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Noted: Ultra withholds drilling info

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Ultra pulls back details from presentation

Ultra Petroleum of Houston, the biggest player in oil drilling in El Paso County with 137,000 acres in leases or ownership, has good reason to think the Banning Lewis Ranch area is rich with oil. Ultra officials explained to the city Oil and Gas Committee last week their reasoning, presenting data based on geological testing, historic analysis and mineral mapping.

One map shown bore a bold line signifying a dense mineral vein running from the Cripple Creek region to north of Denver. The pot at the end of that rainbow is the Wattenberg Ridge, which Ultra's Douglas Selvius says contains an estimated 3.8 trillion cubic feet of gas and 205 million barrels of oil. Ultra has identified a similar mineral vein from the Cripple Creek area that ends in El Paso County.

But all that data was removed from Ultra's PowerPoint presentation before it was dispensed to those seeking a copy, the Indy included. Instead, 18 of the 58 pages were blank except for the words "proprietary data removed." So anyone who missed the public presentation can't see it now.

Steve Zansberg, a Denver media attorney, says state disclosure laws don't mandate the record be disclosed after the fact if the city agreed to accept a redacted copy, which it did. Despite that, alternate Oil and Gas Committee member Mary Talbott says in an e-mail, "Transparency and accountability are essential for our form of government. All information that is part of a public meeting should be fully disclosed and available to everyone."

Ultra didn't respond to a request for comment. — PZ

Philharm enjoys win streak

At a time when classical institutions like Denver-based Colorado Symphony are beset by troubles, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic is undergoing a resurgence.

It began with last May's appointment of Josep Caballé-Domenech, the popular new music director whom orchestra members championed. The latest success story is this Thursday's sold-out Itzhak Perlman appearance at Pikes Peak Center.

Philharmonic President and CEO Nathan Newbrough says tickets for the celebrated violinist's performance were first offered to subscribers, leaving few for the public. Those sold quickly, resulting in an unprecedented waiting list of at least 120 people. Demand was so great, says Newbrough, that he and his wife, along with the entire Philharm staff, sacrificed their own tickets.

Caballé-Domenech will conduct three more concert programs this season, culminating in performances of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony on May 19-20. — BF

Let them take drug tests

Colorado House Republicans have accepted the challenge.

Last Friday, a controversial GOP bill mandating that the state's Colorado Works applicants — individuals who have dependent children or are pregnant, including teen mothers — pass a drug test made its way out of committee. The vote was partisan, with Republicans in support.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, is similar to those in other states such as Florida that attempt to tie welfare checks to the purity of one's urine. The idea is that taxpayers should know their money isn't supporting drug habits, which led to the question: What about those who collect government paychecks?

During hearings, the question of legislators' purity was raised, and Sonnenberg said he would be willing to pee in a cup, too. So the bill moves to the House floor with an amendment from Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, forcing lawmakers to pass the pee test. — CH

Over the River moves on

Fremont County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a temporary-event permit for Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude's Over the River project, slated for a two-week exhibition in August 2015. The announcement came after public hearings in February drew national attention and subsequent delays in the commissioners' decision.

Now, according to OTR spokesperson Miles Graham, the project will focus on gaining the same approval from neighboring Chaffee County, which recently revised its permitting process. Should OTR secure that go-ahead, Graham says the final permits are "more procedural," involving the Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado State Patrol. — EA

Shortest campaign ever?

Monday, political newbie Christopher Ibbetson of Fountain announced his candidacy as a Democrat for the open seat in the redrawn state House District 21 (covering much of southwestern El Paso County). Tuesday, Ibbetson dropped out.

Ibbetson says he was registered to vote as a Democrat in Florida when he moved here in 2005. But since he was in the Army, he never transferred his registration. After leaving the Army in 2011, he registered locally, but not in time to be a candidate for the Legislature. Reached by phone, Ibbetson seemed undaunted, going back to his original plan of running for an at-large seat on the Fountain City Council.

Veronica Bila also expressed interest in HD 21 at the Democrats' county assembly, and like Ibbetson, won enough delegate votes to make the primary ballot. The nomination now is Bila's for the taking, but she has yet to publicly announce her candidacy. — CH

Hall opens for meetings

After a months-long overhaul, the Centennial Hall auditorium, 200 S. Cascade Ave., is ready for action. El Paso County commissioners will start conducting their Tuesday and Thursday meetings there next week. Meetings begin at 9 a.m.

Other parts of the building, built in 1976, already are in use as offices for commissioners, attorneys and employees in budget, economic development, public information and county administration, following a remodel and a move of previous inhabitants to the former Intel building, 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road. The county purchased that building in 2010 for about $22 million.

Ongoing parts of the "strategic moves initiative" include renovating the county building at 27 E. Vermijo Ave., for use by the Sheriff's Office, and refurbishing the sheriff's training site as a coroner's facility. — PZ

Bill adds to infighting

State Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, wasn't going to take what she saw as a politically motivated slight quietly.

Last Friday, Senate District 10 candidate Owen Hill sent out a campaign e-mail accusing his opponent, Rep. Larry Liston, of killing a bill that would force employers to check the citizenship of its employees. Hill alleges that Liston moved the bill out of the Economic and Business Development Committee, which Liston chairs, to the Agriculture Committee, where it is expected to die.

The bill, forcing employers to follow a federal program known as E-Verify, was sponsored in the House by Looper. Liston says all he did was send the bill to the appropriate committee.

Yet, on Saturday at the Republicans' county assembly, Looper took the opportunity of speaking on Hill's behalf to blast Liston: "I can tell you that Rep. Liston cast the vote to send the bill to Agriculture to die." — CH

Compiled by Edie Adelstein, Bill Forman, Chet Hardin and Pam Zubeck.


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