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Drake Power Plant whistleblower sues Colorado Springs and city officials

November 13, 2017 Updated: November 16, 2017 at 9:20 am
Caption +
Martin Drake Power Plant shot from Gold Hill Mesa on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Carol Lawrence, The Gazette

A Monument clean-air advocate filed a defamation suit against the city of Colorado Springs on Monday, alleging that city officials and elected leaders smeared her reputation for exposing concerns about pollution from the controversial coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant.

The action in U.S. District Court in Denver comes six months after Leslie Weise first lodged her allegations in a notice of claim.

Her complaint alleges a "nearly yearlong campaign" that "sought to discredit her and ruin her reputation in her community for exposing the fact that the Martin Drake Power Plant was spewing noxious pollution in violation of Environmental Protection Agency regulations in the backyard of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs residents."

Twelve defendants are named, including the city of Colorado Springs.

Also being sued are council members Andy Pico, Bill Murray, Tom Strand, Jill Gaebler, Don Knight and Merv Bennett and former council members Helen Collins, Keith King and Larry Bagley. City Attorney Wynetta Massey and Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman Amy Trinidad also are named.

"Since this is active litigation, the council members don't have any comment at this time," said council spokesman Ted Skroback.

Voice messages left for Collins, King and Bagley weren't returned, and The Gazette did not receive a response to emails sent to Trinidad and a second CSU representative.

Allegations of character assassination grew out of an ongoing feud over Weise's contention that Utilities and city leaders withheld internal data showing harmful levels of sulfur dioxide emissions from the downtown power plant - a charge the city and its utility have denied. The 25-page complaint says some of the defendants publicly called Weise a liar and suggested that she committed a crime by going public with her account of the contents of a Utilities air-quality report that had been mistakenly released to her and other parties to the case by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The retaliation began after Weise told a Gazette reporter that the leaked data proved Utilities was aware of toxic levels of sulfur dioxide emissions from Drake. That report remains unavailable to the public.

Aside from the attacks on her credibility, the complaint says, the City Council later agreed to pursue professional sanctions against her that could threaten her law licenses in two states, allegedly in violation of open meetings laws.

Weise told The Gazette on Monday that she sued not only to clear her name, but also to prevent similar actions against other whistleblowers.

"Their motivation is to silence me for lawful speech," Weise said. "I've had to spend weeks and hundreds of hours on this defense against aggressive city government."

Her attorney, David Lane of Denver, decried the city's role in keeping the disputed air quality data private.

"The citizens of Colorado Springs should be up in arms about the fact that their government is trying to hide a report that has a direct bearing on the health of the citizens of the city," he said.

Weise's lawsuit comes days before a different fight over emissions at Drake heats up.

Clean-air advocates and experts are urging state health officials to deny a request to declare the Drake Power Plant area in compliance with federal sulfur dioxide emission standards. The issue is expected to be decided during a Thursday hearing in Denver by the Air Quality Control Commission of the state's Department of Public Health and Environment.

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