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Council comments tilt in favor of proposed waterway camping setback law

May 8, 2018
       Although no vote was taken and may not be for some time, five of the nine Colorado Springs City Council members are leaning toward a proposal to disallow camping within 100 feet of the edge of a stream.
       This was evident from council comments at a work session May 7 on a draft ordinance that was introduced by Councilmember Tom Strand and City Stormwater Manager Richard Mulledy.
       According to both men, the ordinance's goal is to improve public health (because of camps causing downstream pollution) and safety (because camps are
In a split-screen view from Springs TV, City Stormwater Manager Richard Mulledy (lower left) discusses a PowerPoint slide during his presentation to City Council May 7 about health and safety concerns behind a proposed ordinance to establish a 100-foot camping setback from waterways.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
pitched near waterways or in dry channels prone to flash floods). “This is clearly a public health concern that we must address,” Strand said.
       However, Council President Richard Skorman (who did not express ordinance support) concluded the roughly one-hour discussion by describing the plan as “very preliminary,” and said public meetings will need to be held.
       Skorman, whose District 3 includes the southern part of the Westside, also noted that, even though a recent water quality study has found evidence of human waste in Fountain Creek, there's no proof yet that it's from the campers. And regarding flash floods, he suggested that the city could find a way to warn campers when one is known to be coming.
       Unlike the city's no-camping law, the law (if approved as written) would be enforced whether or not there's space at shelters and would not require a 24-hour notification.
       Strand said the 100-foot distance was chosen because “that seemed to be something that the court system has supported.”
       The legal penalty for violators would be fines or jail, but Strand said that police officers would have the option to warn people, “and they will do that."
As a co-introducer (with City Stormwater Manager Richard Mulledy) of the proposed waterway-setback ordinance, City Councilmember Tom Strand spoke from the lectern normally used by citizens during the May 7 council work session.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
Should any cases wind up before judges, they will be lenient as well, he said, realizing that campers are typically in difficult situations.
       No comments from the public at large were taken during the discussion, which is the usual protocol for council at work sessions.
       In addition to Strand, the other councilmembers who spoke positively about the concept of a 100-foot waterway setback were Merv Bennett, Andy Pico, David Geislinger and Jill Gaebler.
       Here are representative comments from them:
  • Bennett - “We owe it to the communities downstream to keep these [waterways] clean… We see so many people sleeping under bridges. It's very, very dangerous.”
  • Pico - “This [the ordinance] is a very desperately needed step… We are catching holy heck from the people downstream concerning this stuff.” As for flash-flooding, it's a “very dangerous situation.”
  • Geislinger - “I'm in support of this generally, but we have to accept that this will affect the most vulnerable people [and it will] move them someplace else.” He suggested that to make up for taking the creek away from campers, the city could provide them with portable bathrooms and showers. As for flood dangers, he said his research has shown that “flash flooding is the most common natural hazard in Colorado Springs.”
  • Gaebler - "I am sensitive to the concerns about potential unintended consequences [of relocating people], but we have a potential for real consequences for not doing something real and achievable about our water quality.” She added that she spends time on trails and her observation is that “many, many, many,
    Photos presented by city officials at the City Council work session May 7 show camps that have been seen in dry creeks where flash floods can occur.
    Courtesy of Colorado Springs Stormwater Office
    many people are choosing to live near creeks. I see them using the creeks for a bathroom.”
           In addition to Skorman, opposing the ordinance and/or asking pointed questions about it were Bill Murray and Yolanda Avila.
           Here are representative comments from Murray and Avila:
  • Murray - “It seems to be targeting the homeless… I still don't see how we're going to enforce it, moving people all over the place.” He also predicted the end result would be a “costly lawsuit” for the city.
  • Avila - “It's not a solution. We've got to be more creative in figuring out how we're going to do it.” She too alleged that the ordinance's effect would be “targeting the homeless” and suggested the proposal is just “to appease all those hundreds of e-mails we get about campers on the banks.”
           Don Knight, whose District 1 includes the northern part of the Westside, did not speak for or against the 100-foot camping setback, asking only how much of the city's waterways are on public property.
           Mulledy replied that citywide most of them are private, but “the downtown has significant reaches that are public.”
           The ordinance idea originated from discussions between the mayor and council, according to City Attorney Wynetta Massey. “This ordinance specifically addresses water quality, which we don't have in code currently,” she told council.
           Another point that came up at the work session, which a consensus of council appeared to support, was involving El Paso County in the issue, as it takes in many miles of the Monument and Fountain creeks and has related expertise through two of its departments (Human Services and Health).

    Westside Pioneer article
    (Community: Ongoing Issues)

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