COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The former site of a Colorado Springs coal gasification plant may be developed for the City for Champions project; and that has residents worried about harmful contaminants in the soil.
The plant was torn down in the 1930s. Most recently, a Colorado Springs Utilities administration building sat on the city-owned property at 25 Cimino Drive -- across the street from America the Beautiful Park.
The Smokebrush Foundation, a community arts organization, used to operate in the Trestle Building next door to the site. Don Goede, the executive director, told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that they were warned not to disturb the soil when they asked the city if they could remove a fence. That's why he and Smokebrush Founder Kat Tudor were shocked to see contractors demolish the utilities administration building last March without any precautions.
"When they started tearing down the building right next door to us, we started getting bombarded with what we knew were chemicals," Goede said.
Tudor said she started experiencing trouble breathing and sent a concerned letter to city leaders. She asked if she could test the soil to see what chemicals were in it. According to Tudor, the city told her she could only do so if she signed a non-disclosure agreement saying she would not reveal the results of the test.
Reluctantly, Tudor said she agreed to the non-disclosure at the time. Now, the results are public record.
"Contaminants," Tudor said. "Many, many dangerous contaminants. By-products of coal gasification, coal tars, hundreds of times over safe limits."
According to Colorado Department of Health reports, many of the chemicals are known or suspected cancer-causing carcinogens.
Goede and Tudor are suing the city over its handling of the utilities property. A judge ruling in December rejects the city's attempt to dismiss the suit.
Now, the two are concerned about the City for Champions project. The same people who they say mishandled the property may be developing plans for a downtown sports and events center and a downtown Olympic museum.
"There's lots and lots of water underneath us and these plumes of chemicals can contaminate the water and there's no telling where it can go," Goede said.
The contaminated area is in the city's Urban Renewal Area, though the city says no specific construction sites have been designated for the City for Champions projects.
"If there is a concern at any of the future City for Champions locations, the city would work diligently with the appropriate environmental agencies to ensure any contamination issues are addressed before proceeding with any land development," a city spokesperson told KRDO NewsChannel 13 via email.
Still, Goede and Tudor say they're concerned that the city has not been more forthcoming with plans and price tags to clean up the soil.
"They might be caught up in the future of what they want to do, but I think they need to go back and they really need to look at this site and they need to figure out the right way to get it cleaned up," Goede said. "I think it's a small price to pay for public safety."
In a City for Champions meeting Tuesday evening, concerned citizens, including Tudor, asked city leaders about the contamination.
Mayor Bach said he could not give specifics due to the pending litigation with the Smokebrush Foundation, but blamed the mishandling on the contractor. He directed one concerned resident to the public works department, saying he will discuss the issue with them.
The $250 million project includes a downtown Olympic museum, a downtown sports and events center, a sports medicine and performance center at UCCS and a renovated Air Force Academy visitors center. The state's Economic Development Commission approved $120.5 million in state incentives over the next 30 years for the project. Project supporters must come up with the rest.