County grumbles at Springs ‘bully’ tactics
Conditions for turning on Pueblo West water ‘heavy-handed’
Pueblo County officials believe Colorado Springs Utilities is trying to pressure Pueblo West for help in meeting 1041 permit requirements for the Southern Delivery System.
After obtaining a copy of a draft memorandum of understanding that was to be considered by the Pueblo West metro board in executive session last month, two commissioners and the county’s water attorney say it’s the same type of coercion Utilities tried to exert on the county earlier.
“It’s bully tactics. I think it’s terrible and totally inappropriate,” said Terry Hart, chairman of the county commissioners. “This is the second time in a couple of months where Utilities is trying to negotiate approval of 1041 conditions. In this case, it pits Pueblo West against Pueblo County, when there’s no good reason to do it.”
Commissioner Sal Pace agreed: “Whether Pueblo West has access to its own water has nothing to do with conditions on Fountain Creek.”
Water attorney Ray Petros was equally blunt: “This proposed MOU is a heavy-handed tactic by Utilities to withhold water deliveries to Pueblo West as a lever against the county in the event the county had to consider suspending the SDS permit.”
Pueblo West has not approved the MOU, and Jack Johnston, the metro district manager, portrayed it as a working document “at the staff and attorney level.”
However, newly elected Pueblo West board member Mark Carmel objected at his first official meeting to considering the deal in executive session.
He was backed by Chairman Lew Quigley and board member Judy Leonard.
Johnston said a document for public consideration would be ready for discussion in open session, probably in mid-June.
But the document provided to The Chieftain by Carmel, and shared with the county, asks Pueblo West to get the county to sign off on several conditions of the 1041 permit before Pueblo West can turn on SDS.
Among other things, the agreement instructs Pueblo West to obtain written confirmation from Pueblo County that four politically charged conditions of the county’s 1041 permit have been met or “will not be triggered . . . by use of SDS facilities.”
Those conditions include the payment of $50 million to a special district for Fountain Creek flood control, the Pueblo Arkansas River flow program, the adaptive management scenario for Fountain Creek and Colorado Springs stormwater management.
Each of those has led to complicated political negotiations or even court cases for Colorado Springs. Pueblo West has been in court with Pueblo County over the flow program.
Pueblo County ran into the same tactics when it asked Utilities to release interest money from the $50 million early to fund dam studies on Fountain Creek, Hart and Pace noted.
“In any event, holding Pueblo West hostage casts Springs’ Utilities as a bully,” Petros said. “It’s certainly counterproductive to a cooperative approach for addressing environmental mitigation of the SDS Project.”