river cleanup (copy)

Sicily Irie, right, hands litter to Debbie Ferguson, both from Colorado Springs, as they and other volunteers from the outdoor nonprofit UpaDowna clean up along Fountain Creek on Saturday as part of Great American Cleanup on Saturday, April 27, 2019.

Money is flowing from the Environmental Agency to Colorado Springs to examine contaminated properties along Fountain Creek, the waterway central to the agency’s long-standing stormwater lawsuit against the city.

The EPA awarded a coalition led by Colorado Springs $600,000 to assess vacant and underused lots along Fountain Creek and Shooks Run, city spokeswoman Kim Melchor said. That coalition includes the city of Fountain, Colorado Springs School District 11 and Colorado Springs Utilities.

Once the sites are fully evaluated, the group can apply for more grants from the agency to fund revitalization, Melchor said.

Those efforts are critical to completing the Legacy Loop project connecting trails and parks around downtown and to spurring economic, environmental and public health improvements, the release said.

“Our coalition partners have developed a comprehensive plan to address contamination concerns and deliver new recreational and economic opportunities for the residents of Colorado Springs and the City of Fountain,” EPA Regional Administrator Gregory Sopkin said in the release.

The origin of that contamination was not mentioned in the release, though it said contaminants include solvents, metals, ammonia, lead, asbestos, petroleum compounds and agricultural chemicals.

The EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sued in 2016 seeking civil penalties from the city over federal stormwater permit violations leading to the degradation and erosion of Fountain Creek and its tributaries. Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy later joined as plaintiffs.

In November, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who has since died, ruled that the city violated its federal stormwater permit at three sites in town. Stormwater from the sites was discharged into Sand Creek or Fountain Creek. Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas District cited increased E. coli levels, erosion and flooding as a result of Colorado Springs’ failure to effectively contain the stormwater.

Some City Council members have expressed fears that those violations could result in massive fines. Other allegations remain in the lawsuit, which is on hiatus as the parties consider settlement options and await reassignment after Matsch’s death last month.

The relationship between the grant and the lawsuit is likely a coincidence, Melchor said. Contamination from the sites is probably due to older and industrial uses there rather than stormwater runoff, she said.

Among the properties to be assessed for the grant are vacant and underused construction storage yards, automobile and agricultural facilities, commercial and industrial buildings, the release said.

“The investment of federal dollars will positively impact property values, contribute to improved quality of life and facilitate future development opportunities along our natural corridors,” Mayor John Suthers said in the release.

The bulk of the properties to be assessed sit along the Shooks Run corridor, Melchor said. Suthers called the area “a city asset and a critical part of our community.”

Money from the grant should be available in October, Melchor said.

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