by Rick Langenberg:
With the ringing in of a new year, it’s time to reflect on the highs and lows of 2013. Here are some of the main news stories and trends that dominated the pages of TMJ during the last year.
Floods and Disasters
While the summer of 2012 became the year of the fires, 2013 was known as the season of floods and disasters.
After a dry spell last spring, the Ute Pass got bombarded by record-breaking floods in the Waldo Canyon burn scar. Hwy. 24 was invaded by waves of flood waters that killed a popular local resident and engulfed many cars. Manitou Springs suffered considerable damage, with many businesses and homes getting destroyed. Despite the assurance of millions in federal relief, time was not on the side of local emergency service workers and highway department officials who couldn’t combat the massive waters gushing down Waldo Canyon due to the lack of vegetation, trees and soil from the scorched landscape overlooking the highway. Eventually, state authorities were forced to monitor Hwy. 24 on a 24/7 basis, and opted to shut the road down because of a mere flood alert, or the possibility of a big rain storm. This scenario led to daily closures of the main thoroughfare to and from Teller County and the lower Ute Pass. These closures seriously impacted the Cripple Creek casino industry and the region’s tourism prospects during 2013.
Later in the summer, Green Mountain Falls and Woodland Park incurred serious floods, following record-breaking rain storms. As a result, three bridges in GMF were damaged and the town, which incurred more than $250,000 in the destruction of public infrastructure, almost became an island. Woodland Park, meanwhile, had its own city hall flooded and experienced much damage in other parts of the city. Luckily, the Pikes Peak region escaped the wrath of the 1,000-year floods that hit the northern parts of Colorado.
But once again, the floods and the earlier fires of the summer of 2012, served as a wake-up call, and sparked talk of a more defined emergency plan for the area that involved all local municipalities and governmental entities and fire/water districts.
Guns and Pot
Throughout much of 2013, two key state issues, gun control and recreational marijuana, captured much attention and dominated the political agenda of local leaders.
Following the devastating shootings at an Aurora movie theater and inside a Connecticut elementary school, Colorado legislators led the way in enacting a series of unprecedented gun control measures. Some of these dealt with having uniform background checks for all gun purchases, banning guns to anyone involved in domestic violence and other offenses, and limiting the amount of bullets that could be fired from gun ammunition magazines.
These laws, which were passed by the state legislature, created an outrage in Teller and El Paso counties, and in many parts of Colorado, with concerns about violating constitutional rights. These rules pitted the rural sections of the state, including Teller, against more urban areas like Denver and prompted the recall of several Democratic state lawmakers. Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger held a series of town hall meetings, and joined a group of 55 sheriffs in Colorado in filing a lawsuit against two of the enacted gun control laws. He made it clear that the laws weren’t enforceable.
This is one issue that strongly united the county. It also led to a big increase in the sale of guns and related ammunition.
Besides guns, the topic of allowing recreational marijuana shops to open inside local communitie, generated much controversy and debate. This furor was a byproduct of Amendment 64, endorsed by a large majority of Colorado voters, which legalized the use and growth of recreational marijuana on a limited basis by adults. Teller County, and all local municipalities in the area, including Woodland Park, Cripple Creek, Victor and Green Mountain Falls, endorsed laws to ban recreational marijuana businesses and cultivation centers in their communities.
But the issue of legalizing recreational pot outlets, turned into a big debate throughout the Pikes Peak region. Some of the government-approved pot bans were passed only by a single tally, such as in Woodland Park, Teller County and Colorado Springs. The bans triggered intense debate from people on both sides of the marijuana spectrum.
The state is now in the process of authorizing recreational marijuana shops, which are legal in 19 municipalities and seven counties. In the Pikes Peak region, the only town still considering legalizing recreational marijuana outlets is Manitou Springs. A moratorium against recreational pot outlets in Manitou will end on Jan 31, 2014. The publicity over this issue has put Colorado on the national map.
Days Of Our Lives
The small town of Green Mountain Falls, usually known as a tranquil place, turned into a political warfare zone and soap opera haven throughout much of 2013. Town meetings often attracted standing-room-only crowds and sometimes required the head marshal to intervene, in an effort to cool tempers
The town’s elected trustees frequently clashed on many issues, including law enforcement and operating a marshal’s office, implementing a new town manager style of government, using social media and live streaming, videotaping local meetings, handling emergencies and much more. Several meetings resulted in walk-outs by a few trustees and the threat of a recall, targeted against five elected leaders, persisted.
Following a number of fights, the majority leaders agreed to part ways with their head marshal, Tim Bradley, and opted to hire a new town manager, current Public Works Director Rob McArthur. But the town faces a pivotal election in the spring of 2014, when most elected seats are up for grabs. On the upside, the trustees were in total agreement on plans for constructing a new $800,000 town hall facility, at no extra costs to the taxpayers.
Economic Development bonanza
Following a lingering recession, the city of Woodland Park experienced a slight rebound in 2013, as its Woodland Station project moved forward with actual construction activity, something that hasn’t occurred at the former Saddle Club site in nearly 10 years. This work occurred following a bid for a larger Woodland Hardware store and an emerging European-style beer garden and village. Plus, plans were unveiled for the remainder of the Woodland Station project, such as a future multi-use development and a permanent home for the Farmer’s Market, that appeared much more grounded in reality than previous plans. In addition, the construction of the first stage of the Andrew Womacks Ministries development, capped by the Charis Bible College, neared the completion stage. This venture has become one of the most extensive developments in the city, with the total price tag approaching the $100 million mark. Opinions are still mixed on the pros and cons of this development.
In addition, several key housing developments, including the nearly 200-unit Trail Ridge project, got started. Officials hope these will help fill the large gap in more affordable multi-family housing. Sales tax revenue also climbed in Woodland Park, with some civic leaders wanting to revisit the idea of funding an aquatic center. And in Cripple Creek, plans progressed for a $4 million facelift of Bennett Avenue, a major project aimed at making the downtown more pedestrian-friendly. And from a cultural standpoint, the WP downtown shops’ regular art and wine walks, continued to gain much popularity, Down the Pass, the Cloud City, the anchor project of the Green Box Arts Festival in Green Mountain Falls, created quite a buzz with an exhibit formerly displayed on top of the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York City.
All quiet on the political front
Despite the furor in Green Mountain Falls and concerns over recreational pot and gun control, 2013 was mostly quiet politically. Both the cities of Cripple Creek and Victor cancelled their municipal elections due to a lack of candidates. A previous controversy over the actions of former clerk and recorder JJ Jamison ended uneventfully, with the clerk stepping down in the beginning of 2013. She was replaced by Krystal Brown, the former deputy clerk. Compared to her predecessor, Brown adopted a much more low-key management style.