Friday, January 26, 2018

North Cheyenne Cañon: No vehicles allowed?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 26, 2018 at 1:31 PM

The city's master plan for North Cheyenne Cañon drew a crowd on the night of Jan. 25. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The city's master plan for North Cheyenne Cañon drew a crowd on the night of Jan. 25.

A session to discuss the North Cheyenne Cañon Park Master Plan drew more than 200 people to Cheyenne Mountain High School the night of Jan. 25, and it's no mystery as to why.

The city Parks Department has come up with several options to better manage vehicle traffic through the park, including prohibiting vehicles altogether, in which case a shuttle service might be the answer.

  • City of Colorado Springs
One plan would actually add parking spaces, growing them from the current 497 to 524, a 5 percent increase. In addition, under one scenario, 42 pullouts would be reduced to 12. There's also talk of charging fees for vehicles to drive through the park if vehicles continue to be allowed, although no figures were disclosed.

Driving the master plan are concerns over access, including vehicles, climbing, cycling, interpretation for nature walks and the like, management of maintenance and enforcing rules such as off-leash dogs and horse waste disposal, fire mitigation, public safety, special events and regulations dictating the use of trails.

The master planning process, which began in July, will end with final approval by the Parks Advisory Board in May.

The next meeting is at 6 p.m. on Feb. 1 at Cheyenne Mountain High School. Its focus will be trails and interpretative programs.

On Jan. 25, parks official Priscilla Marbaker said the goal of adopting a new master plan is to enhance the visitor experience, ease traffic congestion, reduce dust and erosion and ease parking conflicts, fumes and noise, while also improving safe passage for visitors.

"Doing nothing," she said, isn't an option because of increased vandalism of the park, impacts on natural resources, accidents and projected increases in visitation.

"Our parks are being loved to death," she said, noting an 8 percent increase per year of visitors using city parks.

As for fees, possibilities include an "all year drive through pass" and parking passes. The park might be closed at night, as is Palmer Park located near the center of Colorado Springs.

If shuttle buses are deemed a viable alternative, a separate study would be necessary "to figure out how it would work," she said.

In the midst of Marbaker's presentation, one citizen called out, "Why don't you give the whole Cheyenne Cañon to The Broadmoor?" To which Marbaker replied, "If that's something you want to do, put it on your feedback card."

The Broadmoor owns Seven Falls, which is located in Cheyenne Cañon. It runs shuttles from The Broadmoor Hotel just east of the falls. The resort also acquired the 186-acre Strawberry Fields open space, which lies on the south side of the park and near Seven Falls, via a land trade with the city finalized in late 2016. The land swap remains tied up in litigation, and a ruling from the Colorado Court of Appeals is expected in coming weeks regarding a citizen group's argument that voters should have been consulted on the trade.

Learn more about the master plan process by going here.


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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Douglas Bruce challenges motion to dismiss in sheriff's tax case

Posted By on Thu, Jan 25, 2018 at 4:42 PM

Bruce, right, speaking with reporters in September about his opposition to ballot measures. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Bruce, right, speaking with reporters in September about his opposition to ballot measures.
In his typical bombastic style, Douglas Bruce argues against El Paso County's motion to dismiss his lawsuit over what he considers the illegal collection of about $900,000 for the sheriff's tax in 2013.

Bruce calls government officials "lying politicians" and says there's no ambiguity in the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which he wrote, "except in [county commissioners'] latest dreams."

At issue is the ballot language and TABOR notice for the sheriff's tax, saying "approximately $17 million" would be raised in its first year. TABOR requires a specific dollar figure. After voters gave a nod to the tax, the county collected nearly $17,900,000 in 2013. The excess above $17 million must be refunded to voters, Bruce argues, because no subsequent election was held to get permission to keep the extra money.

Read about the case here.

Bruce says in the answer, filed on Jan. 25, that he "could have given governments a 'weasel clause' of 'good faith,' which is easy to allege and impossible to disprove, but he did not. He could have given lying politicians leeway by excusing false statements of up to 5% (here, up to $850,000, which was truly $900,000), but he did not. During the campaign and in later testimony, he told voters and legislators that the only option was to tell the truth."

Referring to the county's motion to dismiss, Bruce writes:
On page 6, defendant strikes a noble pose and says it is is “upholding the will of the electorate—” the electorate DEFENDANT DECEIVED. If this court buys a TV for for the advertised price of $400, but the salesman enters a credit card invoice for $500, and keeps the extra $100 for himself, was that transaction “the will of the consumer?”
Read Bruce's motion, which seeks a hearing for oral arguments, here:

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State of the Rockies project shows growing concern for the environment

Posted By on Thu, Jan 25, 2018 at 2:52 PM

  • Slides courtesy Colorado College State of the Rockies Project
Colorado voters are more likely to identify as a conservationist today than two years ago, with similarly significant increases in every Western state, according to the State of the Rockies Project from Colorado College.

"You wouldn't expect that to change much year to year," project specialist with the State of the Rockies Project Jonah Seifer tells the Independent. "Over the past two years we've seen a 13 percent rise in voters who identify as conservationists.

"We've always asked, 'Do you visit national public lands?' Earlier, we got a resounding 'yes.' In the past year, we noticed a strong uptick in people who visit public lands repeatedly, people who have made a commitment to public lands and visit them often and develop a relationship with them. A culture that repeatedly visits public lands is a trend for us."

Past year's reports have been cited by politicians and last year was referenced during debate on the U.S. House floor during debate over national monuments.
The poll, conducted by Lori Weigel with Public Opinion Strategies, and Dave Metz with Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associations, found:

• 65 percent of Coloradans identified as a conservationist in 2016, compared to 75 percent this year. Respondents in the seven other states also showed an increase. The biggest change came in Utah, which went from 57 percent in 2016 to 76 percent in 2018. Other states included Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona.

• 74 percent consider themselves an outdoor recreation enthusiast.

The poll is in its eighth year and surveys citizens on their views of the most pressing issues involving public lands.

The poll comes at a time when President Trump and his administration are taking steps to block public access to some national public lands through reducing the size of public monuments and allow commercial use of public lands.

On Monday, the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities reported that a draft of Trump's infrastructure plan, first reported by Axios, includes a call for the “Disposition of Federal Real Property” by executive order, suggesting an intent to sell the country's public lands.

"This plan calls for the disposal of federal lands, it’s right there in black and white," the center's Executive Director Jennifer Rokala said in a statement. "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said time and again that he would oppose any attempt to sell off America’s public lands. Once again, the secretary is telling the public one thing while doing another behind closed doors."

The Colorado College report also notes that "96 percent of Coloradans surveyed view the outdoor recreation economy as important for the economic future of their state." Eighty-seven said their state's outdoor lifestyle attracts good jobs and innovative companies.

"Overall, Colorado voter approval for President Donald Trump and his administration’s handling of issues related to land, water and wildlife sits at 36 percent, with 55 percent disapproving," the report said.

Here's more from a news release:
Asked where the Trump administration should place its emphasis between protection and development, 68 percent of respondents said they prefer protecting water, air and wildlife while providing opportunities to visit and recreate on national public lands. That is compared to 21 percent of respondents who said they prefer the administration prioritize domestic energy production by increasing the amount of national public lands available for responsible drilling and mining.

Coloradans hold national monuments in high regard. Eighty-six percent described them as helping nearby economies, 93 percent as national treasures, 94 percent as important places to be conserved for future generations, 91 percent as places to learn about America’s history and heritage, and 96 percent as places they want their children to see someday. Twenty-six percent said national monuments hurt the local economy and 26 percent said they tie up too much land that could be put to other uses.

Seventy percent of Colorado voters view the Trump administration’s recent decision to remove existing protections and reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah by 2 million acres as a bad idea. A Trump administration decision to alter or eliminate additional national monuments would be unpopular with 73 percent of respondents across the state.

“Over the eight-year history of the Conservation in the West Poll, a passion for the outdoors and strong support for American public lands have remained constant in the Mountain West,” said Dr. Walt Hecox, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Colorado College and founder of the State of the Rockies Project. “Nearly all of the people surveyed said they visited national public lands in the past year and plan to go to a national park in 2018. Public lands drive our economy and define our way of life. A leadership agenda that does not recognize that reality is going to be met with strong disapproval in Colorado.”

Specifically, several actions recently undertaken or currently under consideration by the Trump administration are unpopular with voters in Colorado:

• 40 percent of respondents support [44 percent oppose] raising fees to enter some of the country’s largest national parks during peak season;

• 30 percent of respondents support [53 percent oppose] privatizing the management of campgrounds, visitor centers and other services provided at national parks and other national public lands;

• 27 percent of respondents support [63 percent oppose] expanding how much public land is available to private companies which pay for the ability to drill for oil and gas on public lands;

• 24 percent of respondents support [60 percent oppose] expanding how much public land is available to private companies which pay for the ability to mine for uranium and other metals on public lands;

• 17 percent of respondents support [72 percent oppose] allowing mining on public lands next to Grand Canyon National Park, where new mining claims are currently banned;

• 26 percent of respondents support [67 percent oppose] changing current plans to protect habitat for threatened sage-grouse in Western states; and, conversely, 74 percent of respondents support [18 percent oppose] requiring oil and gas producers who operate on public lands to use updated equipment and technology to prevent leaks of methane gas during the extraction process and reduce the need to burn off excess natural gas into the air—a regulation the Trump administration is seeking to overturn.

With the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show beginning this week in Denver, after the Outdoor Industry Association ended its 20-year partnership with Salt Lake City as a result of Utah politicians’ hostility toward land conservation and U.S. public lands, the impact of the Trump administration’s recent actions on local outdoor economies is top of mind for the outdoor recreation business community:

“Protecting public lands is a bipartisan issue with constituents across the West agreeing that public lands and waters should remain open and accessible for all to enjoy,” said Travis Campbell, chairman of the board for the Outdoor Industry Association and President of Smartwool. “Unfortunately, the current administration’s actions are not lining up with voters’ desires. We need people from both sides of the aisle to express their dissatisfaction with their legislators and let their voices be heard.”

The poll showed strong support for cleaner forms of energy in Colorado. Forty-two percent of respondents in Colorado pointed to solar as the source of energy that best represents the future of energy in their state. Wind was the second-ranked choice.

With record-low snowpack in parts of the West, the drought remained a top concern this year, as low levels of water in rivers and inadequate water supplies were identified as serious issues facing Colorado by 81 percent and 80 percent of respondents respectively. Eighty percent of respondents prefer addressing the water shortage by using the current water supply more wisely through conservation, reduction and recycling rather than by diverting more water from rivers in less populated places to communities where more people live. Seventy-nine percent of respondents in Colorado view the Colorado River as “at risk.”

This is the eighth consecutive year Colorado College has gauged the public’s sentiment on public lands and conservation issues. Idaho was added to the survey for the first time this year. The 2018 Colorado College Conservation in the West Poll is a bipartisan survey conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.

The poll surveyed 400 registered voters in each of eight Western states (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT & WY) for a total 3,200-person sample. The survey was conducted in late December 2017 and early January 2018 and has a margin of error of ±2.65 percent nationwide and ±4.9 percent statewide. The full survey and individual state surveys are available on the State of the Rockies website.


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Monday, January 22, 2018

Banning Lewis Ranch plan includes two additional public meetings

Posted By on Mon, Jan 22, 2018 at 4:35 PM

Much of the Banning Lewis Ranch looks like this. It's never been developed. The city proposed to change the rules so that the land can be converted into homes and businesses. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Much of the Banning Lewis Ranch looks like this. It's never been developed. The city proposed to change the rules so that the land can be converted into homes and businesses.

So far, nobody's saying why the schedule of Banning Lewis Ranch approvals has been extended by two months.

Originally, Mayor John Suthers' administration proposed a series of meetings that would conclude with City Council's second reading (final approval) on Feb. 27.

As of this morning, Jan. 22, things have changed. Now, two townhall meetings have been added, one in February and one in March.

Under the revised schedule, Council would approve the new annexation agreement on April 24.

Asked about the change, the city's economic development officer Bob Cope says in an email, "The BLR schedule has been revised based upon City Council input."

Some City Council members have asked for more time to digest the sweeping agreement that will replace the existing annexation agreement adopted in 1988. The current document requires developers to pay for nearly all public infrastructure, both onsite and in adjacent areas, which carries a price tag of about $1 billion.

Suthers argues the city has lost a lot of revenue by seeing the 20,000-acre property sit idle over the years, and it's time to reap the rewards of development.

But Councilor Tom Strand tells the Independent, "I want to take the time it takes to make sure we have all of our questions answered. I’m not ready to vote on this. The initial schedule showed us voting by end of February. I’m not ready to vote by the end of February."

Here's the new schedule going forward:
Friday, Feb 2: Town Hall w/ Public Comment, Pikes Peak Regional Development Center Hearing Room, 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM

Monday, Feb 5: City Council Closed Session- Regarding BLR Annexation Amendment and Restatement Agreement, City Council Chambers

Wednesday, Feb 21: City Council Closed Session- Regarding BLR Annexation Amendment and Restatement Agreement, City Council Chambers

Monday, Mar 12: City Council Work Session, BLR Annexation Amendment and Restatement Presentation and Proposed Code Amendments, City Council Chambers, 1:00 PM

Thursday, Mar 22: Town Hall w/ Public Comment, Pikes Peak Regional Development Center Hearing Room, 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM

Tuesday, Mar 27: City Council Meeting, Resolution to Amend and Restate the BLR Annexation Agreement

Tuesday, Apr 10: City Council Meeting, First Reading of BLR Code Amendments Ordinance, City Council Chambers, 1:00 PM

Tuesday, Apr 24: City Council Meeting, Second Reading of BLR Code Amendments Ordinance, City Council Chambers, 1:00 PM

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Friday, January 19, 2018

City of Colorado Springs settles female police officer lawsuit for $2.5 million

Posted By on Fri, Jan 19, 2018 at 5:31 PM

Here's a statement from the female officers' attorney, Donna Dell O'lio:
On January 19, 2018 the City of Colorado Springs settled a sex discrimination lawsuit brought by twelve women police officers. The women claimed that the City’s physical abilities test discriminated against them and was not related to their jobs.
Last July federal District Judge Richard Matsch agreed with the women finding that the Colorado Springs Police Department’s physical abilities test violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal anti‐ discrimination law.
The settlement ends two and one‐half years of litigation.
Donna Dell’Olio, attorney for the women, said that “ The Judge’s ruling and the size of the settlement should discourage other police departments from adopting similar tests that discriminate against women.”
“These 12 police women have made great contributions to the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Police Department and will continue to do so.”
“The women have acted bravely to stop a practice that demoralized them and discouraged the retention of women in the police department.”
“Their purpose was always to stop a discriminatory practice from gaining a foot hold and spreading to other police departments. With Judge Matsch’s ruling and the substantial settlement they have achieved a great victory for women.”

————————ORIGINAL POST 5:30 P.M. Friday, Jan. 19——————-

The city of Colorado Springs has settled a federal lawsuit with a dozen current and former female police officers over a physical abilities test the officers alleged was unfair to women.
  • Illustration by Dustin Glanz
The settlement comes after a key decision in the case was issued in July. That's when U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ruled that a Physical Abilities Test (PAT) used by the Colorado Springs Police Department in 2014 to determine officers’ fitness for duty discriminated against women.

The city asked the court to reconsider the ruling, a necessary step before appealing it to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now we learn the city has decided to have its insurance carriers pay nearly $2.5 million to settle the case. Of that, $882,054 will be paid to the officers' attorneys at Cornish & Dell O'lio of Colorado Springs. The remainder will be split among the dozen plaintiffs, meaning that if divided equally, each would receive $132,441.

As of 2015, the city had paid dearly to defend against the lawsuit, as we reported here. And that tab didn't include court time for hearings along the way.

Here's the upshot of why the city settled:
... defending the lawsuit is a drain on City resources. After considering numerous factors, including the tremendous amount of sworn and civilian employee time involved in a U.S. District Court jury trial in Denver, the length of appellate processes, and the existence of insurance coverage for monetary amounts paid to the Plaintiffs and their attorneys, it was determined that settlement was in the best interests of the City.
The lead attorney for the female officers, Donna Dell O'lio, could not be reached for comment.

Here's the city's full press release:

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Frontier Airlines lifts COS traffic upward

Posted By on Wed, Jan 17, 2018 at 5:02 PM

Frontier Airlines passengers are helping Colorado Springs Airport build traffic numbers. - NATE LAVIN
  • Nate Lavin
  • Frontier Airlines passengers are helping Colorado Springs Airport build traffic numbers.

We've all done it — driven a friend to or from Denver International Airport, gnashing our teeth all the way.

Well, it appears those anxiety-laden trips are giving way to Colorado Springs residents looking for a more convenient way to fly.

The Colorado Springs Airport reports a 31 percent increase in passengers through November, for a total of 1,532,822 passengers, compared to the same time in 2016. In the month of November, 145,573 passengers departed or arrived at COS, an increase of 18.8 percent over November 2016.

Part of the surge was due to Frontier Airlines adding numerous destinations in the last year, including Chicago O'Hare; Los Angeles; San Diego; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Fort Myers, Florida; and Tampa Bay, Florida. Before those additions, Frontier already flew from COS to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Orlando.

Thus, Frontier reported 209,562 passengers in year-to-date traffic through November, an increase of 291.2 percent from the previous year.

From an airport news release:
November’s year-to-date load factors (the percentage of seats filled with paying passengers) remained steady. Delta reported a 93.0 percent load factor, followed by American at 86.8 percent, United at 85.9 percent, Frontier at 84.7 percent, and Allegiant at 79.7 percent.

COS currently serves 13 nonstop flights with 5 airlines. Service to Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas begins April 8, 2018, with new routes to Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota and San Jose, California beginning April 9.

COS encourages residents in southern Colorado to “look before you book,” and offers simple parking, easy check-in, and a short drive home.

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Maketa, Presley dismissed from federal lawsuit

Posted By on Wed, Jan 17, 2018 at 3:34 PM

Maketa pictured during his last term in office. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Maketa pictured during his last term in office.

As prosecutors gear up for a retrial of former El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court ruling in a civil case brought by five sheriff's personnel accusing Maketa and others of taking illegal "adverse employment actions" against them.

A three-judge panel ruled in a decision filed Jan. 17, that Maketa and then-Undersheriff Paula Presley, also named in the lawsuit, are entitled to qualified immunity from the claims.

The 2015 lawsuit was filed by Commanders Mitch Lincoln, Rod Gehrett and Rob King, and Lt. Cheryl Peck and Sgt. Robert Stone. Here's an account of their claims before the lawsuit was filed.

They also named the Board of County Commissioners, Sheriff's Office, current Sheriff Bill Elder and current Undersheriff Joe Breister. The Sheriff's Office, Elder and Breister have since been dismissed.

Andrew Ringel, a Denver attorney who represented Maketa, says the ruling means Maketa and Presley have qualified immunity against all claims so the claims have been dismissed. He declined to comment further.

Maketa, who served as sheriff from 2003 to Dec. 31, 2014, faces criminal charges filed in May 2016 alleging he threatened to end a jail contract if the contractor didn't terminate an employee who wasn't Maketa's political ally, among other allegations. A trial in July ended in acquittal on witness tampering, conspiracy to commit witness tampering and official misconduct charges. Several other charges ended with a hung jury. A new trial begins Jan. 23.

As for the civil case brought by the employees, U.S. District Court Judge Christine Arguello originally ruled in March 2016 that claims in the lawsuit would be dismissed except:
a. One consolidated claim for relief for retaliation related to the EEOC
complaint and the BOCC request for investigation by Plaintiffs Lincoln, King, and Gehrett against Defendants Maketa and Presley;

b. Plaintiff Peck’s Third Claim for Relief for retaliation asserted against
Defendant Maketa;

c. Plaintiff Stone’s Fourth Claim for Relief for retaliation asserted against Defendant Maketa; and

d. Plaintiffs Lincoln, King, and Gehrett’s Sixth Claim for Relief for Title VII retaliation asserted against Defendant Board of County Commissioners of the County of El Paso. 
That meant that the plaintiffs could have pursued those claims in court and possibly prevailed, but since Maketa and Presley appealed that ruling, and it was reversed, the plaintiffs can't be pursued for those claims because they have governmental immunity.

The five employees (the plaintiffs), all of whom remain employed at the Sheriff's Office with the exception of Stone, who retired, variously claimed Maketa and Presley punished them for:

• favoring a sheriff's candidate the two didn't support,
• for not giving a scripted account regarding a so-called missing internal affairs file for Elder during his tenure in the 1990s,
• for making complaints about Maketa that indicated the sheriff showed favoritism to employees based on sexual favors
• and creating a hostile work environment based on that favoritism and other actions.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled:
The assertion of qualified immunity imposes a heavy burden on the plaintiffs, requiring them to point to existing precedent or the clear weight of authority establishing the existence of a constitutional violation. None of the plaintiffs has met that burden. Lt. Peck has not demonstrated that her statement to the media was clearly made as a private citizen rather than as a public employee. Nor has Sgt. Stone or the Commanders shown that the defendants’ alleged conduct would clearly constitute adverse employment actions. Accordingly, Sheriff Maketa and Undersheriff Presley were entitled to qualified immunity on all of the claims.
El Paso County spokesperson Dave Rose sent the following response on behalf of the county:

El Paso County is still studying the ruling and evaluating its options going forward.

The county applauds the court for clarifying the complex legal concept of “qualified immunity” as it relates this case. The county also notes that in its decision the court affirmed the county’s employment related actions to ensure that these individuals were placed on administrative leave so they would not lose pay and benefits pending the outcome of an outside legal review of facts and circumstances in the Sheriff’s Office during that difficult time period.

Local attorney Ed Farry who represented the five sheriff's personnel did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Read the ruling here:

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Archer Park drainage plan given go-ahead by the city

Posted By on Wed, Jan 17, 2018 at 1:16 PM

A development in the Broadmoor area can move forward after the city approved a drainage plan last week that remains a point of contention with neighbors. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A development in the Broadmoor area can move forward after the city approved a drainage plan last week that remains a point of contention with neighbors.
Back in August, we reported on the development of 4.7 acres dubbed Archer Park in the Broadmoor area. Neighbors of the proposed development had a litany of complaints, chief among them that the developer's drainage plan — still in limbo — would be inadequate and lead to stormwater flowing onto their properties.

Dr. James Albert, who lives just east of the proposed development, filed a lawsuit in July to try to reverse the city's approval of the subdivision.

The developer, Richard Delesk, on the other hand, said he has a long reputation of developing quality homes in the neighborhood and that he was upset by what he viewed as outrageous opposition by a group of neighbors intent on ruining his project simply because they wanted the land next to them to remain undeveloped.

Now, the subdivision's drainage plan has been approved by city of Colorado Springs' engineers, clearing the way for development to begin.

In the way of a little more background, from our earlier story:
At issue is a pasture in the Broadmoor area that soon could give rise to a verdant enclave of million-dollar homes called Archer Park, or, as some neighbors see it, a flood-water and traffic nightmare.

While it’s not unusual for City Council to encounter citizen outcry over developments of hundreds of homes or apartments, Archer Park covers only 4.7 acres. But the small development has drawn outsized opposition from dozens of neighbors who’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on studies, consultants and top environmental engineers to refute the developer’s claim the plan won’t flood adjoining properties and adjacent streets.

As Les Gruen, a consultant hired by the neighbors, says in an interview, “I thought this was going to be a pretty straightforward deal, and I ended up working on it for a year.”

Even the developer himself, Richard Delesk, acknowledged in an email to the Independent, “I have never seen anything like this opposition. This is well-funded NIMBYism against a development that is rigorously documented, thoughtfully planned and which has passed all regulatory hurdles with flying colors.”

But that’s not really the case. Although City Council OK’d the subdivision 7-2 on June 27, a final drainage plan remains in flux, and Council specified it must be approved by city planners before the final plat is recorded.
The Indy asked Delesk for a comment on Jan. 17 about the city's approval of his drainage plan and his next steps, Delesk says via email:

Yes we have been informed of the approval and are thrilled as you might imagine. As far as a start date on the project we don’t currently have a schedule. There is a lot of utility work that has to be designed and installed prior to starting any building. That said we are currently keeping ourselves busy with a fantastic Parade Home we’re starting construction on in our Marland Park Subdivision.

Regarding an IM maintenance plan – According to City Code §7.7.1527(C)(1), an inspection and maintenance plan “shall be developed by the owner concurrently with the design of the facility and submitted with the erosion and stormwater quality control plan for approval by the City Engineer.” So you see, one is not due yet nor is there a deadline for the erosion and stormwater quality control plan.

As far as neighbors’ concerns to future flooding, I maintain the belief that the City Engineers that strenuously reviewed and subsequently approved our plan know what they are doing. We’re going to be adding drainage infrastructure where none currently exists. I think that’s a huge positive to the neighborhood. Since the Albert's are suing the City (and City Council and myself and my company) I'm sure the validity of their concerns will be evaluated in our court system.
Albert wrote a Jan. 17 email to the Independent, saying he was not backing down.

"The city approved changing a plat underhandedly without a public process," he wrote. "They called a 250 yard by 7 foot wide by 3 foot wide concrete trench a 'minor change.' No safety fences no discussion. They are not requiring drainage easement which would allow each buyer to fill in the trench making the proposed system unless."

In a Jan. 16 letter to the neighbors' attorney, Jonathan Steeler of Denver, Assistant City Attorney Anne Turner says, "The drainage swale constructed on the property will be private infrastructure that will be the responsibility of the owner."

She also says that it "was not feasible" to grant a request from the neighbors to meet with city officials prior to the drainage report's approval.

Read Turner's letter here:
The drainage issue dates back several months as the drainage report was drafted, submitted, returned to the engineer with suggested changes and then approved.

In September, neighbor Diane Matsinger wrote to the city noting the drainage plan as initially proposed didn't contain a maintenance agreement. "At the City Council hearing," she wrote, "we were assured by the applicant’s attorney that the agreement was being drawn and would be submitted with the final drainage plan. Now he is still saying that he will do so at the time of 'permitting.' Maintenance is a serious concern and the City Drainage Criteria REQUIRES that a maintenance agreement be submitted WITH a final drainage plan."

This concern also was addressed by Turner's letter:
The maintenance plan for the storm water infrastructure is not yet due. According to City Code § 7.7.1527(C)(1), an inspection and maintenance plan (“TM plan”) “shall be developed by the owner concurrently with the design of the facility and submitted with the erosion and stormwater quality control plan for approval by the City Engineer.” There is no deadline for the erosion and stormwater quality control plan. The maintenance plan will be publicly available once it is received by the City.
In an interview last month, developer Delesk said his plans have complied with all city requirements and pointed to his long-time success record in developing housing projects that date back more than three decades. He declined to elaborate on plans to develop Archer Park at that time.

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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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Thursday, January 11, 2018

CBI finds "no evidence" to substantiate intimidation of sheriff's notaries

Posted By on Thu, Jan 11, 2018 at 5:07 PM

  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
An investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation into problems with notarizing deputy affidavits of oath at the El Paso County Sheriff's Office found "no evidence existed to substantiate that threats and intimidation took place" against Rick Dietz and Dave Mejia, who worked in the sheriff's human resources department in 2016, when it was discovered that hundreds of deputy oaths and deputy signatures had not been properly witnessed by a notary public and timely filed with the Clerk and Recorder's Office.

Dietz told the Indy that Sheriff's Administrator Larry Borland ordered he and Mejia to go ahead and notarize all the documents as if they had witnessed the signatures. Dietz said they did not witness the signatures but went ahead and notarized the documents as if they had when they felt their jobs were in jeopardy if they refused. He said Chief of Staff Janet Huffor then filed the documents, all in the same day in April 2016, up to a year after the oaths of office had been administered.

After the Independent published "Law and Error" on Nov. 8, 2017, the Fourth Judicial District Attorney's Office asked the CBI to investigate. "Our Office asked for an outside, independent investigation of these allegations, which the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) agreed to conduct," the DA's office said in a statement released Jan. 11. "They have completed a comprehensive investigation and have released an overview of their findings, which is attached."

The CBI's investigation, which they called "comprehensive," didn't include interviewing a key independent witness to the incident, a lieutenant who's now retired and living in another state.

Contacted by the Indy after the DA issued the statement containing the CBI report on Jan. 11, the lieutenant was surprised at the finding, saying, "Nobody ever called me from there." He says he finds that odd, "considering I was the only lieutenant on that floor [at that time]," meaning that while the Indy did not name him in our coverage, it would have been easy to deduce who we were quoting. "It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who that is," the lieutenant said. "That's pretty self evident."

We've asked the CBI for a comment on not interviewing that witness and will circle back if we hear something.

Dietz tells the Indy he was interviewed for about 45 minutes by two people from the CBI in December. They told him it wasn't something they usually would look into, but because of "the weight" and "importance" of the issue, they took on the matter.

"I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised," Dietz says. "I don't know how they can say there's no evidence." He noted that he told the investigators about the retired lieutenant, so he was disappointed the investigators wouldn't have touched base with him.

Then he added, "Nothing surprises me with this anymore, quite honestly. I did what I thought I had to do, and I'm comfortable with that."

Dietz says Mejia also spoke with the CBI and gave an account similar to his own. Mejia has refused to comment on the episode to the Indy.

The original story prompted Sheriff Bill Elder to call a news conference on 20 minutes notice the day of publication. At the news conference, his office requested none of the television news teams set up their cameras. He then lashed out at this reporter and the Indy repeatedly for 45 minutes. Elder called the report "crap" and denigrated me and the Indy. He later stopped responding to my questions and issued responses only to the Indy's editors. That practice has ended after First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg took issue with that in a letter on the Indy's behalf to the Sheriff's Office.
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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Legislative session begins in Colorado

Posted By on Wed, Jan 10, 2018 at 11:59 AM

  • Pam Zubeck
State lawmakers got back to work on Jan. 10, as the second regular session of the 71st General Assembly convened at the state capitol in Denver.

It was an eventful off-season, with a bungled special session, shifting party affiliations and high-profile accusations of sexual misconduct. It's likely to be an eventful season, too, with a revenue surplus setting the stage for battles over education, transportation and public pensions.

Democrats hold a nine-seat majority in the House. Republicans control the Senate by one seat. And the governor's office is occupied by centrist Democrat John Hickenlooper, who is in his last term.

If you're a nerd like us, maybe you'll get a kick out of the pomp and circumstance as legislative leadership swear in the lawmakers.

Keep up with the Indy for legislative news throughout the session.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

UPDATE: Strawberry Fields case argued before the Colorado Court of Appeals

Posted By on Tue, Jan 9, 2018 at 3:03 PM

The case of Strawberry Fields open space made it to the Colorado Court of Appeals on Jan. 9. A decision is expected in coming months. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The case of Strawberry Fields open space made it to the Colorado Court of Appeals on Jan. 9. A decision is expected in coming months.

UPDATE: This blog post has been updated to reflect a correction to which Court of Appeals judge is nearing retirement.

———————ORIGINAL POST 3:03 P.M. TUESDAY, SEPT. 9, 2018———————

DENVER — Opponents of the city of Colorado Springs' land exchange with The Broadmoor, finalized in December 2016, showed up in force on Jan. 9 for arguments of their case before the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Save Cheyenne, a nonprofit formed amid debate over the land swap in early 2016, sued the city later that year arguing that 186-acre Strawberry Fields open space in North Cheyenne Cañon park couldn't be disposed of without voter approval. They argue the land was purchased from a bank in 1885 after voters approved the acquisition, meaning it was dedicated park land, which can't be sold or traded without voters having a say.

The city counters that there's no deed restriction, and the city's home rule powers enable City Council to dispose of city-owned land as it sees fit for the betterment of the city.

In addition, Save Cheyenne asserts that land received by the city isn't worth as much as the land it ceded to The Broadmoor, which is unconstitutional if the exchange constituted a "gift" from the government to a corporation. The city, and The Broadmoor, which has intervened in the case, argue otherwise, saying there was no gift.

The land exchange gave The Broadmoor the open space and a half-acre parking lot at the foot of the Manitou Incline. The city received more than 400 acres of wilderness property, easements for various trails and a roughly 9-acre tract immediately east of Bear Creek Regional Park. According to appraisals, The Broadmoor's land far exceeded the value of the city's land, but an appraisal of Strawberry Fields came into dispute when the Colorado Board of Real Estate Appraisers ruled, in response to a complaint, that the appraisal fell short in following standard appraisal practices and ordered the appraiser, Kyle Wigington, to pay a fine and take classes in such things as highest and best use and other appraisal skills.

The city has argued the land swap was good for the city, because it provides key trails connections and offloads care of Strawberry Fields from a Parks Department that's strapped for money to maintain the lands it oversees. The Broadmoor is planning to build a horse stable and picnic pavilion on about 8 acres amid the open space for use by its guests, while placing the balance under a conservation easement overseen by the Palmer Land Trust and opened for public use.

After a District Court judge dismissed Save Cheyenne's case, it appealed to the Court of Appeals where attorneys for both sides squared off on Jan. 9.

Charles Norton, a Denver attorney, represents Save Cheyenne, while City Attorney Wynetta Massey appeared on the city's behalf.

Their 15-minute arguments were confined to issues of law previously outlined in court briefs. The three Court of Appeals judges who heard those arguments interjected questions, such as one challenging the authority argued by Save Cheyenne for asserting a vote of the people was necessary for the Strawberry Fields transfer, and another asking Massey if the word "dedication" in the 1885 ordinance has a meaning.

After the brief hearing, attended by about a dozen Save Cheyenne supporters, Norton said questions surrounding the legitimacy of the Strawberry Fields appraisal aren't relevant to the appellate case, which pivots only on the law that dictates what the city can and can't do in disposing of property.

"The city is arguing that none of that makes any difference," he said, "that the court has no power to review the transaction or the appraisal."

However, if the court agrees with Save Cheyenne's arguments, it could send the case back to the District Court for trial, at which, Norton said, information about the appraisal would become pertinent.

Norton's take on the hearing was that the court "is wrestling with the issues."

Both sides have promised to appeal an unfavorable ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, so the case could persist for months. The Court of Appeals ruling will be handed down "in due course," according to appeals Judge John Webb, but Save Cheyenne supporters hope for a decision sometime in February noting Webb's one of the judge's imminent retirement. (Jon Sarche, spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Department says  Judge Dennis Graham plans to retire effective Feb. 12.)

Among those attending on Save Cheyenne's behalf was supporter Donna Strom. "This could affect every city in Colorado," she told the Independent. "I feel like I'm standing in the shoes of those people in 1885 [who voted to acquire the open space], and I will never give up."

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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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Monday, January 8, 2018

UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central applies for Level 1 Trauma designation

Posted By on Mon, Jan 8, 2018 at 12:36 PM

UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central has submitted its application to become a Level 1 Trauma Center, which would become the first such facility in Colorado outside the Denver metro area. - COURTESY UCHEALTH MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
  • Courtesy UCHealth Memorial Hospital
  • UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central has submitted its application to become a Level 1 Trauma Center, which would become the first such facility in Colorado outside the Denver metro area.

UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, operated under a 40-year lease to UCHealth from the city of Colorado Springs in 2012, has applied to be a Level I Trauma Center. If approved, it would be the only hospital with the designation in Southern Colorado, meaning the most severely injured patients in our region would be sent there. Currently, some are flown to Denver.

Memorial last applied for distinguished designation in July 2015, according to its new application submitted recently to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In 2015, the state's review found no deficiencies; nor did it rule some criteria was “met with reservation.” But, as UCHealth Memorial notes in its new application, "There was a plan of correction (POC) required by the state to address pediatric scope of care. Since that time, UCHealth- Memorial Hospital Central has successfully completed the terms of the plan of correction. Follow-up clearance and notification of POC closure was obtained from CDPHE dated September 1, 2017."

We reported on Memorial's plans to apply last month, before the application had actually been filed.

Now, the 302-page application is a matter of public record, although some portions have been redacted, notably all the data regarding numbers of trauma patients seen at Memorial, which the UCHealth affiliate regards as proprietary.

While the hospital considers El Paso and Teller counties its primary service area, the facility serves a wide geographic area that includes portions of three states for top level trauma services, as shown on this map. The service area is marked with a black dotted line:
  • Memorial Hospital Central Level 1 Trauma application

The hospital is to undergo a site inspection on Jan. 15 and 16. Word on its designation is expected in April. Memorial Central is currently a Trauma 2 facility, which is assigned to facilities unable to provide the top level of care, although Memorial officials say its been providing top trauma care for some time.

The application details the types of care provided at UCHealth Memorial, who provides it, their credentials and various policies surrounding trauma care. Read the application here:

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Banning Lewis Ranch amended annexation agreement released

Posted By on Fri, Jan 5, 2018 at 2:03 PM

Here's a view of the vastness of the Banning Lewis Ranch as viewed from Highway 24 looking to the west. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Here's a view of the vastness of the Banning Lewis Ranch as viewed from Highway 24 looking to the west.
The "Amended and Restated Banning Lewis Ranch Annexation Agreement" has been released to the public ahead of a City Council work session on Jan. 8 at which time it will be fully explained.

The amended agreement is a rewrite of the original 1988 annexation agreement, which has been deemed too onerous for developers in its requirements for infrastructure. Hence, developers and Mayor John Suthers argue, development has hopscotched over the city and into El Paso County to develop homes and commercial property. The city estimates it's lost billions of dollars in economic activity due to those moves into the county.

An economic impact analysis unveiled recently showed the city would gain $49 million in taxes over the next 30 years if Banning Lewis Ranch is developed.

The property has been owned by a series of owners/developers through the years and was sold via a bankruptcy auction to Ultra Petroleum of Houston in 2011. When test wells showed little signs of economic extraction of oil and gas, Ultra sold the land in 2014 — minus the mineral rights — to David Jenkins, owner of Nor'wood Development Group, the region's biggest developer, for $28 million. Nor'wood also is deeply involved in ambitious development plans in the lower downtown area.

Read the entire amended agreement here:
A few notable portions of the agreement:

• Property owners will pay the city $1,631 per acre as a “Fire Protection Fee," which will be considered the owners' share of "capital costs of new fire stations and the initial apparatus purchases required to service the Property as well as adjacent areas of future annexation." Initially, property owners will continue to pay taxes to the Falcon Fire District and Cimarron Hills Fire District until those portions of the ranch lying in those districts are excluded from the districts.

• Property owners also will pay the city $677 per acre as a “Police Service Fee,” which will fund "capital costs of new police stations and the initial equipment purchases required to service the Property as well as adjacent areas of future annexation." Both the fire and police fees will be subject to a "yearly escalation factor, as determined by the City," the agreement says.

• Easements for land required for extension of utilities by city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities must be dedicated by the owners to the city. According to the agreement, "the availability of Utility Services is contingent upon the terms detailed herein and the dedication of real and personal property, public rights-of-way, private rights-of-way, or easements that CSU determines are required for the extension of any proposed Utility Service from CSU’s system facilities that currently exist or that may exist at the time of the proposed extension." This is important in light of a condemnation case in recent years that resulted in Utilities paying the biggest owner of land in the ranch, David Jenkins, some $2.5 million for land needed for the city's Southern Delivery System water pipeline.

• An owner can seek zoning changes as it's developed. "When large acreage ownership is involved (300 or more contiguous acres), the minimum acreage to be considered for a rezone request shall be approximately 300 acres. When an ownership interest is less than 300 contiguous acres, the entire contiguous ownership interest must be included in any initial rezone request," the agreement says.

If you're interested in learning more, here is the line-up of public meetings regarding the new annexation agreement.

Dec 11th— City Council Closed Session—Banning Lewis Ranch (BLR) Annexation Amendment and Restatement Negotiations

Jan 3rd – City Council Closed Session - Banning Lewis Ranch (BLR) Annexation Amendment and Restatement Negotiations (Continue presentation from Dec 11) – 3:00 to 5:00 PM

Jan 9th —City Council Work Session BLR Annexation Amendment and Restatement Presentation

Jan 11th—Parks Board—BLR Annexation Amendment and Restatement Presentation

Jan 11th—Informal Planning Commission Meeting—BLR Annexation Amendment and Restatement Presentation and Proposed Code Amendments

Jan 16th – Town Hall – City Auditorium, Lon Chaney Theatre

Jan 18th—Formal Planning Commission Meeting—BLR Annexation Amendment and Restatement Presentation and Proposed Code Amendments

Jan 22nd—City Council Work Session—BLR Annexation Amendment and Restatement Presentation and Proposed Code Amendments

February 2nd – Town Hall – City Auditorium, Lon Chaney Theatre

Feb 13th —City Council Regular Meeting—Consideration and Reading of Resolution to Amend and Restate the BLR Annexation Agreement and First Reading of the Ordinance regarding the Proposed BLR Code Amendments

Feb 27th— City Council Regular Meeting—Second Reading of the Ordinance regarding the Proposed BLR Code Amendments 

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