News briefs from the Front Range

Repeat deployments take toll

More than 25 percent of soldiers on their third or fourth tours in Iraq are suffering from mental-health problems, according to a new Army report.

The numbers are rising from prior years and indicate that troops are not getting enough rest between deployments. More than 11 percent of soldiers in Afghanistan and 7.6 percent in Iraq said they were depressed.

Suicide rates are "elevated" for all deployed soldiers. There were 89 confirmed suicides among soldiers in 2007, with 32 deaths still under investigation. If the latter are confirmed suicides, that would represent a 20 percent increase in suicides compared with 2006. MdY

Skorman's Conservation Corps will go it alone

A project to help residents of the Pikes Peak region with energy-efficiency will be spun into its own nonprofit, rather than remaining part of the Catamount Institute, a local environmental group.

Richard Skorman, who left his job as Sen. Ken Salazar's regional director in January to head the Pikes Peak Conservation Corps, says the complexity and size of the new program motivated the change.

The Corps is scheduled to launch during Earth Day celebrations in late April, with the goal of bringing 1 million energy-saving, compact fluorescent light bulbs into area homes while encouraging other conservation practices. AL

New Life shooting reports available for a hefty price

Now that its investigation is nearly complete, the Colorado Springs Police Department has announced plans to release 460 pages of reports about the Dec. 9 shooting at New Life Church. But obtaining a copy won't come cheap.

The department charges $10 for the first 15 pages and $1 per page thereafter, meaning the documents will cost $455. (A widely praised state law passed last year reduced copy costs for public records to 25 cents per page, but left an exception for criminal justice documents.) Anyone interested in purchasing the documents can contact department spokesman Lt. Skip Arms by e-mail at pio@ci.colospgs.co.us. AL

Pion opponents again cry foul

A Washington, D.C., briefing arranged last week by U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar's office dredged up an old bone of contention in the battle over the Army's desire to expand Pion Canyon Maneuver Site.

Las Animas County commissioners learned the Army was in contact with one willing seller within the 418,000-acre area of interest east of Walsenburg. The claim, similar to one ambiguously voiced earlier by Army officials, set off widespread scorn among ranchers opposed to the expansion of the current 235,000-acre training grounds.

Ranchers with the "Not 1 More Acre!" group say the Army's claim showed contempt for federal legislation last year that forbids officials from expansion-related activities. Ranchers were also angered in January when Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm with a contract to promote the expansion, advertised for an "Army Land Expansion Project Manager" in Colorado Springs to manage the "land acquisition process." The ad was withdrawn after ranchers complained to members of Congress.

Las Animas commissioners also learned the Army might settle for a 100,000-acre expansion, something ranchers say is highly unlikely. MdY

No bluffing in dirt-bike quarrel

Frustrated opponents of a proposed county dirt-bike park got loud Tuesday at a Park Advisory Board meeting.

"Why isn't this an action item?" asked Lee Milner, an open-space advocate helping lead efforts to squelch plans to turn 500-plus acres of rocky hillside east of Colorado Springs into a park for motorbike users. He listed concerns about noise impacts, county budget woes, possible legal costs and the apparent lack of consideration of alternative sites.

"We feel this is indicative of the whole process," Milner said.

Proponents and opponents have become increasingly combative since El Paso County's plan for an area known as Corral Bluffs gained attention late last year. Park board members listened to concerns of neighbors Tuesday but deferred most subjects to a mandated planning process.

The county applied for a $320,000 grant from the state to help plan the park and buy the property, but state officials have so far promised only $20,000 to help pay for a master plan. Park opponents and supporters have created Web sites savecorralbluffs.com and corralbluffs.com, respectively to help rally their sides. AL

Security changes put off

Colorado Springs City Council decided Tuesday to delay a decision on amendments to an ordinance on private security services.

Among changes proposed by City Clerk Kathryn Young is an upgrade in the guns that guards would be allowed to carry. Guards are currently limited to a revolver, but Young's changes would allow guards to carry a semi-automatic pistol. The amendments would also allow guards 3 ounces of pepper spray and a set of handcuffs.

Guards would not be allowed to carry TASERs, apparently because proper training is not yet available.

Tweaks and clarifications are likely before Council makes a decision on the amendments at its first April meeting. JAS

Tax revenue down for February
So far, so bad for the sales-tax-dependent city budget.

Sales and use tax collection in February was down 4.79 percent from February 2007, a dismal sign for business and city coffers. February numbers are based on January sales.

Not all industries, though, were experiencing a downturn: Sales tax from utilities increased 10.56 percent over a year ago, auto repairs/leases 9.07 percent, and restaurants 7.4 percent. JAS

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


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