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Manitou Springs not giving up after setbacks trying to measure power plant emissions

January 10, 2018 Updated: January 10, 2018 at 6:55 pm
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The steam rises from the Martin Drake Power plant on Monday, January 8, 2018. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Manitou Springs' effort to gauge pollution wafting northwest from the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant has hit a few unexpected snags. The city has requested a $5,000 refund from an air quality monitoring company it's leasing equipment from because the new hardware has yet to generate reliable data, said Francois Raab, a computer systems engineer who volunteers for the city.

Officials are awaiting the arrival of an upgraded air monitor from Oregon-based Apis Inc. that the company says will correct the glitch, caused by other environmental factors interfering with the readings.

The Manitou Springs City Council opted last summer to buy a sulfur dioxide monitor amid concerns that a state-required one in Colorado Springs might not adequately measure Drake emissions in the small mountain community.

The decision came after the council requested that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment move the existing monitor, near U.S. 24 and South Eighth Street, or install another one in Manitou Springs.

Chris Welch, a senior environmental specialist for Colorado Springs Utilities, said in a statement that a modeling study completed last year suggests that the placement of the monitor on U.S. 24 "may be reasonable," but its placement is ultimately up to the state health department.

A department spokesman contacted Wednesday afternoon did not know if the agency had plans to move the monitor on U.S. 24.

In November, the state Air Quality Control Commission found that not enough data are available to determine whether SO2 emissions from Drake comply with an Environmental Protection Agency standard.

Apis' equipment isn't EPA-approved for air quality data collection - those models usually cost between $50,000 and $80,000. Raab said Apis' product was the only one he could find that's designed to provide precise, "real-time" measurements at a relatively low cost.

The city's first Apis monitor, which was installed on the roof of Manitou Springs High School in mid-September, didn't produce accurate measurements because it was damaged during shipping.

A replacement monitor provided by the company generated more faulty readings because other variables - including Carbon Monoxide measurements - were affecting the data, Raab said.

The new monitor, which the company hopes to ship within the next month or so, will provide measurements of other gases - carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide - that will be factored in to accurately gauge SO2 levels, said Apis President and CEO Robert Beckius.

The Council agreed at its Dec. 21 meeting to continue working with Apis despite the setbacks. Once it has a working model, the city would then again pay the company $5,000 for leasing the equipment for a year.

"We're not giving up," said former Councilwoman Coreen Toll, who was involved in the monitor project before her term ended last year. "We ran into a glitch, but that's all right, we're going to work with it."

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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