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Lawsuit against CSU in judge's hands as Wilson Water Tank set to go into service

Posted at 5:54 PM, Jun 13, 2024

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A controversial water tank built too tall by Colorado Springs Utilities is still on the minds of the Mountain Shadows neighborhoods and city attorneys.

That's because those neighbors banded together and took action to right what they see as a wrong, filing suit against the city and Colorado Springs Utilities over councilmembers' decision to approve the project. Now the case is in a judge's hands.

News 5 Investigates has been following this story for the better part of a year and called attention to the conflict of interest council members faced in making this decision. The council members who voted for the project to move forward also serve as Utilities board members.

Seven months ago, council members heard testimony on the Wilson Water Tank and the multiple errors that led to it being built at least 15 feet
higher than its permit allowed. Now, a judge has the complaints filed by both neighbors and attorneys representing the city and CSU to rule whether the council's decision should stand.

What is not in dispute is that the water tank is needed to replace its 45-foot tall 1960s-era predecessor to adequately serve surrounding communities' water needs.

But, as we previously reported, because of the error in the permitting process by CSU-contracted engineers and City Planning department, the new domed tank was built 60 feet high. Despite months of meetings, a stop work order and a decision by the Colorado Springs Planning Commission to hault the project, in November, city council members approved an appeal by Colorado Springs Utilities, allowing CSU to continue construction.

Now painted green, Colorado Springs Utilities tells News 5 Investigates, it plans to begin slowly filling the tank on June 24 and testing it for leaks with a plan to place it into service by June 30.

Lawrence Starr is one of two plaintiffs appealing the city council's action. His suit was combined with a similar suit filed by the owners of the Flying W Ranch against the city and CSU. The tank suits on Utilities' land between their two properties.

"It got to be frustrating that as a citizen, I have to now pay and more, we're almost $30,000 into this with legal fees, to have somebody hear the injustice of what happened with our city council. And it's that they should have never heard this case. So that's why we decided to go forward," Starr told News 5.

After neighbors filed a complaint alleging the council's 'non-waivable and blatant conflict of interest' in its approval of Utilties' request
for a major modification to reflect the tank's actual height, the city filed its response in May.

It says in part, “Because the record demonstrates neither actual bias nor a risk of actual bias to a degree violative of Plaintiffs’ due process rights and City Council’s dual roles do not create a conflict of interest under governing law, City Council’s decision should be affirmed.”

City attorneys also argue in the filing that the city council is the only body authorized to make final planning decisions for the city, as a rule of necessity.

Attorneys for the Flying W and Starr rebuffed that argument in their final response filed this week. It says in part, "A non-conflicted impartial tribunal also exists to hear an appeal by CSU: the District Court.”

Now that a judge is reviewing the case. If the judge decides in favor of Starr and the Flying W, it would reverse the council's decision and the Planning Commission's rejection of Utilities' water tank project would stand.

It's unclear what then would happen to the tank.

"They've got this deal set up where they can do what they want. And they can have it fixed. It was most obvious that they should have had to do something to abate their problem. But City Council gave them a pass," Starr said.

Months after the council's decision lit a fire inside Starr to fight for CSU to be held accountable, the tank still looms large behind his home; a constant reminder of what he considers an injustice.

CSU declined to comment for this story.

Starr and the Flying W note in their filings that they want the judge to considering this case to void the council's decision and for their attorney fees to be covered. The judge has three months to return a ruling.
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