July 27, 2008
Developers Dislike Storage Site Proposal: Officials Say Feds Poorly Analyzed Water Storage Plan.
By Chris Woodka, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.
Jul. 27--Even those who strongly support a pipeline to meet future water needs in Colorado Springs -- and who would benefit from it most -- are concerned that a proposed reservoir at Jimmy Camp Creek in eastern Colorado Springs is a costly mistake.
The Banning Lewis Ranch Co., which is developing 21,000 acres on the eastern side of Colorado Springs, would depend on the proposed Southern Delivery System for its future water supply.
New development, largely on Banning Lewis, would pay for a large portion of SDS, a $1.1 billion project that proposes building a pipeline from Pueblo Dam to meet future water needs of Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.
Still, the terminal storage site, a 30,500 acre-foot reservoir near Corral Bluffs in Jimmy Camp Creek, was not sufficiently analyzed by the Bureau of Reclamation in its draft environmental impact statement on SDS, say attorneys for the developers.
"The current draft EIS fails to adequately analyze the considerable environmental impacts and enormous costs of constructing a 30,500 acre-foot terminal water storage reservoir at Jimmy Camp Creek and overlooks the formidable legal obstacles that may well prevent construction of this reservoir on Banning Lewis Ranch property," lawyers Rebecca Wilcox Dow and Andrew Emrich of Denver law firm Holland & Hart wrote in comments to Reclamation. In a 14-page letter, the attorneys document a series of flaws with the reservoir plan, including:
Violation of a 1988 annexation agreement that sets aside the land under consideration for a reservoir as a city park "primarily of a passive nature so as not to disturb site features."
The annexation agreement also recognizes significant historical, archeological and paleontological features that will be "identified and preserved in accordance with zoning."
The selection of the park site, roughly 665 acres, was endorsed by the Division of Wildlife as a significant wildlife area for numerous species.
The draft EIS failed to identify a meaningful analysis of the Jimmy Camp Creek reservoir site under the National Environmental Policy Act. "The draft EIS gives the public the impression that the reservoir is a 'done deal.' "
The draft EIS fails to provide a reasonable range of alternatives. Among the alternatives the lawyers list is the Phantom Canyon Project in Fremont County proposed by Colorado Springs developer Mark Morley, which has never been considered as part of any SDS alternative. Morley directly questioned Reclamation about his project at a meeting in Fremont County earlier this year, and was told Phantom Canyon was not reasonably foreseeable. At the meeting, Morley raised the question that Colorado Springs does not own much of the land on which the Jimmy Camp Creek reservoir would be built.
Reclamation failed to meet its duties under the National Historic Preservation Act.
The attorneys also cited objections raised by others and asked Reclamation to include information about preserving paleontological resources in the final EIS. They also want Reclamation to address safety concerns, land acquisition cost and construction cost with a dam at Jimmy Camp Creek.
Reclamation intends to address all comments it received on the draft EIS over a 3-month period in the final EIS, which is expected by the end of this year. It evaluated seven alternatives.
Without terminal storage, a pipeline capable of carrying 109 million gallons per day, rather than 78 million gallons per day, would have to be built from Pueblo Dam to meet peak needs, according an alternatives analysis on SDS.
In addition, Pueblo West would tap into the pipeline for 18 million gallons per day, and the Pueblo Board of Water Works has raised the issue that there already is not enough capacity in the joint use manifold to accommodate SDS, the Fountain Valley Pipeline, Pueblo's current or future needs, Pueblo West needs and the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit. All but SDS are authorized uses for the manifold.
In the SDS alternatives analysis, more than 50 sites for terminal storage and a new water treatment plant were looked at, including enlargement of Brush Hollow, a forerunner of Morley's current Phantom Canyon proposal.
Jimmy Camp Creek was the superior choice, said John Fredell, SDS project manager.
"I think it's a real desirable site, because it's a natural dam site," Fredell said. "That's why it's been high on the list."
Fredell, who was a top attorney for Colorado Springs Utilities before taking the SDS job, said he disagrees with the legal interpretation of Banning Lewis attorneys over the annexation agreement. That is apparent in a 2004 water court filing, made by Fredell, which lists the reservoir site as owned by Colorado Springs.
"I take exception to their legal conclusions," Fredell said.
Some other comments, including those received from Colorado Springs City Councilman and his business partner Don Schley, both engineers, say there are technical flaws in the choice of Jimmy Camp Creek as a reservoir site that appear to have been purposely overlooked by Colorado Springs Utilities and the Bureau of Reclamation.
"The draft EIS should at least be scientifically honest," said Schley, who said he has spent more than 8,000 hours reviewing documents related to SDS since 2003. Gallagher has faced public criticism because he did surveying work for Morley. Schley insists he has never been paid to examine SDS, but has had major concerns about the project since it was proposed.
A major flaw with Jimmy Camp Creek would be old coal mine shafts where water could infiltrate, causing water quality issues for the Fountain and Widefield aquifers, Schley said.
There could also be issues with the amount of material that would have to be removed to reach bedrock and the amount of material needed to be brought in to build a dam, Schley said.
"There are reports on this," Schley said. "It's not like the information's hard to come by."
Fredell dismisses those concerns.
"We've done preliminary geo-tech engineering on Jimmy Camp and have not raised those concerns at all," Fredell said. "I can't imagine that his engineering is any better than ours."
Also included in comments on the draft EIS are 172 signatures from residents of Colorado Centre, located below the proposed Jimmy Camp Creek site. They say 1,000 homes are seven miles below a "high hazard dam" and raise concerns about flooding, erosion, mosquitoes, home insurance and pronghorn habitat.
"We've done some outreach to Colorado Centre," Fredell said. "I think there are a lot of misperceptions . . . I don't see any show-stoppers in terms of process."
Fredell noted that the number of signatures expressing the concerns should not matter, since the NEPA process is not a "popularity contest," but in a letter to The Pueblo Chieftain, Fredell touted the public support for the proposed SDS action. Of 346 distinct comments reviewed by The Chieftain, 112 backed SDS in general or the proposed alternative.
"The bureau is really up to its elbows doing serious analysis on all of these comments," Fredell said. "Some people think it's a popularity contest, but we're not going to build a dam on an unstable site using an unsafe process."
He pointed to the more than 50 options looked at in forming alternatives, and said there is another site, Upper Williams Creek, that is identified for terminal storage in one of the alternatives.
"That site could be used in any of the alternatives," he said.
The paleontological issues are also addressed in several comments. Kirk Johnson of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and paleontologist Paul Murphey of Oceanside, Calif., say Murphey's work in preparing the draft EIS was incomplete by design and misrepresented in the draft EIS.
The draft EIS noted: "Important paleontological resources would be adversely affected by Jimmy Camp Creek Reservoir inundation."
Despite that, Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation Director Paul Butcher said in his comments on the draft EIS that the city would better able to protect the site than private landowners, even if a reservoir is built.
Butcher said there are 84 sites eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in addition to the paleontological discoveries that are being made in the area.
"Utilizing the Jimmy Camp Creek area will require the land to be redesignated," Butcher wrote. "Since Springs Utilities is a government agency, it is required to protect and preserve cultural artifacts that are found."
In the same letter, Butcher projected that the new reservoir would include motorboat usage and attract 50,000-80,000 visitors per year.
Residents near Corral Bluffs won a battle last spring to prevent El Paso County from approving a motorbike trail in their neighborhood, partly on the argument that the increased use would contribute to the degradation of the artifacts and fossils in the area.
The Army Corps of Engineers said Reclamation's evaluation of all the alternatives using the Jimmy Camp Creek site were insufficient for its permit process under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
"That's no surprise," Fredell said. "Part of the plan all along has been to develop a separate 404 process with the Corps."
The Jimmy Camp Creek site came under financial scrutiny in 2006, when an auditor for Colorado Springs determined that Utilities paid too much for 14 properties to be used for the Jimmy Camp Creek reservoir.
Fredell stressed that no final decision has been reached for terminal storage, but said the decision to include Jimmy Camp Creek in six of the seven alternatives is sound and should not come as a surprise to anyone.
The construction of the reservoir would not occur until several years after a pipeline would be built and the plan could change. Along the way, there is opportunity for preservation, he said.
"It's been clear for years. Our plans have been public," Fredell said. "It's not worth arguing about when nothing has been decided."
ON THE NET
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