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News from the KRCC Newsroom.

The former Colorado Smelter site in south Pueblo is now designated a Superfund Site by the Environmental Protection Agency. As KRCC's Shanna Lewis reports, this means the federal agency will investigate and clean up toxic waste in the area.

In 2010 state health department tests found elevated levels of lead and arsenic in properties surrounding the smelter - which closed more than 100 years ago.

The EPA’s Chris Wardell says residents have a variety of concerns about the Superfund listing, ranging from costs to the effect on real estate values.  

Governor John Hickenlooper unveiled a draft of the state’s first ever water plan on Wednesday. The goal is to create a comprehensive water strategy to protect rural farm economies and bring more water to millions of people along the Front Range.The plan has been a decade in the making and supporters say it will help the state meet water demands as the population grows.
 

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Colorado is one of several states that will take up the issue of physician-assisted suicide. The topic is once again in the national spotlight with the recent death of Brittany Maynard. The terminally ill 29 year-old moved to Oregon to take advantage of that state’s Death with Dignity law.

Pueblo County Health officials say a resident there has died from issues related to the flu, and 60 have been hospitalized since October. Statewide, cases are occurring a month earlier in many locations. KRCC's Tucker Hampson reports. 
 

About 100 people have been hospitalized so far this year statewide as compared to 85 at this time last year.  Lisa Miller, state epidemiologist for the Colorado Department of Health, says a change in the flu virus may have lessened the vaccine effectiveness, but it’s still important.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Colorado’s state capitol is getting a major upgrade. A two-year renovation of the building’s signature gold dome was recently completed – and on the inside, work is underway on both the House and Senate chambers. As with any remodeling project, workers have uncovered some interesting surprises along the way.
 

The state capitol opened in 1894 and several restoration projects have been undertaken since then. The most recent work began because of a radiator…

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Governor John Hickenlooper has apologized on behalf of the state of Colorado for the Sand Creek Massacre. The Massacre happened in the early morning of November 29th, 1864.  U.S. Calvary soldiers converged on a sleeping group of mostly women, children and elderly Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. The 150 year-old event is one of the most notable incidents of violence against Native Americans in the history of the west.
 

A commemoration of the Sand Creek Massacre took place today at the Capitol. KRCC’s Tucker Hampson reports.
 

150 years ago on the eastern plains of Colorado, the US Army, led by Col. John Chivington, killed by some estimates 200 Cheyenne and Arapahoe, mostly women and children. Today at the Capitol was the final day of a healing ceremony, where Governor John Hickenlooper publicly apologized for the massacre.

Four Denver police officers were hit by a car while watching a high school demonstration protesting last week’s grand jury verdict in Ferguson.

The decision not to charge Officer Darren Wilson sparked demonstrations across the country, including in Colorado Springs.  

In Denver, nearly 1,000 East High School students walked out of class Wednesday and marched to the capitol. Students say the actual march was not planned.   

Still, officers shut down streets so students could cross.

Andrea Chalfin / KRCC

Explosions, drones, and full-brigade size exercises with armored vehicles are all a part of the Army’s proposed Enhanced Readiness plan for its Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado. The goal is to get troops trained on new gear.  It’s a controversial plan that some say opens the door to expansion, a notion that’s long been a thorn in the side of many nearby residents.

The training grounds span around 235,000 acres between Trinidad and LaJunta. It’s bound by the Purgatorie River on the east and the Comanche National Grasslands to the north. Recreationally, the area around the Maneuver Site is known for canyons, wildlife, ruins, and dinosaur tracks.

Nearly 100 people packed a small meeting hall at the training site for the only scheduled public forum. They came from as far away as Boulder and as close as the adjacent tiny community of Tyrone to hear about the proposal and its projected environmental impacts.

Technologies and tactics are constantly evolving, according to Dan Benford, Director of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security at Fort Carson.  As such, Benford added, it’s important for soldiers to be able to train on equipment they’d use while deployed.

“When we put them in harm’s way,” said Benford, “they have to have that second nature reaction with their equipment.”

Fort Carson released a 430-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement [.pdf], or DEIS, that looks at proposed alternatives, including a continuation of existing operations, and an update to allow for Strykers - the new class of eight-wheeled armored vehicles. 

Then there’s the preferred plan, which the Army calls “Enhanced Readiness Training.”  This plan includes the Stryker vehicles, demolitions, and drones, among other components.

“We’ve got some other training that soldiers need to be able to do,” said Hal Alguire, the Director of Public Works for Fort Carson.  “So to use effectively the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, we want to do those things.”

Among the findings, the DEIS lists potentially significant impacts to geology and soils, including loss of plant cover and erosion.  It also lists moderate impacts to noise, and minor impacts to air quality and cultural resources.

The DEIS isn’t enough for Jean Aguerre.  “It doesn’t make any sense that there’s no cumulative impacts,” Aguerre said during the public comment period.  She also invoked the memory of the 1930s Dust Bowl and the sensitive nature of the native plants in the area. 

“We got a soil analysis in this current DEIS, with absolutely no root analysis,” Aguerre said.  “The key to the short-grass prairie, as everybody in this room knows, is keeping that root system intact.”

Like Aguerre, most of the comments were critical of the Army and its plans for the remote Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, ranging from wildlife and historical concerns, to simply requests for more time and meetings with easier access to provide public comment.

Trinidad Mayor Joe Reorda addressed the area ranchers who oppose the proposal.

“We support you,” he told the ranchers. “The city of Trinidad supports you.  But by God, we have to have somewhere to train.”

Many are concerned through, that allowing the higher intensity activity at the site would open the door to eventual expansion.  It’s a possibility that Garrison Commander Colonel Joel Hamilton downplayed in his opening remarks.

“For the record,” said Colonel Hamilton, “we are not about expansion of Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.”

It’s also written into the DEIS that the proposal doesn’t require expansion.

That’s a point that Jim Herrell equates to having a coyote keep watch over a chicken house.  Herrell said at the meeting that continued expansion of the infrastructure at Pinon Canyon would lead to a Congressional authorization within seven years or less to acquire more land.

“And don’t you think there won’t be,” said Herrell.  “Then there will be a Congressman, probably from Texas, that will tack on an appropriations amendment to some crap to buy more land.  And everyone in this room in uniform will be gone.  And everyone in this room with a cowboy hat and boots that are pointed will be here, just a little older.”

In the face of this kind of distrust, Colonel Hamilton said it’s important to keep the dialogue going.  “It’s maintaining an open line of communication,” said Hamilton.  “We also heard the term ‘transparency’ thrown around this evening and we take it very seriously.”

Hamilton also mentioned the Southern Colorado Working Group, which is open to anyone. The group meets quarterly and works to coordinate military and community efforts throughout the region.  Hamilton says it helps to put a human face on the issues presented in the DEIS.

But for some, like Kennie Gyurman who lives in and has decades of history in the bordering community of Tyrone, there’s nothing the Army can say that will earn his trust.  Gyurman considers himself pro-military, but he says the Army knows what it wants.

“You just can’t believe them,” said Gyurman.  “But after you’ve dealt with them for a while, you kind of know what to expect. These meetings keep them from thinking they’ve got a way of doing what they want to do without any resistance.  This is resistance, even if it sometimes doesn’t help out a lot.”

Comments made at this recent meeting are being entered into the record, as are other comments provided through mail and online.  The last day to submit comments is December 15th.

Listen to the full public meeting here:
 

To make a comment on the DEIS, write to Fort Carson NEPA Program Manager, Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division, 1626 Evans Street Building 1219, Fort Carson, Colo. 80913-4362; or, send an email to usarmy.carson.imcom-central.list.dpw-ed-nepa@mail.mil

To inquire about the Southern Colorado Working Group, contact Fort Carson Community Relations at 719-526-1246.

Colorado Springs residents have until December 8th to apply for the council seat recently vacated by Joel Miller. KRCC’s Tucker Hampson reports.
 

Applicants must live in District 2 [.pdf], be at least 25 years of age, and both a US citizen and registered voter. The new council member will be expected to attend numerous meetings and events and meet the required minimum 30-35 hours of work a month. 

The Bureau of Land Management, environmentalists, and the energy industry have reached an agreement on a proposal to drill for oil and gas on the Roan Plateau. The new plan cancels 17 out of 19 oil and gas leases that were issued in 2008. Two previous leases at the top of the plateau, and a dozen at the base will remain in place.

"These measures allow us to protect the plateau but harness some of the energy resources," said Governor John Hickenlooper.

Farming the Ogallala

Nov 20, 2014
Shelley Schlender

Most Colorado cities and farms get water from snowmelt in the Rockies. That’s not the case in Northeastern Colorado. This food-producing powerhouse depends on an ancient, underground reservoir called the Ogallala.

Ever since the Ice Ages, the Ogallala’s been slowly accumulating water. Modern farmers, though, pump so much water that this “timeless” aquifer is starting to run out. Someday up ahead, Northeast Colorado may have to curtail some crops, and some farm towns might become ghost towns.
 

Shanna Lewis / KRCC

The start of a massive repair project on the Arkansas River levee in Pueblo is being delayed until December due to historic preservation concerns and some delays in the funding.
 

The project’s consulting engineer Kim Kock says the state historic preservation officer has said the levee could be deemed historic because it was constructed in response to the deadly 1921 floods and used methods of that time period.

Investigators say there’s not enough evidence to file charges in connection with last year’s devastating Black Forest Fire.

Land near the Colorado-New Mexico border has recently been caving inwards in an area where a 5.3 magnitude earthquake took place in 2011. As KRCC’s Dana Cronin reports, scientists at the United States Geological Survey are pointing to wastewater disposal as a potential trigger.
 

Higher magnitude earthquakes are a rarity in Colorado, making the 2011 quake of special interest to scientists. Research showed a possible cause as wastewater injection which involves the pumping of large volumes of fluid into the Earth, creating high-pressure conditions.

Andrea Chalfin / KRCC

The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, or AHRA, is celebrating its 25th Anniversary today. The region spans 152 miles of the Arkansas River and saw over 711,000 visitors last year.

AHRA program assistant Rose Bayless says in its 25 years, the area has provided an outlet for outdoor recreation that the public didn’t have before, including boating and fishing.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Democratic incumbent Governor John Hickenlooper narrowly won re-election after a race that was too close to call on Tuesday night. Hickenlooper faced off against former Congressman, Republican Bob Beauprez. It’s the second time Beauprez has lost the Governorship. Democratic Bill Ritter defeated him in 2006 by a much wider margin of double digits.

Many pundits were surprised at the intensity of the race, which was a nail biter until the end. The race wasn’t called by major news outlets until about 9:30am, more than twelve hours after polls closed.

Voters across Colorado cast their final ballots yesterday on state and local issues and candidates. 

With early voting well underway Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates staked out their positions one last time during their 8th and final debate hosted by KCNC channel 4 and Colorado Public Television last Friday night. Among the routine topics – things got heated over the issue of public safety.
 

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Latinos make up about twenty percent of Colorado’s population and continue to be a highly courted voting bloc during this election. It’s a group that more frequently votes for Democrats, but Latinos also turn out less often in midterm elections, and both political parties face challenges in attracting them.
 

Republicans have long been trying to make inroads with Latino voters, especially in competitive states like Colorado, where a small number of votes could swing key races for the U.S. Senate and Governor.

Shanna Lewis / KRCC

 
The Pueblo Conservancy District awarded the contract for phase one of the project to repair the aging Arkansas River levee. The estimated cost for this initial phase is $3.6 million and is expected to begin in November and end in March.  KRCC’s Shanna Lewis reports.

The full repair project is likely to span three or four winters and will destroy the collection of murals painted on the levee by hundreds of artists since the 1970s. It’s the largest outdoor mural in the world.

One of this November’s statewide ballot questions may look familiar to Coloradans. For the third time since 2008, voters will decide the fate of an amendment dealing with the issue of personhood. But this time around supporters are taking a different approach.
 

Amendment 67 would change the state’s criminal code and wrongful death act to include the term “unborn human beings” when referring to a “person” or “child.” Backers say it stems from the 2012 case of Heather Surovik, who shares her testimonial on the Personhood USA website…

Voters in El Paso County are deciding whether or not to allow the county to keep excess revenue for the purpose of supporting parks and open space.

The Taxpayers Bill or Rights, or TABOR, stipulates any excess revenue should be returned to residents, unless voters approve a measure allowing the county to put it to other use.

Ballot issue 1A seeks to retain more than $2 million for specific projects including resurfacing tennis courts at Bear Creek Park, constructing a park in the Falcon area, and restoring trails in the Black Forest Regional Park. 

While much of the attention the 2014 election season has been focused on Colorado's Senate and gubernatorial races, voters will also be deciding the fates of four statewide ballot questions. One of those questions seeks to expand gambling at racetracks to help fund K-12 education.

If approved, Amendment 68 would allow horse race tracks in Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties to offer slot machines, roulette, craps, and card games such as blackjack and poker. Arapahoe Park in Aurora is at the center of the campaign.

The Colorado Springs Office of Emergency Management, Fire, and Police Departments are conducting an evacuation drill for residents of the Pulpit Rock neighborhood Saturday.  KRCC's Rachel Gonchar reports.
 

The Pulpit Rock neighborhood is located in the city’s wildland urban interface and includes University Park and Sunset Mesa.

CSPD Officer David Husted says participating residents can expect a knock at their doors and instructions on what to do and where to go. He also said this area is a new focus for first responders.

Colorado’s new Suicide Prevention Commission is meeting this morning for the first time. KRCC’s Eliza Densmore reports.
 

The state legislature created the group to establish new efforts for prevention priorities, broaden public and private partnerships, and identify funding resources.

Jarrod Hindman is the Suicide Prevention Section Manager at the Department of Public Health. He says the commission is expected to build on past prevention efforts.

Andrea Chalfin / KRCC

The notion of "political theater" took a different sort of turn on Thursday when the Democratic challenger in Colorado’s 5th Congressional District debated pseudo-chickens. 

Three people dressed in bright yellow chicken suits served as stand-ins for Republican Doug Lamborn at a debate with his Democratic challenger, Irv Halter.  The move comes after Halter and others say Lamborn is refusing to debate.

After four years in office Governor John Hickenlooper is facing the toughest campaign of his political career. A recent poll from The Denver Post shows his race against Republican former Congressman Bob Beauprez statistically tied. What's more, Beauprez is also making gains on Hickenlooper in the Denver metro area and in rural Colorado.

Former Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez is facing a close race against Governor John Hickenlooper in his gubernatorial bid. Back in 2006, he made several missteps in his campaign for governor, but in this 2014 run he's run a much tighter ship.

Beauprez-U.S. House / Hickenlooper-State of Colorado

Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper and his Republican challenger Bob Beauprez met for one of their final debates last night at UCCS, sponsored by the school and the Colorado Springs Gazette, Independent and Business Journal.
 

Topics included jobs and the economy, energy development, and education.  

One question from the audience focused on climate change and the role people play in it.

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