First fire, then paperwork
At the Disaster Recovery Center, Waldo Canyon Fire victims lined up last week. This time, they weren't scared masses; they were veterans, come to help the wide-eyed victims of the Black Forest Fire. What they knew was this: Losing your home isn't just the grief and shock of finding out all is lost. It's a years-long process of fighting to get back to where you once were, a long and arduous battle with your insurance company.
"There's really no substitute for experience with disaster recovery," says Amy Bach, executive director of the advocacy group United Policyholders.
Working with Waldo volunteers, her group has been handing out kits that help people navigate their insurance claim from Day 1. (Victims can email email@example.com, subject head "Toolkit," to receive their own package.)
That process might have been a little easier had the Black Forest Fire waited a year. Strong advocacy on the part of Waldo victims led the state Legislature to pass a law that will give disaster victims more rights, but the only part now in effect is the one giving homeowners more time to sue their insurance company. — JAS
Heads keep rolling at lab
State health and environment director Chris Urbina has resigned following a report that criticized his handling of toxicology reports.
The manager of the lab, Cynthia Burbach, resigned in May. The Indy reported extensively on Burbach, the key witness in the state's DUI prosecutions, after the results of hundreds of blood alcohol tests were thrown into question due to sloppy lab work. Defense lawyers had also criticized Burbach's changing description of her educational background while under oath, among other issues.
Neither resignation has been officially attributed to the problems. — JAS
Big Utilities agenda
On Wednesday, June 19, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board (aka City Council) will take up several issues involving solar gardens, power and water. On the docket:
• New rules for solar gardens in which the city selects one or more solar-garden companies to generate 2 megawatts of power. After the previous Council enacted a solar-garden program that would have required a $20 million-plus subsidy over 20 years, the newly elected Council reversed the decision. The new proposal calls for about $5 million in subsidies over the same time period.
• Formation of committees consisting of board members to oversee finance, strategic planning and personnel.
• A feasibility study for building a 5.8-megawatt hydropower facility at Pueblo Dam to power a pump station northwest of the dam as part of the Southern Delivery System.
• Request from the Broadmoor Hotel to supply 10 acre feet of water per year, or roughly 3.3 million gallons, to the Emerald Valley Ranch, a new lodging development that lies outside the city. The lease would generate $3,267 for Utilities and $653 for the city, which shares in sales of water outside the city.
The meeting begins at 1 p.m., at 121 S. Tejon St., fifth floor. — PZ
Gessler found in violation
A state panel has ruled that Secretary of State Scott Gessler violated ethics standards by using state funds to attend a Republican lawyers' conference in 2012.
The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission also found Gessler violated the rules when he took $118 from his discretionary fund without providing receipts. In May, Gessler repaid the state $1,278 for his Florida travel expenses, news outlets reported.
Watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch says the rulings will result in a fine double the amount of personal gain he received through his breach of the public trust, or $1514.88, which takes into account his repayment last month.
"We knew this was a serious matter, which is why we brought it to the attention of the Independent Ethics Commission in the first place," Ethics Watch director Luis Toro said in a statement. "We are pleased that the IEC took this seriously as well."
Gessler has said he might seek the Republican nomination for governor. — PZ
Minimal mental health boost
The Department of Veterans Affairs has met a goal set by President Barack Obama last August to hire 1,600 mental health professionals nationwide. But despite the Springs being a huge military town, it will only see a tiny impact from the change: one additional mental-health social worker.
Experts say that veterans need far more mental health services than are currently available. But VA representatives say the hirings are simply a "bonus" in a larger expansion, noting that in the Pueblo and Colorado Springs area two psychologists and a registered nurse — all dedicated to mental health services — have also been recently hired. — JAS
A NeuStream primer
Have strong feelings about the "clean coal" technology planned for the Martin Drake Power Plant?
Or are you just wondering what all the fuss is about?
Learn more Thursday, June 20, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at a Food for Thought Luncheon at the Cheyenne Mountain Conference Resort. The cost is $30 and you must RSVP at tinyurl.com/NSGlunch.
Former U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, CEO of Neumann Systems Group, will be the featured speaker and Dr. David Neumann, inventor of the NeuStream technology, will also be available for questions. — JAS