How some stories from our recent past look today, at the end of 2013 

Part 1: Whatever happened to ...?

At the end of each calendar year, we take time to update some of the stories that have stuck out, for one reason or another, during the previous 12 months or so. This issue brings the first of three installments.

Contamination in court

In July, Kat Tudor and Don Goede moved the Smokebrush Foundation to the Business of Art Center (now the Manitou Art Center) in Manitou Springs. But they're hardly done with their old location.

Tudor's nonprofit ran a yoga studio and events venue, called Marmalade at Smokebrush, in the Trestle Building, immediately north of 25 Cimino Drive, a downtown site notorious for soil and groundwater contamination caused by decades of use as a gas plant dating to 1890. The city bought the plant in 1925 and shut it down in 1931. It was subsequently demolished, and a gas administration building erected there.

Early this year, the city knocked that building down, too. And on March 4, Tudor told the city she suspected that during the demo, hazardous materials had covered their property, and perhaps them and their clients. Officials didn't seem worried.

So, armed with soil test results and their own bouts with illness, Tudor and Marmalade director Goede then sued the city and contractor, Hudspeth & Associates of Englewood ("Chemical reactions," cover story, April 24).

The city sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, saying in part: "It is pure speculation now, and would be at trial, that any City acts between 1925 and 1931 caused or contributed to the presence of the contamination identified in the reports in this matter." That motion to dismiss got a public hearing Nov. 20, and Tudor and Goede appeared before District Judge Timothy Schutz, trying to keep their case alive.

Public health expert Dr. Michael Kosnett of Denver testified that surface and subsoils around the building contained carcinogens "100 times more" than federal and state allowances. He also noted the pollutants matched those present on the Cimino property.

High levels of naphthalene (which is dangerous to human health), he testified, were found in a basement office of the Trestle Building, which he said likely came from "vapor intrusion" of migrating polluted groundwater. Kosnett added that numerous studies have linked coal and gas operations to contamination in groundwater and soils. Furthermore, he said, the city knew of the contaminants from studies it had ordered on the Cimino property. "The report ordered by the city expressly provided them with that information back in 2008," Kosnett testified.

When Schutz asked if Kosnett could say whether the contamination occurred in 1930 or 2011, Kosnett said, "It didn't happen in just 2013," because pollutants were found 3 to 6 inches from the surface — although surface samples were "considerably elevated" for hazardous materials, leading him to conclude that surface contamination came from the recent demolition.

Schutz is expected to rule on the motion in coming weeks. — Pam Zubeck

Starting again

For Robin Walter and Sebastian Tsocanos, the trip was over before it even began. The Colorado College graduates had planned on traversing the Great Plains from Montana to Missouri — more than 1,370 miles — on horseback. The idea behind their project, "Rediscovering the Great American Prairie," was to "bring public attention to the critical role of grassland conservation in North America today," as Walter wrote in a Your Turn column ("Plains speak," June 26).

The pair had raised thousands of dollars for the trip and prepared for months, training their horses, planning their route, and working with filmmakers who were going to make a documentary about their effort. But on the July night before they were to depart, one of their horses, Viper, got tangled in a picket line and shattered bones below his knee. Given that a horse's circulation is dependent on it standing upright on all four legs, Viper had to be put down.

"I didn't see it," Walter tells the Indy from Bozeman, Mont. "But I think he just spooked and it got tangled around his leg, and the post didn't give in time."

Even months after the incident, she still sounds crushed. However, the project isn't dead, only delayed. She and Tsocanos will now leave next spring, with all the funding the pair raised through an IndieGoGo campaign, as well as a handful of other grants, plus a shifted documentary schedule.

"There was a time following when Viper broke his leg that I, for one, was really unsure about going forward with it, whether or not it was worth it or if it was just too risky," Walter says. "And I think having the last few months to think on it and really meditate about the reasons for going ... my conviction for the trip has grown stronger."

For more, visit rediscovertheprairie.org. — Edie Adelstein

Floods cost Manitou

Manitou Springs was in the fiscal fast lane early this summer.

"We were on pace for a record sales-tax collection year, even in July," Mayor Marc Snyder notes.

But the good news ended when floodwaters hit, caused in large part by the scorched ground left behind by the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire. After the Aug. 9 flood in particular ("How bad was it?" News, Aug. 14), news outlets and locals alike wondered how the scary images and ongoing uncertainty would affect tourists' plans to visit.

Well, Snyder says, "we pretty much fell off a cliff."

Indeed, in July, Manitou was on track to beat 2012 sales tax collections by 2.3 percent, and 2011 figures by 3 percent. Those advantages diminished in August and were gone by September, the latest available month of data. In September, Manitou sales tax collections were at about $1.69 million, down 1.7 percent from 2012.

The dip in revenues comes at a bad time for the town, which is investing in flood control measures, especially in volatile Williams Canyon. Snyder says that if necessary, the town Council could break into revenue from recently installed parking meters — money that's been targeted for future parking improvements. While those improvements are needed, Snyder says the town's first priority must be flood safety.

Snyder, however, remains hopeful about the year's revenues. He says that a strong Christmas shopping season could offset much of what was lost in the summer monsoon season. — J. Adrian Stanley


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