Painting the town red and green
Jeff Canada paints a window at Glassblowers of Manitou, 4 Cañon Ave., on Dec. 1. Results of Manitou Springs’ inaugural window-decorating contest will be announced next week.
Photo by Rhonda Van Pelt
Manitou Springs City Council on Tuesday postponed consideration of a contract with Amec Foster Wheeler for demolition of the Brook Street bridge until after the city receives a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
That might be good news to opponents of the proposed demolition, but several Manitou citizens are seeking to halt the demolition by appealing directly to the Corps.
The Corps has granted consulting party status to local residents Aimee Cox and John Graham, and Bill Koerner said he’s in the process of applying for the status.
Chris Parrish, regulatory project manager and cultural resource specialist with the Albuquerque district of the Army Corps of Engineers, said Wednesday that, under the National Historic Preservation Act, “interested parties that have a legal or economic link to the undertaking or concern for historic properties can be consulting parties.”
The Corps allows consulting party status but usually does not open the comment process to the public for small projects like the Brook Street bridge, Parrish said.
In this case, the Corps decided to issue a public notice that it is seeking further comments on the bridge project after learning, partly through Cox and Graham’s applications, that the project is “controversial in the local community.” Issued on Monday, that notice is published on page 18.
Parrish said all relevant comments received by Jan. 4, the end of the comment period, would receive “due consideration.”
Comments about the legal or economic impacts of the proposed demolition, as well as possible adverse impacts on historic preservation, would be considered relevant to the project, he said.
“We do get comments that are opinions, for example, about local government or about larger issues, but that’s not pertinent to the project and outside the purview of the Corps,” Parrish said.
Comments will be evaluated “on substance and individually,” he said. “If we get a comment from a structural engineer, that goes into the consideration, as opposed to somebody who has a background in art.”
In addition, “if we get lot of comments showing the same concern, we would look at that,” Parrish said. “‘We don’t think enough alternatives were considered’ is a very common comment” received on public projects, he said.
Parrish said the Corps would review and evaluate the comments within a month of the closing date.
Regarding when the permit might be issued, “we’re sensitive to try and get the project done before more damage is done,” Parrish said.
Graham, Cox and Koerner spoke with the Bulletin on Tuesday and Wednesday about their consultancy status.
Graham, former publisher of the Pikes Peak Journal, said he had received a package of materials from the Corps, including a draft of a historic preservation memo; a May 6 letter from Amec Foster Wheeler outlining three options for the bridge, including two repair options; and a structural conditions report.
“The focus of this is that we are contesting the mitigation memo,” Graham said.
The memo is under consideration by the state historic preservation officer, who must approve and send it to the Corps before the permit is issued.
The city has proposed several mitigation measures, including salvaging as much as possible of the bridge’s stone for possible reuse when or if a new bridge is constructed; a design for a replacement bridge that retains important features of the bridge, such as the arch over the creek; approval of a new design by the Historic Preservation Commission; placement of an interpretive plaque providing historical information about the bridge; and creation of a page on the city’s website that features information about and photos of the bridge and the city’s other historic bridges.
City Council voted 6-1 on July 5 to move forward with a demolition plan for the bridge based on an engineering determination that the bridge was in imminent danger of failure. The Historic Preservation Commission, which usually reviews demolition requests for historic structures, had scheduled a hearing on demolition of the bridge for July 6.
“Although by law they are allowed to condemn a historic structure if there is an emergency, the city didn’t go the regular route, and they better show a good reason why,” Graham said.
Regarding economic impacts, Graham and Koerner said they thought the city had not adequately considered the economic impact of demolishing the bridge.
Graham referred to a presentation by local architect Steve Lowe, who presented options for repairs to the bridge during a discussion at the Aug. 16 Council meeting.
“What I found outrageous is that the city has not really given Steve more than his three minutes, when he probably had some useful insights,” Graham said.
Koerner, a former Manitou mayor, said he intends to apply for consulting party status because “I think steps can be taken to remediate and reduce the hazard and that those can be done not only to preserve the historic character of the bridge but also done in a manner to address floodwater concerns. Those remediation efforts, from what I’ve seen, would be a whole lot cheaper than it is to demolish it and rebuild. Then the question is, what are you going to put back?”
Hazard Mitigation and Resiliency Manager Sara Hartley told Council on Tuesday that the cost of rebuilding the bridge is estimated at $420,000. With demolition costs exceeding $94,000 and expenses already incurred, the project’s current estimated total is $547,000, Hartley said.
“I don’t like the precedent the city seems to be taking with regard to replacing historic bridges,” Koerner said. “People come to town because of our neat, old buildings. Any time you challenge that, I get concerned, because it seems then to be a pattern of destroying our economic well-being.”
Cox, a former city councilor, said she applied for consulting status “so we will have the opportunity to have our opinions considered. It could have been avoided if we had gone through the Historic Preservation Commission.”
Cox said she has found it “very difficult to get access to information.” Although all documents regarding the Brook Street bridge have been posted on the city website, “we shouldn’t have to go through piles of documents to get information,” she said. “I don’t think this is intentional; it’s just the process, but I think something should be done about it.”
Asked what he would like to see as a result of public comments, Koerner said, “I’d like to see the federal agency say, ‘we see there are other solutions that do not destroy the bridge; let’s fully understand the hydrology and need to destroy the bridge, and find the most cost-effective solution to fix what’s there, solve the problem and save some money.’”
Council postpones contract
At Tuesday’s meeting, Council voted 4-3 to postpone consideration of the $94,000 contract with Amec Foster Wheeler as the prime contractor for demolition of the bridge. Councilors Bob Todd, Becky Elder, Jay Rohrer and Coreen Toll supported the postponement, while Mayor Nicole Nicoletta, Mayor Pro Tem Gary Smith and Councilor Randy Hodges opposed it.
“I think it’s premature to sign the contract,” Todd said. He recommended referring the demolition to the Historic Preservation Commission, which was scheduled to discuss the matter at its meeting Wednesday.
Toll said she had “a crisis of conscience” while preparing for a conversation with the state Department of Health and Environment on monitoring sulfur dioxide emissions from the Martin Drake Power Plant.
“Lots of citizens in our regions are experiencing loss of faith in Colorado Springs Utilities and wanting them to disclose the data,” Toll said. “This is exactly what citizens have been saying to us — that there is loss of faith in us. … I don’t see why we have to sign this contract at this time.”
Hodges said elected officials have “a responsibility to all the residents who live up above that bridge. … When that bridge collapses — and all our expert consultants are saying it’s imminent, it’s going to wash out the road and go into the neighborhood. We cannot let that happen. We must move forward with this contract tonight.”
Asked if there was a time limit on the contract, Hartley said another contract with TSJ Trucking, which would perform the work as construction subcontractor, was good until the end of the year.
Council discussed modifications to the Amec contract, including a longer warranty period and a higher performance bond in case of unforeseen damages.
City Attorney Jeff Parker said the city could request those modifications but noted that they might change the price.
Nicoletta said that tabling the contract “is not the same as reopening” the entire issue.