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Pikes Peak region stormwater issues could result in dueling proposals

August 3, 2013 Updated: August 3, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Mayor Steve Bach said in his State of the City remarks this week that he will have a solution on stormwater issues by the end of year.

It's a big promise on an issue that has been mounting for years. Stormwater drainage needs are estimated at more than $700 million. But solving the city's stormwater issue has been steeped in politics and turf wars for several years. It's a county issue, a city issue, a Fountain Creek issue and in recent years an issue tied to the Southern Delivery System, the huge water project now under construction.

But stormwater soon could come to a head. Bach will present his ideas on how to fix the problem, but so will the Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force, which is expected to present its recommendation on funding options to the City Council and El Paso County Commissioners later this month.

It could come down to dueling proposals.

"I expect by the end of this year, City Council and I will come to some resolution of what the city's approach should be, whether to be part of a regional authority and frankly another notion is managing stormwater ourselves for the region," Bach said.

Bach said he felt pressured by the regional task force to support a tax measure on the 2014 ballot to pay for the long list of drainage needs. He put the brakes on that when he pulled city staff off the task force and hired an engineering firm to examine the group's list of needs, which grew from an estimated $500 million to $700 million in a few short years, he said. He said he believes there are too many added projects such as water parks that are not immediate or necessary.

"They expected me to fall in line, I think, and agree that the next step is we need to raise taxes," Bach said.

A report from engineering firm CH2M Hill is expected in October. At the same time, Bach said, city staffers are working on a "menu" of solutions that include finding cash within the city's budget and going to voters for a tax increase.

"We have to be prudent about how we proceed but also not dillydally, and we are not," Bach said. "We will get the second opinion, we will have this whole range of funding options and we will meet with City Council."

Meanwhile, the task force moved on without Bach and Colorado Springs city staffers and will make a presentation to the City Council and El Paso County Commissioners Aug. 21. Dueling proposals would cause confusion, said Pam Maier,a member of the task force.

"I have not lost hope," she said. "I know the will of the majority of the people will come through, but this dragging of the feet is impeding that. Last week Marksheffel Road was overcome by water. We all ought to be up in arms."

The task force, made up of City Council members, county commissioners, utilities engineers, local business leaders and citizens, is expected to present two funding and organizational options.

One approach is dubbed by the task force as the PPRTA model - meaning a stormwater authority would be modeled after the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. PPRTA was created in 2004 by voters in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls. PPRTA collects 1 percent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements. In 2012, PPRTA used $35 million on construction, design, maintenance and transit projects.

Under the PPRTA model, each entity gets a portion of the money and it handles the projects in its area. Voters would be asked to approve a similar tax for stormwater projects.

The other option from the task force is modeled after the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority, which includes Centennial, Arapahoe County, and three water districts. The authority sets and collects fees, has a staff and oversees the projects for the region. Under that model, El Paso County voters would be asked to approve the creation a stormwater authority that has permission to set and collect fees.

"Why does he (Bach) think he needs to have a solution when all of the partners are ready to donate time, talent and money to solving the problem?" Maier said. "Colorado Springs has the majority of the problems. How could we turn away a group effort . . . I'm not sure who benefits by this absence of his (Bach's) contributions to the group effort."

Adding controversy to the matter is the Southern Delivery System, a 53-mile pipeline under construction from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, and its potential effects on Fountain Creek.

Pueblo County Commissioners have argued that Colorado Springs must complete some mitigation by 2016 to ensure that flows in the creek don't exceed levels of 2009. But what that mitigation should be has been taken up by attorneys and remains unresolved.

Colorado Springs Utilities Board, which is the City Council, will hear from utilities staff and members of the task force at a work session Tuesday. City Council President Keith King has floated a few ideas for a stormwater solution with other councilors, including one that would ask Pueblo County to join El Paso County and Colorado Springs on a regional funding mechanism to pay for the stormwater needs, especially as they relate to SDS and Fountain Creek.

But King also said Colorado Springs, and the regional municipalities, must dedicate money in their 2014 budgets to stormwater needs. Then, he said, if the issue goes to voters for a tax increase they would see there is government participation.

"Over the years, we have pushed capital construction out of the budget," he said. "I would like to see a steady funding stream out of city and county, a portion of the budget dedicated to it, even if it is just 1 percent."

Bach said he won't be on board with a tax increase until he gets the results from the engineering firm.

"I do appreciate that these people have worked very hard on this task force," Bach said. "I know its disheartening when they get to a point where all they have to do is agree on how to fund it, and here comes Steve Bach and says 'hold it. I'm not with you there.' "

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