Platte to Park Hill Stormwater Project

“How you the city can tell me that the project that is placed north and west of where the flooding occurs is going to protect people is beyond me.”

Denver City Council is set to vote on a proposed increase to the storm water fee at its meeting on Monday June 13th. The fee would finance some major storm water improvements in the city including the Platte to Park Hill project which includes a 1 1/2 mile above ground channel that would carry water to the Platte, along 39th Street .

39th St and Gilpin
39th street is the site of a new mile and a half storm water ditch and Greenway

A detention area will be developed in City Park, to allow the city to contain the water and slowly release it into the existing pipe system with a view to reducing flooding.

But many residents in impacted neighborhoods are objecting. Kimberly Morse is a resident of the Cole Neighborhood. She first became aware of the plans for the storm water ditch at a community meeting last November.

“At that meeting I found out that a large number of my neighbors in Cole were going to lose their homes and that’s what started my journey, because people around here have lived here for decades.”

Morse began knocking on her neighbors doors to let them know about the proposals including the door of her neighbor Heidi Sue Harris who has lived on Gilpin near the intersection of 39th since 2011.

“It was a shock to me that no one had told any of us that they were trying to demolish our entire neighborhood.”

Ultimately the proposal that would have led to the demolition of homes was scrapped in favor of the 39th street storm water ditch: A mile and a half greenway with an open storm water ditch running along 39th street and a catchment area at City Park golf course.

Nancy Kuhn with the Department of Public Works of City and County of Denver says the city has been looking at the problem of flooding in this area for a while. She says this is the largest basin area in the metro area, about 9 ½ square miles without a natural waterway to convey water to the South Platte River…leading often to flooding.

“At one point in our history there was a natural gulch in this part of town but it was built over as the city developed in the 1800s and consequently without a natural waterway to convey water, storm water overwhelms the existing drainage systems that are inadequate in this area and the water runs through the streets and into people’s homes.”

But Kimberly Morse says their neighborhood around Gilpin and 39th does not experience flooding yet will bear the brunt of the impact of construction of the storm drainage ditch.

She says this entire project is to benefit the new construction in the neighboring RiNo District and to benefit the I-70 expansion and the work being done to upgrade the National Western Stock Show.

“The water flows from the South East from Fairmont Cemetery, north and west to Globeville and ultimately to the Platte. How you the city can tell me that the project that is placed north and west of where the flooding occurs is going to protect people is beyond me. This city has worked really hard to sell a project to people who are not going to benefit from it. The intended beneficiaries are RTD, CDOT and the development going on in RiNo and the surrounding areas.”

This area has a history of industrial activity and as a result was declared as a super fund site due to contamination in the ground. Those contaminants and what will happen to them in the construction of the ditch is a concern to Heidi Harris.

“They’re going to end up digging up some of the soil here and it’s full of lead and arsenic and they’re going to kick up particulates in the air.”

Harris says the city is not doing an environmental impact study because the project is part of an inter-governmental agreement involving Denver Public Works, Denver Parks and Recreation NDCC…North Denver Corner Stone Collaborative, the Colorado Department of Transportation. Nancy Kuhn says the city will closely monitor contaminants during the construction process.

Matt Dugan who lives next door to Heidi Harris says he is also concerned about the possible release of contaminants due to construction, but overall he says he is supportive of the project. “The way that I view this project is, we need storm water protection for part of this neighborhood and a lot of the opposition says this isn’t going to do anything for our neighborhood and that is not true.” Dugan says the other benefit he sees the project providing is a greenway along 39th street. He also says it will stop development that is already slated to occur in the community. “The alternative to that open space is really massive development.”

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There will be a rally on Monday June 13th at Civic Center starting at 4pm ending at 6pm, is right before city council votes on the storm water fees.

There are many other groups that are upset about the storm water mitigation plans, linking it directly to the proposed expansion of I 70. Those groups include Ditch the Ditch.

Update 2: June 14th:

In the early hours of Tuesday June 14th, Denver City Council approved the storm water fee increase. On average, a homeowner will see increases in fees totaling $116 over the next five years. The Platte to Park Hill project could cost up to $298 million.

Update 1: June 13th:

Former Colorado Attorney General, J.D. MacFarlane, represented by attorney Aaron Goldhamer, has filed suit in Denver District Court seeking declaratory judgment and injunctive relief concerning the City of Denver’s planned installation of a large scale storm water detention facility in City Park Golf Course, which is designated parkland.

The suit alleges that the planned project—which will be funded by a large stormwater fee hike being considered by Denver City Council tonight—is designed to protect and shift the burden of paying for stormwater protection for I-70 and other public and private development from the builders onto Denver’s ratepayers.  Mr. MacFarlane also alleges that the project’s use of designated parkland is not for park purposes and therefore contravenes the Denver City Charter, the Denver Zoning Code, and common law governing the municipal use of parkland.

“The I-70 expansion is troubling in and of itself, because expanding a highway in heavily Hispanic and working class north Denver neighborhoods worsens environmental and social injustices.  The City’s planned misuse of designated parkland—which has met significant public resistance—at tremendous cost to Denver stormwater ratepayers to benefit the I-70 project and other construction adds further insult to injury,” Goldhamer said.

Mr. MacFarlane’s Complaint alleges that the City’s own planning documents demonstrate that the City had not, in the past, planned projects for 100-year storm event protection—like the one contemplated for City Park Golf Course.  This 100-year storm event protection is required for interstate highway projects.  The Complaint alleges that this concentration of resources—which will only protect areas north of 39th Avenue from 100-year storms and leave much of north Denver still vulnerable to flooding even in lesser events—will detract from Denver’s ability to address needed stormwater management projects throughout the rest of the City.

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