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Asbestos lurking

Work on America the Beautiful Park project suspended for up to four months

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A $320,000 project to create an "environmental playground" adjacent to America the Beautiful Park has been halted pending further investigation of asbestos unearthed during excavation.

The discovery of buried asbestos tiles will delay the project for up to 120 days to allow for mitigation and regulatory oversight and approval, city officials say. The site, which lies on the southwest side of the park area and north of Cimarron Bridge, is enclosed with a chain-link fence and is not accessible to the public, according to the city.

In July, Colorado Springs Utilities was performing rough grading along Monument Creek as an in-kind contribution to the America the Beautiful Creekside Project, which is largely funded by Great Outdoors Colorado ("We've got your beach," News, July 2). "During these activities, Utilities personnel encountered historical undocumented artificial fill material, which included potential asbestos-containing floor tiles adhered to concrete rubble," Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Lehermeier says via email.

Lehermeier says the material, discovered in the ground less than 10 feet deep, was identified as non-friable asbestos, less dangerous than friable asbestos, which if inhaled is a known carcinogen.

"Utilities and City personnel have taken steps to stabilize the site for the protection of human health and the environment, which have included the removal of visible potential asbestos containing materials from the surface of the excavated areas and the on-site stockpile," she says.

Utilities also notified the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the city has retained an environmental consultant to assist in following regulatory requirements. Utilities has applied a "tackifier," a sticky substance that bonds to surfaces and minimizes emissions from the asbestos, which Lehermeier says is not a threat to water in the creek.

While Lehermeier says officials have yet to determine the exact size of the asbestos-ridden area, Parks Department official Chris Lieber says via email that the tiles are concentrated in 75 square feet.

"We are currently working with our consultant [Pinyon Environmental] to develop an estimated cost for addressing the asbestos-containing material," Lieber says. "The overall project timeline is anticipated to be delayed by approximately 90 to 120 days," which includes time for state regulatory review.

The creekside project aims to expand the floodplain, enhance riparian habitat, and provide a transition from park to creek. The work includes adding trails, boulders, logs, boardwalks and play areas.

"The project design is currently being re-evaluated to ensure protection of park users and the environment," Lehermeier says. "To complete the rough grading activities under the original project design, around 2,000 cubic yards of additional soil needs to be excavated and removed from the site."

It's the second time in recent years that pollutants have emerged in the area of the park. In March 2013, Kat Tudor and Don Goede sued the city, alleging suspected cancer-causing contaminants blew onto their Smokebrush Foundation property immediately north from a demolition site at 25 Cimino Drive.

The city had been in the process of razing a Utilities building, which sat atop a site that hosted a gas plant from 1880 to 1931 and left behind coal tar, which contains carcinogens. The case is pending while the city appeals a District Court ruling that denied the city's motion to dismiss.

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