Landowner John Bock's schemes for a higher and better use for Red Rock Canyon -- the 787-acre extension of Garden of the Gods located just west of the Colorado Springs city limit -- left a significant chunk of that stunningly scenic property environmentally scarred.
Concluding that the deep-canyon topography of his property made development problematic, Bock decided in 1970 to put a dump there. Revenues from the landfill would help pay his taxes and the build-up of dump debris would result in a site ideal for "a very fine golf course and recreation area."
The resulting landfill, which operated from 1970 to 1986, left 65 to 70 acres of Red Rock Canyon and 10 to 15 acres of adjacent Section 16 land buried under 4.5 million cubic yards of debris at an average depth of 50 feet and a top-end depth of 140 feet.
According to a recently released report, the mass of buried debris presents a significant "health and safety concern," findings that potentially threaten the viability of developing the site, say development opponents who want the property preserved as open space.
"It's environmental issues that may ultimately make or break this project," said John Himmelreich, a Colorado Springs geologist.
The report, submitted on June 7 to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment by Fort Collins--based Stewart Environmental Consultants, states that groundwater at the site is contaminated with carcinogens benzene, chloroform, vinyl chloride and several other hazardous chemicals. In addition, methane is leaking from the landfill at dangerously high concentrations.
Howard Roitman, director for the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of CHPHE, reports that methane is a gas similar to propane and butane that is created when organic matter decomposes in a moist, oxygen-free environment. Methane, dissolved in water, can saturate rock and migrate underground to accumulate in foundations of adjacent homes and buildings, and is explosive in high concentrations.
"We've known for several months that there's a serious methane problem at the Bock landfill," Roitman said. "Concentrations are high enough at that locale to create a potential for explosion. It's a health and safety threat that can't be ignored."
When recent monitoring showed concentrations of methane "greater than 100 percent LEL" (lower explosive limit), the state ordered the landfill fenced off.
Zydeco's mystery partner
Red Rock Canyon is presently under contract to developer Richard Yates of Zydeco, who plans to build a 27-hole golf course and an undisclosed number of million-dollar-plus, 35-acre luxury homes on the site.
Last year, Yates hired Stewart Environmental Consultants to investigate environmental issues at the landfill and determine the feasibility of putting the hoped-for golf course atop it.
Stewart Environmental responded with a proposal to Department of Public Health and Environment for a voluntary cleanup plan that, if approved, would give Zydeco its golf course.
A June 7 cover letter from Stewart Environmental to the government agency detailing the proposed cleanup plan states that an entity known as Zoquillo LLC will purchase the Bock property early next year and construct the golf course. Should the state decline to approve the golf course, Zoquillo will "utilize a separate corporation" to purchase and maintain the landfill, the letter indicates.
The letter identified Zoquilla as an "affiliate" of Zydeco; however when the Independent contacted local Zydeco representative Tom Kay to ask about the identity of the limited liability corporation, its relation to Zydeco and its role in the purchase of the Bock property, Kay said he knew nothing about Zoquillo. The company is registered in New Mexico as a limited liability corporation whose principal address matches that of yet another Yates-controlled corporation, the Rammed Earth Company. However, Zydeco itself is not registered in New Mexico or Colorado.
A woman who answered the telephone at the Santa Fe office of Zoquillo declined to identify herself but described Zoquillo as the "environmental arm" of Zydeco. Asked why Zoquillo would purchase the Bock property instead of Zydeco, she referred the question to Kay as spokesperson for Zydeco. When told that Kay claimed no knowledge of Zoquillo, the woman replied, "He must be confused. We've talked about it."
Himmelreich, who largely designed the 1986 closure plan for the Bock landfill, said he was at a loss as to why Zoquillo would close on the Bock property in lieu of Zydeco or why it would "utilize a separate corporation" to purchase and maintain the landfill.
According to the Zydeco-funded report, construction of the Bock landfill in 1970 dammed up the natural drainage route for state-owned Section 16, which is directly south of Red Rock Canyon. In the spring of 1999, heavy rains created a 25-foot-deep body of water directly above the landfill. A month later, the water was gone. "I believe that water leaked into the landfill," said Himmelreich, "and that suggests a major problem."
Another probable source of methane-producing leakage is a collection pond that was built in 1970 directly west of the landfill and equipped with a drainage pipe designed to transport water underneath the landfill for release beyond the landfill's northern edge.
Himmelreich says the pond was designed in a way so that it would never hold more than 3.5 feet of water, but he's seen it filled to a depth of 20 feet, which suggests a dysfunctional drainage pipe. That water, too, he believes, results in seepage that contributes to groundwater contamination and methane production.
Both the Stewart report and Himmelreich say that environmental problems on the property can be mitigated. "But it will require constant monitoring and it won't be cheap," Himmelreich said.
Zydeco, however, proposes in its voluntary cleanup proposal to monitor groundwater and methane on the site for only four years after construction of the golf course.
That plan leaves Himmelreich both accusing Zydeco of dancing around the issue and wondering who will accept liability after those four years.
"I'm sure it won't be the millionaire homeowners," he said.