Commissioners delay decision on City for Champions funding, contracts for Black Forest tree removal

By Debbie Kelley Updated: December 31, 2013 at 8:21 pm • Published: December 31, 2013 | 7:05 pm 0
photo - El Paso County Commissioners delayed a decision on whether to approve two contracts to identify and remove hazardous trees in the Black Forest burn area. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
El Paso County Commissioners delayed a decision on whether to approve two contracts to identify and remove hazardous trees in the Black Forest burn area. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Plenty of residents turned out on the last day of 2013 to speak their mind to elected county officials on two hot-button issues, but they'll have to wait a few weeks into the New Year for a resolution.

El Paso County Commissioners on Tuesday delayed making a decision on whether to spend another $37,500 for the City for Champions project and whether to approve two contracts to identify and remove hazardous trees in the Black Forest burn area.

The proposals now will be considered at the board's Jan. 16 meeting.

The City for Champions funding initially appeared on Tuesday's consent calendar. It would be the county's second payment to the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., which developed the application for state tax money to help pay for the City for Champions, a large-scale tourism project.

Commissioners first agreed to spend $37,500 in October, but Commissioner Darryl Glenn requested that a second payment of the same amount be removed from the consent list and placed on the agenda for discussion.

"We've never had public discussion formally committing the county to be a financial partner," Glenn said in an interview. "I've not seen an economic analysis. I've not received favorable input from my constituents, particularly on the Air Force Academy project. I have questions, whether the federal government will help fund this, whether the association of graduates will be asked to support it..."

County spokesman Dave Rose said the board wanted all five members present for a vote on the county's continued support of the project. Commissioner Peggy Littleton is on vacation this week.

The project would redevelop land in southwest downtown Colorado Springs into a U.S. Olympic museum, a 10,000-seat stadium and a 3,000-seat indoor arena. The money also would help build a new visitor center at the Air Force Academy and a sports medicine complex at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus on North Nevada Avenue.

The decision to postpone consideration of two Federal Emergency Management Administration contracts for tree mitigation in Black Forest was made late Monday night, Jim Reid, the county's director of public services, told commissioners.

The matter had been on the Nov. 26 agenda but was put on hold then so residents could give input at public meetings the county held in December. Reid said county staff researched the concerns raised but still aren't clear on the numbers. At issue is whether using Federal Emergency Management Administration funding to pay two out-of-state companies would be more cost-effective than if the county administered the work.

"When we started asking questions of the state FEMA regarding costs, I wasn't satisfied with the responses. It caused me some concern," Reid said, adding that he needed two additional weeks to get the answers.

Commissioners will weigh whether to award a nearly $395,000 contract to True North Emergency Management LLC of Texas for debris monitoring and project management, and another $1.67 million to Minnesota-based Ceres Environmental Services Inc., for hazard tree mitigation. The county would pay approximately $516,000, one-fourth of the total cost. FEMA would pick up the remainder.

The number of trees that needs to be removed has not yet been determined but is estimated to be between 10,000 and 13,000 on nearly 400 acres.

Although commissioners did not vote on the contracts, they allowed public comment. Longtime Black Forest resident Judy Von Ahlefeldt, who lost her home in last summer's Black Forest Fire, said her math shows FEMA-funded prices are up to four times higher than what landowners currently are paying for tree removal on their private property.

"I believe the hazard tree removal can be done within the county's 25 percent share with local contractors, and you don't have the FEMA red tape," she said. "There's got to be some other ways to handle this."

Several local tree contractors and residents spoke in favor of keeping the work within the county.

"I'm a believer in buy local, shop local," said Larry Anderson, who has lived in Black Forest for 13 years. "We'd like to see El Paso County companies come and help El Paso County residents."

Pat Lombardo, who works for Ceres Environmental Services, said the company plans to use 85 percent local contractors if it is awarded the job.

"We've been working with FEMA all over the country, and we know their guidelines. I know it's a sensitive area. The county has control over what takes place," he said.

Commissioner Amy Lathen said she has a "natural tendency" to not have the federal government involved in county business, even though it's inevitable.

"The fact is that the money that comes from the federal government is taxpayer money," she said. "I'm looking at this from a numbers standpoint and what makes sense for the county. If the cost is close, do I want to hand over control? I really don't. I'm more than willing to say no to FEMA if this doesn't make sense.

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