug abuse, self-harm and other life challenges.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Utilities Board agrees to add more solar after colorful public comment

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 2:58 PM

  • Amy Gray
On September 20, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, which has the same members as City Council, heard a proposal to build enough solar panels to produce 70 megawatts of electricity. By the end of the meeting, they decided to go with 100 megawatts instead — enough to power about 28,000 homes for a year.

The new infrastructure will cost $3 million, according to the Gazette, paid for by a rate hike starting in 2019 that'll add an average of 70 cents to monthly residential electric bills. When it's up and running, the percentage of CSU's energy portfolio that comes from renewable sources will have nearly doubled.

Many who showed for public comment urged the board to move more aggressively on renewables and shutter the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant sooner than 2035. Some referenced Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, which recently ravaged Florida and Texas, respectively, as examples of a dangerously changing climate caused by fossil fuel emissions. Board member Andy Pico denied that those storms were out of the ordinary and insisted that global warming isn't happening. He and Don Knight opposed the investment in solar. The rest of them were open to continuing discussions about a more sustainable energy future for Colorado Springs, provided it's not too expensive.

The board may have been moved by this, shall we say, unusual, use of the public comment period. Watch below as members of and COS CAN act out the existential battle between coal and solar. The theatrics start a little more than four minutes into this video.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Springs Rescue Mission completes resource center, pauses kitchen expansion

Posted By on Wed, Sep 13, 2017 at 1:43 PM

UPDATE: Here's the video.

09-12-17 Larry Yonker - Springs Rescue Mission - Resource Center Completion from Springs Rescue Mission on Vimeo.

——ORIGINAL POST 1:43 P.M. WED., SEPT. 13, 2017——
On Sept. 12, the Springs Rescue Mission (SRM) announced the completion of its new resource center, which is designed for people experiencing homelessness to access all sorts of human services in one convenient, consolidated location. Now open, the facility features 16 showers, laundry machines, a recreational area and office space for government and non-profit agencies.
  • SRM CEO Larry Yonkers

“Before the opening of this building, someone experiencing homelessness would have to walk about five miles in a single day to get the services they need," said Larry Yonkers, SRM's President and CEO, in a press release. "Now, if they’re staying in our shelter, it’s a 50-foot walk across the courtyard.”

This marks the end of phase one in the Mission's $17-million campus expansion project. SRM had planned to get started with phase two right away, but is instead pressing pause until it can identify an additional $2.5 million in funding.

Phase two entails expanding the kitchen, which, according to Yonkers, is "no larger than a two-car garage" and strained serving over meals to about 350 guests a day. Though the planned 200-seat kitchen is far from completion, Yonkers has said SRM is nonetheless able to accommodate those who hang out across the street at Dorchester Park where the Salvation Army's food truck recently ended service.

  • Thomas Voss
As the Indy has reported, the first phase of phase one was added shelter space before winter kicked in last year, and phase three will be a permanent supportive housing complex. That $14 million project, dubbed Greenway Flats, planned in partnership with Nor'wood Development Group, will house 65 chronically homeless adults, putting the per-person construction cost at over $215,000. According to this year's point-in-time count, widely considered an undercount, the number 
  • Courtesy Nor'wood Development Group
of chronically homeless adults living in Colorado Springs is 374.

Here's a video, courtesy of SRM, that shows Yonkers introducing the new resource center. Right now, we've just got the link, but when the video becomes embeddable, embed it we shall.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Mental Health Colorado addresses crisis at mental hospital, state needs

Posted By on Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 12:12 PM

UPDATE: DHS, which oversees CMHIP, literally on-boarded a new spokesperson the day we posted this blog. Nourie Boraie, formerly with the Senate Republicans' press office, told the Indy on Monday that the "ban on breaks" referenced in the Chieftain article linked below lasted just a day. "Obviously it's a difficult situation but our goal is to prioritize staff recruitment and retention," she says. "We're definitely working hard to make sure things move forward in positive light." Five representatives from DHS were present at the Mental Health Colorado meeting.

——-ORIGINAL POST: 12:12 p.m. THURS., SEPT. 7, 2017———-
The Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo (CMHIP) treats pretty challenging patients — some referred from community health centers and some referred from the court system (if they're found "not guilty by reason of insanity" or their competency to stand trial is questioned, as in the case of Robert Dear Jr., the admitted Planned Parenthood shooter, who's currently committed to CMHIP). But the 449-bed, state-run hospital needs some help of its own.
  • CMHIP's campus.

The Pueblo Chieftain's Peter Roper has been following this protracted story that took a dire turn earlier this summer when state inspectors found that CMHIP was short about a hundred staffers, with about half of those being open nursing positions. That nearly caused the hospital to lose Medicare funding, which accounts for about 13 percent of its overall budget. (The specter of getting shut out of federal insurance is what closed a 20-bed addiction treatment program around that time.) To prevent further cuts, the Department of Human Services (DHS), which oversees the hospital, came up with a personnel plan to show the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) a good faith effort to address the staffing crisis that's been known and documented for years now.

The plan immediately instituted mandatory overtime, a freeze on employee leave and, until the hospital rescinded it under pressure, a ban on breaks. An employees' union has spoken out against working conditions they call "punitive" and "intentionally hostile." Needless to say, new recruits aren't exactly flocking to join their ranks.

All this prompted Mental Health Colorado, a nonprofit that works to "promote early intervention, expand access to affordable services, and eradicate stigma and discrimination," to convene stakeholders to brainstorm solutions not only for CMHIP, but also for the shortage in mental health professionals overall.

Mental Health Colorado President and CEO, Andrew Romanoff. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Mental Health Colorado President and CEO, Andrew Romanoff.
President and CEO of Mental Health Colorado, Andrew Romanoff, tells the Indy that attendees acknowledged that CMHIP is in a "vicious cycle" where the staffing shortage has increased the burden on existing staff, which drives up turnover, making it a less attractive place to work — thereby perpetuating the staffing shortage. "We discussed not just recruitment but retention," he says. "How do we improve conditions, reduce their case load and increase pride in the profession?"

Himself a former state lawmaker specializing in health policy, Romanoff disclosed a few proposals that surfaced during the Sept. 5 meeting: loan forgiveness for professionals who commit to putting their degree to work in underserved areas; financial incentives to work with the toughest patients, not the easiest (as is currently the case); and paying health care professionals and social workers better overall.

"Unless you're really bad at math, nobody goes into this field to get rich," says Romanoff, who grew up with social worker for a mother and a prosecutor for a father. "But we want [workers] to make enough to support a family and maybe even buy a house."

"Nobody's under any illusions that the state is overflowing with dollars dedicated to any particular solutions here," he continued, adding that Tuesday's conversation touched on the potential for state/federal matching grants, employer-funded scholarships and public-private partnerships as potential financiers.

"We're also looking at ways to save money, and make care more efficient," Romanoff says. For example, the state will cover the cost of detox, no matter how often a patient needs it, but won't cover actual substance abuse treatment. "We're paying to treat the symptoms but not the underlying disorder [which] is penny-wise but pound-foolish," he says, hinting that legislation to make in-patient care for substance abuse a Medicaid benefit could surface in the next session.  

Personnel issues in the mental health field are, of course, not unique to Pueblo or even Colorado. They're nationwide.

"More people are seeking mental health care, and with that increase in demand, supply hasn't followed," Romanoff says. It's not that mental illness has become more common, though, it's that access to care expanded — in part because people are more comfortable seeking care now that society is beginning to address stigma and in part because mental health care is now defined as an essential benefit under the Affordable Care Act.

Expansive and complex though the issue may be, CMHIP is pursuing immediate fixes like training correctional officers to supervise patients, asking for paramedics to step in and holding hiring fairs.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hickenlooper, in bipartisan bromance, releases health care proposal

Posted By on Thu, Aug 31, 2017 at 11:34 AM

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, have teamed up to draft a proposal to stabilize individual health insurance markets that, nationwide, have seen insurers drop-out and premiums go up over the past year.

Now, you might be thinking, "Hmm... health care reform... Doesn't the Republican majority in Congress still want to 'repeal and replace?'"

Ding, ding! They sure do, since it's a seven years-long promise and all, but you'll recall that despite controlling both chambers of the legislative branch with a willing executive in the White House, Republicans have failed to accomplish anything on the health care front.

In addition to embarrassing, their failure has been destructive. As the Indy has reported, all this uncertainty around policy has created instability, most acutely in the the individual market, where people who don't have employee or government sponsored insurance must buy their plans. About 13 million Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, get coverage through the exchanges that were set up under the Affordable Care Act. This year, because of all the jockeying in Congress, premiums for insurances plans offered through Connect for Health Colorado, our own state exchange, are projected rise an average of 27 percent. That could be a huge hit in the wallet for the about 13,400 El Paso County residents who enroll through the exchange.

That's why governors, who have experience implementing health care policy on the state level, are taking matters into their own hands. The Hickenlooper-Kasich proposal, which has the support of six other governors, is addressed to Congressional leaders of both parties. It recommends "immediate federal action to stabilize markets," "responsible reforms that preserve recent coverage gains and control costs" and "an active federal/state partnership that is based on innovation and a shared commitment to improve overall health system performance."

Check it out yourself for the specifics.

(Don't have time to read the whole plan? Highlights are: fund cost sharing reduction payments; keep the individual mandate for now; fund outreach and enrollment efforts; and commit to federal risk sharing mechanisms.)

And, if you're just swooning at how reasonable and pragmatic and bipartisan these popular governors' partnership is, you'll be tickled to know there are, indeed, rumors that they're toying with a "unity ticket" in 2020. Each governor has been coy about it in the press, saying there are no ulterior motives to this joint health care proposal... Which is exactly what you would say if you were running for president.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Urban Peak's annual "Off the Street" breakfast a success

Posted By on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 12:51 PM

Urban Peak, a local nonprofit serving homeless youth, got over 800 people to congregate under the Colorado Avenue bridge early Thursday morning. Sounds like a bizarre feat if it weren't tradition.
Spotted: Indy publisher Carrie Simison (bottom right) - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Spotted: Indy publisher Carrie Simison (bottom right)
During the breakfast fundraiser, the organization's leaders and supporters spoke about why it's important, as a community, to create the conditions for homeless youth to thrive. Urban Peak does this by providing a safe place to stay at their 20-bed shelter facility downtown, meeting youth where they're at through street outreach, and offering case management in matters of health, education, employment and housing.

"At Urban Peak I don't get lost in the shuffle," Colton, a formerly homeless youth who now works the shelter's front desk, told the audience.

Urban Peak, like many youth and homeless programs, is currently under threat from the Trump administration and its allies in Congress, who have proposed significant cuts to the federal block grants that support anti-poverty efforts. Forty percent of Urban Peak's budget comes from federal sources. For that reason, Urban Peak executive director Shawna Kempainnen, who also serves on the Pikes Peak Continuum of Care board, emphasized that service providers will have to rely on support from local elected officials, businesses and community members more than ever.

"We can end youth homelessness if we are relentless," she said.
Shawna Kempainnen - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Shawna Kempainnen

Her plea relied as much on logos as it did on pathos. Kempainnen cited an estimate that the city spends about $57,000 a year per chronically homeless person. Compare that to the $17,000 a year Urban Peak's supportive housing program spends to get one youth into his or her own apartment, where they're able to stabilize enough to start paying rent themselves. Over time, especially, the difference there is a stark reminder why it pays to invest in youth before their lives spiral any further.

To further that mission, Kempainnen announced a partnership with the Pikes Peak Library District to launch a "National Safe Place Network" by November. The idea is that teens in crisis who go to the library seeking help would activate a response from Urban Peak's team of staff and volunteers to get them linked up with the resources and services they need right away. Urban Peak is looking for new volunteers to support the effort.

All told, the breakfast brought in $114,500 for the organization — about $44,000 shy of their goal, albeit with 120 fewer attendees than last year.

"But we know the people in the space are always exactly the right people at the right time, and we are overwhelmed with the community’s generosity," Kempainnen wrote in an email thanking table captains. "We will continue engaging people who could not attend to get involved and invested," she added.
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