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Enough studies; residents want action

The Falcon Basin Drainage Study is another study ordered by El Paso County to research flooding and drainage issues in Falcon. Previous studies have shown ongoing drainage and flooding problems in the Pinto Pony Road area. The study is designed to set priorities for mitigating the impacts of a repeat of the June 1965 flood. Pinto Pony residents say you don’t need to wait for a 100-year flood to see massive damage in Falcon ñ for them, it happens almost every year.Flooding in Manitou Springs last year reminded long-time residents of the issues that faced most of Colorado in 1965. According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, 14 inches of rain fell on Falcon in a 24-hour period on June 17 of that year. The rain fell on already saturated ground after a series of storms dumped massive quantities of rain on much of the Front Range on the days before. The storm left towns in eastern El Paso County isolated by floodwaters. Twenty-one people drowned across the region.Pinto Pony Road resident Gary Wright said he and his neighbors have been dealing with significant flooding after far less rainfall than the 1965 event. According to documents from a lawsuit between residents and Woodmen Hills, which Wright provided, a half-inch rainfall results in 1.5 million gallons of water flowing under U.S. 24 and overtopping Pinto Pony Road.ìIt started in ’99,î Wright said. ìI’ve got two containers full of maps, pictures, lies and miscellaneous back-and-forths. It’s always ‘oh it’s not our fault.’ It’s just been an ongoing thing that’s been back-doored for nearly 15 years.îìThis has been an issue for years,î said Amy Lathen, El Paso County Board of County Commissioners. ìWe have been working this from a couple perspectives. This is one of the most confounding legal issues we’ll ever see.îThe legal issues are based on the entity responsible for stormwater that is flowing from the Woodmen Hills development onto the properties. A poorly designed detention pond and a lack of a plan to address how stormwater drainage would affect the areas south of U.S. 24 are at fault, Wright said. ìWhen they first started scraping ground for those homes, we were pretty concerned on this side of the highway,î he said. ìWe voiced our opinion. There were county people there, and we were bluntly told that this was going to happen whether you folks were on board with it or not. And it has gone that way ever since.îWright said residents of the area are skeptical of the new study conducted by Matrix Design Group of Colorado Springs in August 2013 and an ongoing update focusing on the Pinto Pony Road area. ìThis is the third study,î Wright said. ìEvery time someone starts crying, we have another study, which involves more money, more man hours, more inconvenience ñ and nothing happens.îLathen said the homeowners’ frustrations are understandable, but some of the actions taken are counterproductive. ìWe’ve asked for permission to do work on silt ponds and other work we could do to reduce flow,î Lathen said. ìIn most cases, the residents have said no when we asked to go on their properties. There has been a couple times where constituents have cut across the county road with trenches to divert water. That’s not something they can do. It has caused issues, like county vehicles and pedestrians falling into shoulder-deep water.î Lathen said she was one of the pedestrians who fell into the ditch when she visited the area with county employees to investigate flooding after a rain.Wright said he has needed to rest a backhoe bucket on his propane tank to keep it from floating away. Wright has several videos he took of flood events in the last two years. One video showed at least 2 feet of rapidly flowing water overtopping Pinto Pony Road and flowing through his property. The Wrights have needed to replace their driveway multiple times, he said.ìEven though this is a man-made problem, the government changed our flood plain designation so I can’t even get flood insurance now,î Wright said. A 20-foot deep trench has been scoured through the property adjoining U.S. 24, cutting that lot essentially in half, he said. The trench continuously extends at various depths to Falcon Highway.The county has investigated purchasing some of the affected properties or establishing easements. ìWe can’t just go in and fill it in because it will wash out again,î Lathen said. ìWe’ve asked Woodmen Hills to look at extending utilities to the properties to make them more marketable, and there has been some settlements between a few of the landowners and Woodmen Hills.îThe Pinto Pony area is just a small part of the larger Falcon drainage basin that faces issues because of inadequate, misplaced or poorly built detention ponds and culverts, according to the study. At least $122 million would be required to bring the entire basin up to standard to withstand a 1965 level flood event.ìSome of the numbers are just enormous,î Lathen said. ìBut they’re looking at the entire area and the numerous drainages that combine in the region.î County tax dollars, metro district fees and federal money would be used to pay for the expenses. Dollars that aren’t there, Wright said. ìThey could figure out how to tax every rooftop in Woodmen Hills that this water is coming from, but it still won’t keep the water from coming,î he said.Until legal issues among the county, homeowners and Woodmen Hills Metropolitan District can be sorted out with the lawyers, stopgap measures by the county and aggressive measures by residents will continue. ìWe realize this is a huge issue,î Lathen said. ìIt’s developed over years, but we’re not giving up. Certainly, the county has an interest to protect public property. The state has a stake as well because of the highway being undercut. And there is a moral obligation to help our residents.î

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