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Setting the record straight on Big Johnson

To the Editor:

Please consider the following open letter to Colorado Springs City Council regarding Big Johnson Reservoir ("Big Johnson open space inquiry ordered," May 31):

Dear Members of Council:

Here's some information about Big Johnson Reservoir you might want to know before making public statements.

On the topic of shoreline land being for sale: City workers have been repeatedly quoted as saying "city representatives met with (Dick) Janitell and he informed them that the land was not for sale." Such a meeting never took place. Fountain Mutual Irrigation Company obviously would have considered such a sale. It's doing so now.

On the topic of Big Johnson's water: In 1999, when Colorado Springs Utilities wanted to put treated wastewater into Big Johnson, Fountain Mutual Irrigation Company was told the water was cleaner than that in Fountain Creek. In fact, utilities workers said, "You could actually drink this water." The irrigation company was always told human contact should be restricted simply as a safety precaution. Now we're hearing that it's because the water quality is too bad. Councilman Richard Skorman was quoted as saying, "the water quality is too poor" for development around the reservoir. Skorman even wrote, "That water is acceptable for irrigation only and has a slight sewage odor." This directly contradicts what we were told by your own utilities people. Skorman was incorrect in his statement that "Big Johnson received treated wastewater from all over the county." In fact, the only treated wastewater coming into Big Johnson is from Colorado Springs Utilities, due to a contract between CSU and FMIC. Therefore, the only source of foul, unsanitary water, would be Colorado Springs Utilities.

Why Fountain Mutual Irrigation Company would sell its land around the reservoir: Fountain Mutual Irrigation is considering selling the land because it needs $5 million to dredge Big Johnson. In recent years the reservoir has filled in with silt and sludge and is no longer deep enough to hold the company's water. Since the City now admits it's been dumping sewage and sludge into Big Johnson, it seems the City should be the one dredging it out instead of attacking the irrigation company's plan to raise money to do so.

Fountain Mutual Irrigation Company doesn't need the City's water. City officials claim that FMIC needs the city's wastewater. This is not the case. In fact, because of Colorado water law, the irrigation company has to give up an equal amount of its own water in order to accommodate the City. The company has its own water rights on Fountain Creek. The agreement allowing Colorado Springs Utilities to route its water into our reservoir was purely an attempt to be a good neighbor, something the City has not reciprocated.

Fountain Mutual would appreciate seeing the credentials of Council members making public statements about the reservoir's land and water quality. Our shareholders are curious about Mr. Skorman's scientific knowledge of water quality. They would also like some proof of Ms. Noyes' expertise in land quality when she states publicly: "The soil is too soft and wet to serve as a stable foundation for homes," and "I never figured that homes could be built on a floodplain." Unless these people have the appropriate expertise, we consider such statements slanderous.

Fountain Mutual Irrigation Company has had an excellent working relationship with Colorado Springs Utilities for more than 30 years. I'm saddened that City Council members are choosing to strain that relationship with uninformed and unsubstantiated remarks. My father was a past president of Fountain Mutual Irrigation Company. He always rolled up his sleeves and worked side by side with the City on problem solving. Apparently the new breed of city leader believes more in spin-doctors than sweat and hard work. Happily, El Paso County's leaders still seem to put more value on private property rights than showboating for the press.

-- Richard Janitell
Fountain Mutual Irrigation Company

Condemnation a necessary evil

To the Editor:

As reported in Thursday's Independent ["Council Rejects ... Plan," June 14], I criticized five of my Council colleagues for voting down the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Plan because they were afraid of condemnation. What was missing from the story were the reasons for my comments.

Condemnation would only have been threatened when a landowner who was offered a very generous relocation plan still held out for an unreasonable price. That threat would be used as a last resort. Its purpose is to give assurance to private financial institutions so they would be willing to take a risk. The actual condemnation decision would rest with City Council, who could vote it down at the time. The irony of this whole debate is that City Council already holds condemnation power with or without an Urban Renewal Plan. In fact, elected officials in every major city in the country hold condemnation power. It's just hardly ever used and rightly so.

State law requires that condemnation power be included with the redevelopment tool Tax Increment Financing (TIF). In order to stimulate private investment into southwest downtown and to make sure that today's taxpayers don't foot the bill for future development, TIF has been proposed. TIF allows financial institutions to loan money to developers to pay for public infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks. Those loans are paid back with a portion of the future tax revenues generated by the success of those projects. The hope is that much more new tax money will be raised in the future by stimulating the right kind of investment today.

Although five of my Council colleagues voted down Urban Renewal because of condemnation, we nearly all agree that the plan itself is a good one, the result of 10 years of hard work by hundreds of citizen volunteers. I'm excited about the parts that envision historic preservation, protection of adjacent neighborhoods, construction of affordable housing and the creation of a new urban living not dependent on the automobile. Others are excited about an arts and culture district and a year-round farmers market. Yes, there may also be a convention center and ballpark, or maybe not. That's the whole point. It's just the beginning of a process that will require years of public input to complete.

I applaud my Council colleagues for their efforts to try to figure out a way to implement the plan without TIF and the power of condemnation. I just don't see how it's going to happen any other way.

-- Richard Skorman
City Councilman at large

Needed: A more livable Colorado Springs

To the Editor:

I guess I must be one of those "citizens who have a negative attitude about doing anything positive and exciting and vital for our community" who is smiling because Urban Renewal was turned down by the "new Council." Actually, I am one of those citizens who has far more trust in the choices made by the business owners in the targeted area southwest of downtown than four of our City Council members. I certainly do not have a Grand Vision of a World-Class City; rather, I have a vision of a more livable Colorado Springs. Part of that vision would include the upgrading, one business at a time, of that area. I, in no way, feel impoverished by living in the largest city not to possess a convention center.

All that is needed to enable revitalization is to provide no-interest or low-interest loans to the businesses and investors and then get out of the way! Such a policy worked wonders on the West Side and in Old Colorado City in the recent past; it would work southwest of downtown just as well. Rather than looking at this as "chickening out," please look at it as trusting the business judgement of our fellow citizens who live and work in the area. I'd go with their "vision" any day.

-- Matthew Parkhouse
Colorado Springs

Urban planning, Briargate-style

To the Editor:

A city is judged by the quality of its downtown. Otherwise it really isn't a city, but rather just a big sprawling suburb, isn't it? That is why it is so sad that the City Council has "chickened out" (to borrow Richard Skorman's words) on the proposed southwest development.

I recently had the privilege of spending 14 months in Portland, Ore. -- the undisputed king of downtown revitalization. Mass transit, housing, business, retail and parks all mingle together. City planners go there to see what works as far as downtown development and urban planning. Ours go to Briargate.

It is sad that we do not have the vision to do something truly great in this town. Undoubtedly, the proposal would have been at the expense of a few (businesses and select property owners), but overall it would be a wonderful addition to this city. The businesses in that area are generally able to relocate.

Colorado Springs has, to this point, failed at urban planning. Take a drive up I-25 and look at the sprawl of Briargate. Or head towards Powers for more of the same. Ranch-style homes on a quarter acre as far as the eye can see. Developers grabbing land for strip malls and tract housing. That is our urban planning. It is the classic case of the property owner versus the good of the people.

As for the five City Council members, I am not sure if they are gun shy from the Big Johnson debacle or simply on the take from a couple of those downtown businesses. They definitely did an about-face in the past two weeks. Sallie Clark's vote puzzles me the most.

Granted, with everything stacked against it, the downtown project can still get done. LoDo still manages to mix in established businesses with housing, retail and parks, but then again that was planned. Hopefully developers can find a way to make the project work and the city can remain a catalyst and provide the framework.

I am skeptical though, for we have all seen what happens when there is no plan in place.

-- Chris Gallen
Colorado Springs

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