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Springs Utilities admits it ‘failed to communicate’ size of water tower in Mountain Shadows area

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Colorado Springs Utilities is replacing an old water tank in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood. According to approved city plans, it’s supposed to be 40 feet — instead, it’s 20 feet higher.

Back in June 2022, the city approved the development of a new Springs Utilities water tank near Wilson Road in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood. Springs Utilities said the old tank was built in the 1960s and was corroding.

The plans said the new tank would be 40 feet high — practically the same height as the old tank right next to it.

“The new water tank being constructed on Springs Utilities property adjacent to the Mountain Shadows community is an essential component of our water system in that area, providing critical fire suppression support in addition to reliable water service,” Colorado Springs Utilities said in a statement. “The new concrete tank’s best-practice design features a domed top that - among other benefits - supports better water quality and lower overall maintenance throughout its lifetime.”

Many of the residents knew this was an option, as Springs Utilities owns the property. However, they weren’t prepared for what they say were the “lies and deceit” that surrounded the project.

“I can't really come to any other understanding that either there was incompetence or deception or both at various levels,” said Larry Starr, a resident in the neighborhood.

In fact, the new water tank is practically in Starr’s backyard. He said about a year after the development plan was approved by the city, he noticed scaffolding higher than what was approved.

“I was waiting to see when the top row would go on,” he said. “Unfortunately, it just kept going up and up and up.”

Starr said he called Springs Utilities and the company admitted the tank was now going to be 60 feet. Residents in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood tell 13 Investigates they were never told about the height change.

“It's unethical for sure,” said Leigh Ann Wolfe, the owner of the Flying W Ranch. “It's illegal. If you and I did that, we would by law have to take that down.”

The City of Colorado Springs claims it wasn’t aware of the height change either.

“The Planning Department does the final compliance check once constructed and a certificate of occupancy is requested. Before that final check, we learned of the height discrepancy of the Wilson Tank,” the city said in a statement. “We informed Colorado Springs Utilities that a major modification to their development plan was required. That application is still under review.  Public comment has been extended to August 28.”

Colorado Springs Utilities submitted the amended plan in July, but by that time the new water tank was already up.

“They were purposely and deliberately deceiving us,” Wolfe said. “They knew all along that they would not be conforming to their building permit.”

In a statement to 13 Investigates, Springs Utilities said, “The design of the new tank resulted in a taller overall finished structure that maintains an elevation to support necessary water pressure. Unfortunately, we failed to communicate the accurate height to the neighborhood in a timely manner.”

“While we believe the new tank design is the most reliable and cost-effective solution for serving customers in the area well into the future, we regret that the height was not accurately communicated to its neighbors,” Springs Utilities continues in the statement. “We are re-visiting our processes to ensure better communication in the future.”

Wolfe said the new water tank has affected her business at the Flying W Ranch, saying customers notice it.

“Everybody asks, ‘What is that?’ Because it is so obtrusive, they have to ask, ‘What is that?’ It so alters the landscape of why they're coming here,” Wolfe said.

Starr’s house burned down in the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012. He decided to rebuild and reinvest in the property. Now, he said the water tank will decrease his property values.

“We wanted to reinvest back in the community and that's why this feels so egregious,” he said.

The city said it hasn’t decided if the amended plan will be approved by the planning administration or go through the usual process of being approved by both the planning commission and the city council.

Starr worries about a conflict of interest though, given the city council is also on the utilities board. Either way, the former engineer wants the project corrected.

“When mistakes are made, then they need to be corrected as soon as possible,” he said. “They need to be communicated with others and they need to be fixed.”

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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