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Settlement reached in Pikes Peak suit

Fill soil has eroded from around Ski Creek culvert and been carried away by water in the drainage   

April 15, 1999
Web posted at: 11:30 AM EST

Water quality on Pikes Peak in Colorado is expected to improve as the result of a settlement reached Monday in a lawsuit between the city of Colorado Springs and the Sierra Club.

In the settlement, the city has agreed to implement a 10-year construction program to protect streams and wetlands on Pikes Peak that some say could cost $14-21 million. It also calls for the city to pay $300,000 to fund various other cleanup and remediation projects on the mountain and to pay $100,000 toward the Sierra Club's legal fees. The settlement must still be approved by U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who is hearing the suit.

The Sierra Club sued the city in August 1998, claiming violations of the Clean Water Act by allowing highway-related erosion to damage the Pikes Peak watershed. The suit also sought to stop Clean Water Act violations associated with a planned reconstruction and expansion of the Pikes Peak Summit House, a visitor center located at the summit of Pikes Peak.

"The Sierra Club wanted clean water on Pikes Peak and that's what this settlement will provide," said Sierra Club spokesperson James Lockhart. "We're glad the city has committed to doing the right thing for Pikes Peak."

"This settlement represents a big step forward in the efforts to protect Pikes Peak," said Michael Freeman, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund (formerly Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund), which represents the Sierra Club. "We're very happy the city appears committed to do this work, and to do it on a binding schedule."

The Pikes Peak Highway is a toll road that winds to the mountain's 14,000-foot summit, the last 12 miles of which are not paved. The inspiration for "America the Beautiful," this famous mountain attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. About 300,000 visitors drive up the highway each year at a cost of $10 a person.

It is also the site of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the second oldest automobile race in the United States, first run in 1916. The race is run on the unpaved portion of the road, and many feel that paving the road will change the character of the race.

The Sierra Club didn't ask in their lawsuit that the last 12 miles of the road be paved, just that the surface be stabilized, according to Freeman. About 1.5 millions tons of gravel have been put on the road since 1970. Normal use of the road, rain and grading have pushed that gravel down the mountain.
During the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, racers push loose gravel from the roadway and leave a smooth, hard surface blackened by their tires   

"There will be some sort of surface stabilization," said John Fredell, a senior attorney for the city. "The jury is still out as to what that ought to be. Most likely it will be a hard surface."

The United States Forest Service, which is a co-defendant in the lawsuit, is not a party to the settlement. The highway is located in the Pikes-San Isabel National Forest, and the city operates the highway under a permit issued by the Forest Service.

"This still leaves the questions we have that are related to Forest Service before the federal judge," said John Stansfield, Pikes Peak Group of the Sierra Club.

"There are two issues here," said Freeman. "The heart of the settlement is the $14-21 million the city has agreed to pay to stop future problems along the highway. There's an additional $300,000 expenditure in the settlement to clean up areas already harmed by the sediment drainage. We think the Forest Service should help cover these costs." The city has sued the Forest Service to recover some of those costs.

This settlement removes one more roadblock to getting the corridor improvement and remediation project off the ground, said Fredell. "The settlement agreement pretty much parrots the language in the application we filed for certification of the project in February under section 401 of the Clean Water Act," he said. "We were committed to all of the conditions of this settlement before the Sierra Club took us to court."

"I want to make it clear that the city hasn't agreed to pay anything," said Fredell, "just to meet the conditions of implementing the 401 permit. Whatever the final design figure is, is what we will pay. It can probably be done for a lot less than the original estimates."

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

Suit threatened to spur Pikes Peak solution
Scientists ask for stronger Clean Water Act
Landowners win wetlands case
End sought to wetland permit program

The complaint: Civil Action No. 98-M-662
Pikes Peak Group, Rocky Mountain Chapter, Sierra Club
Above it All: Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
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