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Keep an eye on Pueblo

City Sage

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Murderers' Row originally referred to the first six batters in the lineup of the 1927 New York Yankees. Four made it to baseball's Hall of Fame: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Earle Combs. Their respective batting averages that year: .356, .373, .309 and .356.

Opposing pitchers had no chance. The Yanks went 110-44 and swept the Pirates in the World Series.

No one would mistake our nine City Council members for the 1927 Yankees. They're more like the 1962 Mets, an expansion team with a few weary veterans (Bernie Herpin, Scott Hente, Jan Martin), feisty newcomers (Brandy Williams, Lisa Czelatdko, Angela Dougan), a couple of late-career journeymen (Merv Bennett, Val Snider) and the inimitable "Marvelous" Marv Throneberry (Tim Leigh). Sometimes they mesh as a team, but there's a lot of stumbling and bumbling. There's hope for the future. Or is there?

The team's eccentric owners — i.e., the voters — may decide to start over. Come April, we could have six rookie Councilors to face a vexing, thorny problem that, if allowed to fester, will put in doubt the very future of this city. We've spent hundreds of millions on the Southern Delivery System. What if SDS collapses?

Since Colorado Springs voters nixed the Stormwater Enterprise in 2009, the city hasn't had a permanent source of stormwater funding. That might not matter if ours were the only community affected, but we're not an island. Stormwater, unless adequately controlled, heads down Fountain Creek to Pueblo.

Flooding has long been a concern for Pueblo. The Fountain, once a minor tributary of the Arkansas River, has become a river in its own right, thanks to wastewater discharges and hard-surface runoff from Colorado Springs.

SDS gave Pueblo an entry point to force Colorado Springs to mend its ways. Construction could not go forward without a 1041 land-use permit from Pueblo County commissioners, who drove a hard bargain. It was clear to our elected officials that SDS was dead in the water unless the city had a defined source of stormwater funding, so City Council created the Stormwater Enterprise.

Since that 2009 vote, Pueblo commissioners have waited for the Springs to get its act together and create a funding source. Led by the patient Jeff Chostner, Pueblo commissioners accepted assurances that a solution was coming.

Times change. Chostner's gone, and none of the three Pueblo commissioners (all Democrats) can be called friends of the Springs. They're smart, savvy pols — not stumbling party hacks or naïve yokels with little government experience.

Murderers' Row? Maybe.

Sal Pace, 36, served in the Legislature from 2008 to 2012, rising to become House minority leader. After an unsuccessful run for Congress, Pace was appointed in January to fill the vacancy from Chostner becoming district attorney. Pace has a deserved reputation for being smart and ambitious; standing up to Colorado Springs wouldn't hurt him politically.

Buffie McFadyen served in the Legislature from 2003 to 2010. She's nobody's fool, a stubborn, canny and unpredictable legislator who followed her own path at the Capitol. Attorney Terry Hart was former Pueblo DA Bill Thiebaut's chief of staff for 11 years. Thiebaut, you may recall, successfully sued Colorado Springs over untreated sewage spills in Fountain Creek.

As flood season approaches, expect Pueblo commissioners to turn up the heat. At the very least, they'll want to see a regional stormwater tax on the November ballot. But what if it doesn't get there, or doesn't pass? As reported in last week's Indy, Mayor Steve Bach is zeroing in on Utilities, trying to pry millions for stormwater from CSU's reluctant grasp. But the mayor has no power over Utilities — Council has the key to that particular lockbox.

"When the 1041 permit was approved," Pace says, "there was a 'forever' funding source in place that would have provided $17 million annually. Now that's gone, and we need to see something equally strong to replace it."

Asked what commissioners would do if voters refuse a stormwater levy and the city doesn't produce alternative funding, Pace says:

"That would be a quandary. I hope that we never get to that place."

Diplomatic words, but Pace and his colleagues know time is not on their side. There will be a flood on the Fountain; the question isn't if, but when. Come spring, expect Pueblo to go on offense and test our "new" Council.

Let's hope we won't have to say of our new Councilors what Mets manager Casey Stengel said of his '62 guys: "Can't anybody here play this game?"

hazlehurst@csindy.com

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