Council stays on track with NeuStream at Drake

Following a long, contentious and apparently unadvertised public hearing, the Colorado Springs City Council, acting as the Utilities Board, declined Wednesday to revisit its July 18 decision to finish installation of the $130 million NeuStream pollution control system on the downtown Martin Drake Power Plant and defer any study of the plant’s future until 2013.

News that an update on Drake would be presented had circulated among interested members of the public, although it was nowhere mentioned in the 129-page agenda.

CSU has already spent or committed $78 million on the NeuStream contract, developed by Dave Neumann, and expects to spend a total of approximately $130 million before the highly touted pollution control system is operational in 2014.

Before the vote, several community leaders registered their dismay with the board’s action last month, which they believe guarantees that Drake will remain in service for decades to come.

Former Vice Mayor Richard Skorman was scarcely his usual mild-mannered self as blasted the board.

“We appreciated your willingness to look into Drake,” he said, “but once you put $130 million into the plant, closure is off the table. I’ve talked to a lot of the stakeholders (about plans to study closure options) and they say don’t waste our time. There’s nothing to talk about. You don’t know what the long-term impacts, environmental and economic of keeping Drake will be. I think this is the worst decision you’ve made as a group.”

Bryce Carter, representing the Sierra Club, echoed Skorman.

“It’s an irresponsible decision,” he said.

And even CSU’s landlord, developer Chris Jenkins, questioned the board’s wisdom.

“Full investment in Neumann forecloses any early retirement of the plant,” he said.

Then board members had their say.

Bernie Herpin was baffled by assertions made by activist Eric Verlo that the plant’s emissions are responsible for a higher incidence of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

“My wife’s family brought her here in 1952 from Minnesota because she had asthma,” he said. “The doctors said she should move to a drier climate. Her asthma’s gone now, and we’ve raised our children here, and none of them have asthma, or any other health problems.”

Tim Leigh, who in an email earlier in the day had called for the resignation of the entire board and its replacement by an interim board of “qualified professionals,” tried vainly to persuade his colleagues to revisit the issue.

He was joined by Angela Dougan, Val Snider, and Brandy Williams, but he needed five votes to prevail. Scott Hente, Bernie Herpin, Merv Bennett and a silent Luisa Czeladtko were satisfied with the status quo.

The issue was decided when a clearly torn Jan Martin refused to join the dissenters.

“I see absolutely two parallel tracks here,” Martin said. “We can go ahead (with Neumann) and begin to study how we can close Drake in 15-20 years. This isn’t something we can do in a year or two – but if previous boards had started the process 10 or 15 years ago, we might be in a different place today.”

Angela Dougan summed up the dissenters’ position: “We want a full, complete, and open process, and that’s not what we have.”