News briefs from the Front Range

Defense bill still includes studies for Pion, NORAD

Several Colorado defense issues have survived tweaks to the 2008 Defense Authorization Act. In a 91-3 vote, the Senate on Tuesday passed a revised version of the $696 billion bill in the wake of a December veto by President Bush.

A controversial provision involving the Army's Pion Canyon Maneuver Site remains intact. It requires the Army to complete within six months a report justifying the proposed 418,000-acre expansion of the 235,000-acre Fort Carson training grounds east of Walsenburg. Southeast Colorado ranchers and a coalition of allies had opposed the study.

The bill also creates a study of the transition involving North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and freezes some funding of the effort. Cheyenne Mountain's expected to be placed on "warm standby" as personnel and operations move to the basement of a building on Peterson Air Force Base. The provision involves the Government Accountability Office in the move and fences off $5 million in an effort to ensure national security interests are not irreparably harmed.

A draft study of the move obtained by the Independent in October ("'Sensitive' documents indicate Cheyenne Mountain's better for NORAD," Oct. 25) indicated problems. The documents say the mountain has a "higher survivability than" the Peterson building and that the transition might "critically" compromise NORAD's mission of scouring the skies for terrorist planes and nuclear missile launches.

The president had refused to sign the defense bill because of a provision backed by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. He wanted to allow victims of state-sponsored terrorism to be able to sue in U.S. courts. Bush said the provision could have hampered Iraq redevelopment by entangling funds in litigation. The revised bill went along with the administration's wishes. MdY

Balink opposes mandatory mail election idea

El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink is breaking ranks with the Colorado County Clerks Association on that group's suggestion that the whole state use mail-in ballots for this year's general election.

The association of clerks announced its preference for a mandatory mail-ballot election after its winter meeting, calling it the only "workable" solution after the secretary of state decertified the electronic voting machines that many counties planned to be using in November.

Balink says he prefers an optional mail-ballot election since the county's election equipment is from the only vendor that the secretary of state did not decertify. Balink argues the decision on how to hold the election should remain in the hands of local officials. U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar also has made known his opposition to the mail-ballot idea. AL

Report: Local health care faces lack of doctors, funding

The Colorado Springs region needs to actively recruit doctors and nurses if it is to keep pace with the growing health-care needs of area residents, according to a report released this week by the Western Strategies Center, a policy center started by Jay Fawcett after his unsuccessful bid for Congress last year.

The center presented findings Wednesday about the strengths and weaknesses of the health-care system in Colorado Springs.

In addition to a shortage of personnel particularly psychiatrists the center pointed to inadequate funding for the county's health department, with the result that restaurant inspections and other programs are not being maintained.

The region also has relatively few hospital beds for its population, and problems with communication when it comes to treating people with severe mental illnesses. AL

City again delays decision on police helicopter

City Council again has put off a decision on whether to fund two police helicopters in 2008, saying it needs to know how much it would cost to make both the Vietnam-era copters safe.

An estimate by a Fort Collins company said one of the helicopters would need more than $13,000 in repairs to be airworthy. Results on the other chopper are not yet complete.

City Council at first approved cutting the police helicopter program from the 2008 budget, a move that had the approval of Police Chief Richard Myers. But later, Council decided to reconsider funding the copters at a cost of nearly $500,000 provided they were deemed safe.

Councilman Jerry Heimlicher has said he wants to see data that clearly shows that the helicopters are effective crime-fighting tools. He also said that estimates on the cost of keeping the copter program have been inconsistent. Council now plans to make a decision on the copters at its Feb. 11 meeting. JAS

New deputy chief named

Colorado Springs Police Cmdr. Pete Carey will soon replace retiring Deputy Chief Dave Felice. Carey has been with the Springs police since 1984, working in various units.

He has a business degree from Saint Joseph's University and a masters in public administration from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. JAS

Compiled by Anthony Lane, J. Adrian Stanley and Michael de Yoanna.


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