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Public Eye


Does Colorado Springs deserve a Green Oscar for its environmental innovations? Hmmm. Let's take a partial look at the record:

During the past decade the city has spent nearly $4 million in legal fees and other related costs in a failed battle to build the Homestake II dam in the pristine Holy Cross Wilderness Area southeast of Vail.

After decades of neglect, the city was successfully sued in the late 1990s by the Sierra Club for refusing to fix the environmental devastation from the gravel road that leads to the top of Pikes Peak, America's Mountain.

The city built its main sewer line right down the middle of Monument Creek. It also built a coal-powered power plant downtown.

Colorado Springs has possibly the worst public transportation system of any mid-sized American city. Its leaders are pushing to expand Interstate 25, which cuts through the heart of the city, while reducing bus routes.

The city -- one of the fastest growing in the United States -- has no real plan to deal with the sprawl that continues its steady march, particularly to the north and east, while its elected leaders feed serve at the pleasure of rich developers.

The city's voters consistently elect local, statewide and federal politicians who scorn state and federal mandates including the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

In the 1970s, the city tore down scores of historic buildings downtown in the name of Urban Renewal.

The city has no required recycling program.

Recently the city -- which has held the national distinction of being a Tree City USA for 23 years -- chopped down 34 trees downtown because they stood in the way of business improvements.

Now, Colorado Springs is one of three cities competing in its category -- population 300,000 to 1 million -- and hopes to win an international environmental award nicknamed the Green Oscar. The awards are sponsored by Nations in Bloom, a British nonprofit organization founded in 1966.

According to the organization's Web site, at, the finalists will be judged according to how they are managing their environment according to each of the following five criteria:

1. Enhancement of the Landscape, including planting and other forms of beautification that improve the design of the landscape, the physical environment and the culture of the community.

2. Heritage Management: This covers the care of existing architectural and landscape features to ensure their long-term survival.

3. Environmentally Sensitive Practices: This includes recycling waste material, alternative use of the by-products of landscape management, appropriate use of pesticides and other indications of environmental awareness.

4. Community Involvement: This relates to the environmental commitment of volunteers, the business sector and the community as a whole.

5. Planning for the Future: This should indicate the use of sensitive and creative planning in promoting the sustainable development of the community and its environment.

Paul Butcher, director of the Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation Department, said the city nominated itself for the award when it received an application, similar to other state and national awards that are handed out to municipalities for innovative programs.

"We think we've got a pretty solid record, and we are delighted to be selected as finalists," Butcher said.

Though there are approximately 45 other finalist cities from around the world, Colorado Springs will only be competing with two other cities in its division -- Perm, Russia and Yokosuka City, Japan.

At the end of the month, Butcher will travel with Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace to Washington, D.C. for the final round of the competition, which will entail a 35-minute oral, video and slide presentation to the judges.

During that demonstration, the Mayor and parks director will point out Colorado Springs' long-running commitment to flower and tree-planting, earning the designation Tree City USA. In addition, they will note that the city has more designated park land per capita than anywhere in the country, Butcher said, and that Colorado Springs voters approved the Trails Open Space and Parks measure to set aside public money for open space three years ago. They will also play up downtown revitalization and Garden of the Gods.

And, Butcher said, the two will also emphasize the city's xeriscaping program, which sends a strong message that citizens and developers should voluntarily landscape properties with vegetation that requires little water.

When asked about the well-documented foibles of Colorado Springs' checkered environmental past, Butcher is refreshingly candid, admitting that mistakes have been made. However, the parks director believes that what really matters are strong efforts to correct the mistakes of the past.

"Every jurisdiction probably has its share of skeletons in the closet, but you know there is no perfect Utopia," he said. "In fact, I don't see Utopia anywhere on this list [of competing cities]."

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