Colorado Springs and the four parties suing the city have three months to either settle a lawsuit over federal stormwater permit violations or agree on how best to continue the 2-year-old case.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard P. Matsch on Thursday ordered that the parties have until early March to find common ground.
The plaintiffs — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District — this week filed a request to temporarily halt the case.
Matsch ruled last month 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 still pending, but the plaintiffs asked for the three-month respite in the case “to continue settlement negotiations, which are underway,” the court filing says.
The city’s attorneys agreed.
“This will allow the parties to focus upon settlement discussions without the distraction of intensive discovery and litigation preparation for the second segment of trial,” the attorneys said in a filing submitted this week.
The first portion of the trial lasted nearly two weeks, and the case has, cost the city more than $3 million.
City officials have said those costs and possible future civil penalties Matsch might levy against the city are counterproductive and detract from improvements in Colorado Springs’ stormwater program.
Possible settlements have been discussed throughout the lawsuit, to no avail.
Mayor John Suthers has repeatedly expressed his disappointment that the case went to trial, citing proactive work completed by the city for the monumental liability his administration inherited.
But more work must be done.
One of the three sites that Matsch ruled contained stormwater permit violations held a drainage basin. Several hundred similar drainage basins sit within Colorado Springs, the city’s attorneys said in the filing.
“Plaintiffs apparently wish to litigate the remedies for each in a second trial; that will be a large and complex evidentiary task,” the filing says.
Rather, remedial actions should only be discussed for the three sites where Matsch has already ruled the city violated its stormwater permit, the filing argues.
But the parties now have three months to come to an agreement and either present Matsch with the “framework” for a settlement or scheduling recommendations for the next leg of the trial.