The cost of fighting a federal lawsuit against Colorado Springs over stormwater permit violations has surpassed the $3 million mark and is sure to increase.
U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ruled last week that Colorado Springs violated federal stormwater regulations at three development sites, leaving the city liable for what some councilmen have said could be hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties.
Additional claims against the city are pending, but the city and plaintiffs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, could seek an out-of-court settlement.
Since the EPA and the state health department filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court two years ago, the city has spent more than $3.3 million on outside attorneys, said a spokeswoman for Charae McDaniel, the city’s chief financial officer.
That doesn’t include time the city’s staff attorneys have spent on the case, which is included in the annual budget, McDaniel said. The millions spent on outside attorneys comes from the city’s general fund.
Breaking down the cost, McDaniel said the city spent $838,838 on outside attorneys in 2016, $1.6 million in 2017 and $881,719 so far this year.
Councilman Bill Murray noted that this year’s total doesn’t include the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees, which the city could be ordered to pay now that Matsch ruled in their favor in a partial judgment.
The EPA and the state health department were joined later in the lawsuit by Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, and their costs could also be added in, he said.
The city could also be charged as much as $57,570 per day for each violation since Nov. 2, 2015, the lawsuit says. For violations before that date the fine could be $37,500 per day, although the amount drops further for violations before Jan. 12, 2009.
Rather than continuing the costly legal battle, CDPHE officials have said they and the other plaintiffs are negotiating with the city to curtail violations and ensure future compliance with the stormwater permit and the federal Clean Water Act.
Council President Richard Skorman has said he’s hoping a settlement can be reached or Matsch does not levy an inordinate amount of civil fines against the city, which he says would be counterproductive. The higher the city’s lawsuit costs go, the more its stormwater programs and other services might suffer, he said.