Ralph Routon
Ralph Routon

As peace missions go, this one definitely didn’t generate big local headlines. In fact, these will be the first words in print for Colorado Springs readers about the significant diplomatic accomplishment that took place last week.

Certainly, nothing about it was a state secret. But everyone in the Pikes Peak region should know more about what happened Monday, July 6.

That day, Mayor John Suthers and City Council President Merv Bennett took a short road trip — to Pueblo, where they met with its City Council during a work session. Obviously, it was considerably more than just a social visit.

Instead, Suthers and Bennett went to the Steel City for a specific reason, and it wasn’t about asking for favors. Their intent was to mend fences and repair the long-frayed relationship between Colorado Springs and Pueblo, which deteriorated in the past five years.

In simple terms, Pueblo has long felt violated by Colorado Springs, mainly because of water.

Those feelings have been like a scab that never heals. Instead, it breaks open again every time Fountain Creek floods our southern neighbor, every time our city has tried to pretend it’s still as committed to spending money on stormwater fixes when much of it is coming from grants, and every time the Pueblo Chieftain has reported about Springs Utilities dealing with contentious property owners along the Southern Delivery System pipeline route.

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Colorado Springs’ public vote in late 2009 to shut down our Stormwater Enterprise caused even deeper wounds, and in his four years as mayor, Steve Bach never tried reaching out to Pueblo in a meaningful, productive way.

Suthers came into office with a different strategy. Just a month after being sworn in, Suthers took Bennett to face the problem head on, not just in an open meeting with Pueblo’s Council but also in private individual sessions with Pueblo County’s three commissioners.

They didn’t mince words, either. Here are some excerpts from the Pueblo City Council gathering, as reported by the Chieftain in a front-page story:

Suthers: “At one time Colorado Springs was committed to funding stormwater, and then it went away. That was flat unfair to Pueblo … This is an issue that needs to be dealt with, that needs to be put behind us.”

Bennett: “We are going to fund our stormwater requirements. We will resolve this. We owe it to all the people in the Arkansas Valley.”

The two elected leaders delivered another message, which they felt was essential after Springs voters shot down another stormwater proposal last November. Suthers said he would be asking voters for money to pave and repair streets, “because that’s easier to sell than stormwater,” but he and Bennett promised that the upcoming city budgets now will include $19 million a year of real money, not grants, for stormwater.

The peacemaking mission, from early indications, was a notable success. Even the Chieftain, known for its longstanding editorial resentment toward Colorado Springs, responded by praising Suthers for “already trying hard to be a good neighbor,” followed by a stunning sentence:

“It was likely the most productive and promising meeting among the leaders of our two cities in years.”

That doesn’t mean Suthers and Bennett were able to buy much time, and they understandably didn’t convince every skeptic that the relationship will be much different in the future.

“It was likely the most productive and promising meeting among the leaders of our two cities in years.”

But that same Chieftain editorial said, “We trust Suthers,” adding that they were pleased to hear the mayor and Bennett saying they wanted Pueblo to join Colorado Springs at the table going forward to plan how money is spent.

Already, both the Pueblo newspaper and other leaders from that area are talking about focusing on a specific long-term solution, which has come up before but never gained traction. That would be a combined effort of the two cities and the Fountain Creek Watershed District, surely including federal money, to build a dam on the creek somewhere between Colorado Springs and Pueblo. It would control the water flow and quality, prevent a major flood and probably create a popular recreational alternative for the entire region.

All of that, just from one proactive decision by Mayor Suthers to visit Pueblo, admit the past errors and lapses in making good on previous commitments, acknowledge that we have to handle the situation much better and offer to work together on future projects.

That all sounds so reasonable, just trying to be friends, not being snobbish or patronizing. But rest assured the folks in Pueblo will not be patient or naîve, as one of its councilors made clear as reported by the Chieftain.

Bob Schilling described the visit from Suthers and Bennett as a “breath of fresh air,” but added, “I hope you’re real serious and have a way to follow through.”

It’s a fair expectation. Now we’ll see how Colorado Springs can build on that peace mission.

1 COMMENT

  1. Instant solution to the storm water runoff issue: 1. Allow and encourage Colorado Springs and El Paso County residents to collect and use rainwater. 2. Colorado Springs needs to stop paving every natural piece of ground in the city. Permeable rock and concrete systems need to be installed in all future city street projects and repairs. This will allow storm water to seep into the ground and not race to Pueblo. 3. Do not allow any building or structure to be built without designed and proper drainage.

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