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Shanna Lewis / KRCC

Work to repair and extend the levees that protect downtown Pueblo from flooding will likely get underway again early next year, a little later than expected.
 

This phase of the project includes taking about 12 feet off the top of the Arkansas River levee. The dirt removed will be used to extend the levee along Wild Horse Creek, which flows into the Arkansas.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Colorado will take center stage when the GOP presidential hopefuls hold their third debate, taking place at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was also recently on campus. CU students said all the activity is engaging younger voters ahead of the 2016 race.
 

Freshman Eliza Leeson is a Humanities major. She was among the roughly nine thousand students who attended the Bernie Sanders rally in Boulder.

State and county officials are encouraging voters to return ballots in person if they're not yet mailed.
 

The request comes after some voters experienced delays in receiving their ballots for the November 3rd election. Reports show that some are going to and from Denver multiple times before being delivered to voters.

Ryan Parsell of the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s office says he’s never seen this problem before, and suggests that voters use the ballot drop off locations instead.

Steve Wilson / Flickr - Creative Commons

Efforts to fund much-needed repairs to Amtrak's Southwest Chief line got an extra boost Monday as the U. S. Department of Transportation awarded $15.2 million to the project.  Combined with matching funds, the grant, known as a TIGER grant, totals $24.5 million.
 

"This is really a huge win," said Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, who also heads the state's Southwest Chief commission. "And [it] shows that if you put aside your differences, you forget about party, if you forget about state lines, if you all work together you can accomplish great things."

Sample Ballot / El Paso County Clerk & Recorder

The highest profile item on this year's ballot in Colorado Springs is Issue 2C. The mayor and city council are proposing a .62% increase in the sales tax to help pay for road repairs. Opponents of the tax say there's enough money already in the city's budget.

The proposed tax increase is estimated to add $50 million dollars a year, in each of the next five years, to the road repair fund. And, according to Councilwoman Jill Gaebler, the extra money is needed because the city has fallen behind. She says part of the problem is a lack of funding and part is the city's growth.

Maggie Spencer / KRCC

Efforts to fund much-needed repairs to Amtrak's Southwest Chief line got an extra boost today as the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded 15.2 million dollars to the project. 

Combined with matching funds, the grant, known as a TIGER grant, totals 24.5 million. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace heads the state's Southwest Chief commission:

Community leaders in the Pikes Peak region are taking on the issue of chronic homelessness, and they're seeking public engagement at a summit in Colorado Springs.
 

A collaborative group called Continuum of Care is looking to create a 5-year plan for addressing homelessness in Colorado Springs and El Paso County.

Anne Beer is the Vice President of Income and Housing Stability at Pikes Peak United Way, which is helping to spearhead the initiative. She says finding housing and enrolling people in support services is only the first step.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Eight libraries across the state are piloting the 'Check-Out Colorado State Park' program. It makes passes to state parks available for check out, along with backpacks stocked with information and activities.

The program is part of the Governor’s initiative to motivate Coloradans to take advantage of the outdoors.

Matt Richmond / KRCC

The proposed 2016 budget for Colorado Springs is now headed to city council for markup. At a public hearing earlier this week, residents questioned a few of the mayor's priorities. The two biggest concerns were parks and transportation funding.

At Tuesday night's public hearing, 22 people attended. One group wore blue shirts to show their support for public transit funding.

In Mayor Suthers' proposed budget, there's an 815,000 dollar increase in funding for Mountain Metropolitan Transit.

The El Paso County Clerk's office is urging voters to contact them if they have yet to receive a ballot.  KRCC's Tucker Hampson reports.
 

About 340,000 ballots went out in El Paso County last week. Election officials expect about 40-50% to be returned before Election Day.

"Every election is important, regardless of what jurisdiction you live in," says Ryan Parsell with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorders Office. 

Local tax and spending issues, as well as city council and mayoral races largely dominate Colorado's 2015 election. There is only one statewide question, which asks voters whether the state can keep marijuana tax money it's already collected to pay for school construction, law enforcement and other programs.

If that's a question that sounds familiar – that's because it is. Proposition BB will actually be the third time Colorado voters have weighed in on taxing marijuana.

Andrea Chalfin / KRCC

Work is set to begin this week on rail lines in western Kansas that carry Amtrak's Southwest Chief.  Portions of that track, plus segments in southeastern Colorado, were the target of a federal transportation grant awarded last year to help repair and upgrade freight lines to passenger rail speeds.  And, Colorado's Steel City is getting a boost from the work.
 

The Republican field to challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet is still very much up in the air, but some possible contenders have not ruled out entering the race.

Bennet's seat is one of 10 Democratic seats across the nation the party must defend in 2016. So far Republicans do not have a clear front-runner. Bright prospects including Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler have both decided not to run.

Agencies are planning a number of prescribed burns throughout the area, focusing on reducing fuel load and promoting forest health:
 

Winter Water for Migrating Ducks

Oct 8, 2015
Shelley Schlender / RMCR

Colorado's South Platte River basin is a powerhouse for crops and cattle.  Massive reservoirs quench the region's thirst, with farm fields generally first in line.  Wildlife?  It's often last. But a small win-win is giving waterfowl a little more room at the watering hole.  It's a program that creates warm winter ponds for migrating ducks — then gives the water back, in time for summer crops. 

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Colorado is well known for its outdoor recreation offerings, but Governor John Hickenlooper wants to take it to the next level by making it even easier for people to access open space and parks. Over the summer he unveiled the Colorado the Beautiful Initiative and more recently a $100 million pledge to create and connect bike trails. 

Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments

Friday is the last day to submit comments on a proposed transportation plan for the Pikes Peak area.

Moving Forward 2040 looks at existing and future needs for improvements to multi-modal transportation, and identifies $6 billion worth of need.  The plan has allocated $3 billion toward projects based on projected federal, state, and local funding.

El Paso County Commissioners have approved $120,000 to settle claims against former Sheriff Terry Maketa and other department employees.

The county approved $85,000 in a case alleging unfair retaliation after claims of sexual harassment. The other settlement pays $35,000 for allegations of civil rights abuses and a hostile work environment. A portion of the funds will come from the Sheriff's Office while attorney fees will be paid by the county's risk management fund.

Whole Foods says it will stop selling products made by a Colorado prison labor program after a protest against the practice at one of its stores in Texas.  The company says the products should be out of its stores by April 2016, if not sooner. Whole Foods says it has sold tilapia and goat cheese produced through the Colorado Correctional Industries program in Canon City since at least 2011.

Prison reform advocates have likened the program to indentured servitude, citing low wages. 

The Colorado Springs Police Department has received a grant of $600,000 to purchase 500 body cameras. The department plans to assign the cameras to about 470 police officers who work closely with citizens.

Policies will come after public input, says CSPD Commander Pat Rigdon, adding that they'll also be informed by the department's pilot program and by what other police departments have done. 

Tom Koerner/USFWS / Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Interior decided on Tuesday that the greater sage grouse does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act. The bird spans eleven western states including Colorado, where it lives in pockets along the western slope.  The population is mostly concentrated in the northwest part of the state. Governor John Hickenlooper was one of the many people working to avoid a federal listing for the bird.  He sat down with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland to talk about the decision and other initiatives.

Interview Highlights

Woodland Park Looks at Traffic Circulation

Sep 22, 2015

The city of Woodland Park is taking the next step in planning for traffic issues in and around the city.

A traffic circulation study team will present more refined options that look at ways to alleviate congested traffic conditions in Woodland Park at a public meeting Tuesday night. 

The city's Planning Director Sally Riley says even though it usually comes down to funding, the city is trying to get citizen input to determine which issues are the most pressing.

A group opposing a proposed sales tax measure for road repairs in Colorado Springs has launched its campaign.

The ballot initiative, if passed, would institute a sales tax increase of approximately $50 million a year for five years to help pay for road repairs.

Laura Carno is spearheading the opposition, and says the city could be more efficient and find alternative ways to pay for the repairs.

Sit-Lie Ordinance Gets its Second Public Hearing

Sep 18, 2015
Matt Richmond / KRCC

Colorado Springs City Council is making changes to its controversial sit-lie proposal. The measure would restrict where people can sit and lie down in two of the city's commercial districts.

Officials are now lowering the penalties from possible jail time and a twenty-five hundred dollar fine to just a five hundred dollar fine.

The city hosted the second of two scheduled public meetings on the proposal on Thursday night in Old Colorado City.
 

Colorado's ban on collecting rain from residential rooftops has been a contentious topic at the statehouse, and a proposed bill for 2016 means it will likely be debated once again.

"Colorado is the only western state where rain barrels are illegal," said Drew Beckwith, a water policy manager with the nonprofit Western Resource Advocates.

"Every other western state that has our water laws has them legal, and it has not caused the Earth to come crashing to a halt."

So why is there so much controversy over collecting rainwater? The sticking point is whether doing so impacts downstream water users.

Inquiries into last month's spill of toxic wastewater into the Animas River in Southwestern Colorado continue on Capitol Hill.
 

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing Wednesday into the spill at the request of lawmakers from Colorado and New Mexico. 

Oil drilling on Colorado's populous Front Range has forced more interactions between communities and the energy industry – and that's caused tension. At the recent annual Rocky Mountain Energy Summit, one of the discussions centered on how to improve relations between the industry and the public.

It's an ongoing issue that the state will tackle in a new rule making hearing.

Results of bloodwork and soil testing done in the area of the former Colorado Smelter Superfund site in Pueblo were released this week. KRCC's Shanna Lewis reports that evidence of toxins was found.
 

135 people considered most at risk for exposure to lead had their blood drawn two years ago. Seven children were found to have elevated levels.  The report notes that even low levels of lead could cause serious health problems in children.

Mayor John Suthers Delivers State of the City Address

Sep 10, 2015
Matt Richmond / KRCC

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers is 100 days into his term. To mark the occasion, he gave a State of the City speech on Wednesday. As KRCC's Matt Richmond reports, the focus was on infrastructure and economic development.
 

Suthers made the case for two tax initiatives on November's ballot, emphasizing the need to make up for past budget cuts.

Greg Owens / National Park Service

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison just became Colorado’s first International Dark Sky certified National Park, and the ninth in the nation. The Western Slope park was recognized for its exceptional night sky views, as well as its efforts to preserve those views and educate people about the value of a dark night sky.
 

Ranger Nick Myers leads the astronomy program at the park. He says they’ve worked to reduce bright lights that can drown out the stars.

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