The cities of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs appear to be no closer to an agreement over the equally beloved and despised Manitou Incline, which local leaders closed under an emergency pandemic declaration March 17.
If anything, after a meeting Thursday, the cities bound by a nearly 10-year-old intergovernmental agreement are more apart than ever.
In a work session, the Manitou City Council was joined by Karen Palus, the Colorado Springs parks director representing the city which owns the lower portion of the Incline. In the 2011 plan that opened the private railway to the public, Colorado Springs was listed as the "single entity to assume management responsibility."
Palus was there to present a proposed path to reopening the Incline, detailed in a press release issued late Wednesday that included free reservations and managed by Colorado Springs.
That's where questions began.
"I would just like to know when that press release was written, who was involved in writing that press release, and when it was decided that was going to be released?" Manitou Councilwoman Judith Chandler said.
It was signed by press officers with both cities. "We got very good positive social media" feedback, Palus said.
Under what was deemed an "interim" plan to address COVID-19 concerns, up to 45 hikers would be allowed on the Incline every half-hour. Between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., they would be checked in by attendants hired by the city of Colorado Springs. The proposal also includes the city adding a hand-washing station at the Incline's base and more cleaning of the port-a-potties there.
At the end of her presentation, Palus requested a decision by Manitou councilors at their Tuesday meeting, with a possible reopening for that week.
Councilors did not sound interested in talking about a reopening.
"As I'm fond of saying and others are fond of saying, the devil's in the details," Manitou Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Fortuin said. "I do have a lot of questions I'd like to get answered, but I don't know if tonight's the night."
It was the night for others.
"Can you help me understand why it's so important to the city of Colorado Springs to be in charge of reservations?" asked Councilwoman Julie Wolfe.
Palus responded: "As an owner, it would be our responsibility for that. We wouldn't ask to be responsible for your parking enterprise, right?"
"I wouldn't want you to be responsible for reservations, either," Wolfe said.
Thursday's meeting came two weeks after Manitou officials posed a management plan that called for reservations and a possible fee. The city of Colorado Springs criticized the suggestion without landowners' consent, calling it "extremely premature" and "under the guise of COVID-19." At the time, Palus encouraged Manitou to stay within its "purview" of parking and traffic — control that was agreed upon in the 2011 plan.
Since then, tension has mounted along Ruxton Avenue, the tight, residential corridor home to the Incline as well as the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and Barr Trail, Pikes Peak's summiting path. A free shuttle from a free parking lot in Manitou has ferried Incliners up the avenue, combined with emergency rescue missions costing the city $350,000 every year, according to a previous press release.
Councilman John Shada raised those points to Palus.
"The conversation I think this council needs to seriously consider having is we should be giving you a 30-day notice to discontinue this intergovernmental agreement," he said, raising his voice. "This project of the Incline has become a burden on our community. It's a financial burden. It's a parking burden. It's a congestion burden.
"It would be my suggestion that (the Incline) remain closed indefinitely, because I don't see a seriousness out of Colorado Springs to deal with parking issues and the impacts to our community."
Some of the councilors suggested having an executive session to discuss the matter. In a previous interview with The Gazette, Manitou Mayor John Graham said the city attorney gave "pretty strong and confident advice that we were within our right to" initially close the Incline.
Asked about long term, he said: "I guess you get into our lawyer says this, their lawyer says that."
Palus said any long-term management of the Incline would have to go through Colorado Springs' standard public process, often costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and taking a long time.
Graham asked how long.
It depends, Palus said. "A very divided process is very difficult."