Panel, mayor differ on Friday stormwater meeting

DANIEL CHACÓN Updated: January 7, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: January 7, 2013

Mayor Steve Bach is trying to hijack a regional stormwater task force and censor its findings, two civic leaders said Monday.

The group has worked for months to assess stormwater needs in the Pikes Peak Region and prioritize critical projects. Members of the group said they were summoned to the mayor’s office Friday and rudely dismissed by Bach, who told them he was taking over the task force and handing the project over to a consultant.

Bach had a starkly different version of what happened at the hour-long meeting.

In fact, Bach said the task force has always been his. He said he appointed it with Helen Migchelbrink, the city’s public works director, as the chairwoman.

During the meeting, Bach said he stressed the importance of regional collaboration in sequencing stormwater improvements with other jurisdictions.

When a regional tax was suggested, Bach said he told the group that the city would fund its stormwater requirements through operational efficiencies in the municipal government and Colorado Springs Utilities and through increased sales and use tax revenues from a growing economy.

“I thanked the task force several times for its contribution in determining the scope and priorities for regional storm water improvements needed,” Bach said in an email.

“I explained that we are now asking for an expedited, outside engineering expert second opinion on the scope and priorities so that the community can be comfortable that the internal analysis is accurate,” he added. “When a participant in the meeting suggested that the task force announce publicly that the storm water backlog is much higher than previously suggested, we did request a hold on that until the outside opinion is in hand.”

But task force members Jan Doran, a longtime neighborhood activist, and Robin Roberts, president of Pikes Peak National Bank, disputed the mayor’s account.

Doran said the group was asked to brief the mayor Friday at 11 a.m. in advance of a series of briefings planned for the Colorado Springs City Council, the El Paso County Commission and others. A previously scheduled task force meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday at the City Administration Building is still on the calendar.

On Friday, Doran and Roberts said the group never got a chance to give its presentation to the mayor. Bach and City Attorney Chris Melcher cut them off before they could get started, Doran said.

“We arrived to be told this was the mayor’s task force, not a regional task force,” Doran said. “As Chris Melcher put it, any task force of the mayor’s was strictly run by what the mayor wants. The mayor is the lead. It was done in a dressing-down. This is the way it’s going to be. And basically our work was done.”

Roberts said task force members were accused of having hidden agendas.

“Our agenda was to go in there and present the findings to the mayor. That was it,” she said. “We’re volunteers. We were trying to help our fellow citizens, not drive something through.”

Doran said it was the mayor who had a very specific idea for paying for stormwater, at least in the short term: Divert money that Springs Utilities is spending for the NeuStream scrubber technology for the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant downtown.

“Somebody asked how you’re going to pay for this, and the response was, ‘When we stop the Neumann project, we’ll have plenty of money to pay for this,’” Doran said.

The meeting with the mayor came after the task force met about a half-dozen times this fall to collect information on stormwater and drainage issues from Monument to Fountain and from Manitou Springs to eastern El Paso County.

The group built a website to identify all the interested agencies, ongoing projects, water laws and gather photos of damage. Then it began compiling and prioritizing the region’s stormwater projects, estimated to cost $800 million to $1 billion.

During the Friday meeting, Doran said Bach told the group he preferred to hire a consultant to compile a list and that it would not involve any communities outside Colorado Springs. “It was very insulting,” Doran said. “But more important than being very insulted, was the idea that we were volunteers trying to do something for our community only to be treated so rudely with a dismissal.”

Stormwater has been a hot-button issue in Colorado Springs.

A previous City Council created a Stormwater Enterprise in 2005 to raise money for a backlog of drainage projects after sewage spills led to fines and lawsuits against the city. The enterprise, which levied a fee on property owners, was eliminated after the passage of ballot Issue 300 in November 2009.

Since then, the city’s stormwater needs have continued to grow, and Pueblo officials have pressured the city to do more to meet its stormwater obligations.


Reporter Bill Vogrin contributed to this report.

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