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Fountain Creek, trails slated for flood repairs if voters forgo TABOR refund

October 8, 2017 Updated: October 9, 2017 at 6:16 pm
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Fountain Creek and Willow Springs Ponds on October 4, 2017 in Fountain, Colorado. The area is one of six flood-damaged sites that will be repaired if county voters approve a ballot measure in November. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

Take a wrong turn on Fountain Creek Regional Trail near Willow Springs Ponds, and you might find yourself "walking the plank."

El Paso County employee Brian Olson used the nautical metaphor to describe an abrupt drop-off, now blocked to the public, where water has washed away 10 to 20 feet of the Fountain Creek bank and - with it - the trail. It's one of two stretches of the path, each more than 500 feet long, that have been lost to erosion since floodwaters inundated the county in 2015.

The area is among five flood-damaged spots, including trailheads along the Fountain Creek Regional Trail and stretches of the New Santa Fe Regional Trail, that will get attention if county voters approve a ballot question in the Nov. 7 election.

Officials say the measure is the best chance to quickly get the repairs, the only remaining on a list of about 36 county projects that arose from the 2015 disaster.

Voter permission would allow $14.5 million in excess revenues to help pay for park and infrastructure projects, including the widening of Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock.

A view of Fountain Creek from the Willow Springs Ponds area on October 4, 2017 in Fountain, Colorado. Since 2015 floods, water has eroded away 10-20 feet of the creek's bank and, with it, stretches of the Fountain Creek Regional Trail. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette). 

The flood repairs would get about $1 million, which would become a local match for about $3 million in federal disaster relief funds that the county will lose if it can't come up with its 25 percent share within the next six months, said Olson, an interagency relations officer for the county's Administrative and Financial Services.

If the measure fails, it will be extremely difficult for the county to scrape together the match dollars, Olson said. So  the repairs likely would be added to the list of more than $200 million worth of deferred projects and maintenance. In the meantime, county officials worry that water will continue to whittle away at the strip of land that separates Fountain Creek and the Willow Springs Pond closest to Mesa Ridge Parkway. An intense rainfall could breach the pond system, designed to collect stormwater, and increase the risk of flooding on properties downstream, said county spokesman Matt Steiner. If the measure passes, more than $300,000 of the TABOR excess and $1 million in FEMA funds would pay to stabilize the creek's banks.

Another $370,000 in county money would help pay to improve trails and realign the creek channel several miles south of Willow Springs Ponds at Hansen Trailhead, a gateway to the Fountain Creek Regional Trail where erosion has left a large footbridge disconnected from its banks. Where the current once flowed under the bridge, the creek now runs in an alluvial fashion through gullies carved out by floodwaters.

Nearly $50,000 set aside by the measure would be used to restore trail and concrete bridges along about 7 miles of the Santa Fe Regional Trail. While the trail stretches from Palmer Lake to Colorado Springs, most of the repairs would be on the span through the Air Force Academy. About $50,000 of the surplus would be spent cleaning out a sediment retention pond for Bennett Channel in the eastern county. The Maxwell Street and Stratmoor Valley Park trailheads and John Ceresa Memorial Park - all part of the Fountain Creek Regional Trail system - also would get some work on trails, culverts and embankments.

The Colorado Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR, ties increases in most government revenues to a formula based on population growth and inflation. Any surpluses must be returned to taxpayers or used for voter-approved purposes. If the measure fails, property owners will receive tax credits based on the value of their properties. For example, the owner of a $250,000 home would receive a $40 credit. Renters would not be reimbursed.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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