Colorado shifts mortgage-settlement funds to boost affordable housing

A $23 million chunk of Colorado’s share of the $25 billion federal mortgage banking settlement is being reallocated to help provide affordable housing — especially for residents of counties hammered by floods and wildfires.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers announced the shift Tuesday, saying rental vacancies have dwindled and too many displaced residents still are struggling to find new homes.

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Bike rental companies need permits for federal land starting Nov. 1

Fifteen bicycle-rental companies that deliver to trails along Vail Pass were sent letters this week advising them that after Nov. 1, they will need U.S. Forest Service permits to continue the service.

Similar letters were sent this year to companies that drop off all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.

The permits may also be required for drop-offs on non-national forest land, if the bikes will be used on national forest land, White River National Forest district ranger Jan Cutts said in the letter.

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Cotter Corp. adds $6.8 million to uranium mill cleanup as Colorado accelerates timetable

It’ll take at least a decade before Cotter Corp.’s contaminated Colorado
uranium mill is cleaned up under a new deal aimed at accelerating work
at the site.

The agreement settles a long-running dispute about the
surety fund – state officials have estimated cleanup would cost as much
as $40 million – and also sets Cotter’s timetable and penalties if
deadlines aren’t met.

A watchdog group criticized the deal, saying plans
were revised with little public input.

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Suncor workers at refinery near Denver get blood tests for benzene

Workers at Suncor Energy ‘s oil refinery north of Denver – nearly all 500 – have had their blood tested for benzene as Suncor excavates pipeline to deal with tainted tap water and tries to contain contamination of Sand Creek.

Nobody knows how long drinking water at the Suncor refinery has contained benzene. Results of blood tests were kept confidential.

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Rocky Flats land swap boosts goal of open-space ring around metro beltway

Denver metro planners who often don’t see eye to eye on land-use issues are trying to create a green ring of public open space flanking the metro area’s two-thirds-completed high- speed beltway.

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Drilling spills rise in Colorado, but fines rare

PLATTEVILLE — Colorado’s wave of gas and oil drilling is resulting in spills at the rate of seven every five days — releasing more than 2 million gallons this year of diesel, oil, drilling wastewater and chemicals that contaminated land and water.

At least some environmental damage from the oil-and-gas boom is inevitable, industry leaders and state regulators say, with a record-high 45,793 wells and companies drilling about eight more a day.

But a Denver Post analysis finds state regulators rarely penalize companies responsible for spills.

This year, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has imposed fines for five spills that happened three or more years ago. The total penalties: $531,350.

State rules obligate regulators to take a collaborative approach, negotiating remedies when possible rather than cracking down. In fact, the COGCC recently declared four companies responsible for the largest number of spills to be “Outstanding Operators” and lauded them for environmental excellence.

Oil and gas companies have reported 343 new spills this year, bringing the total since August 2009 to more than 1,000 spills, state data show.

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Forest Service runs into obstacles while trying to suppress fewer fires

For years, federal land managers have aimed at letting wildfires burn to boost forest health — and save taxpayers some of the billions the government spends dousing nearly every blaze.

“We’re looking for opportunities to let fire play its natural role in the landscape,” regional U.S. Forest Service chief Rick Cables said this week.

But Colorado’s growing population and energy industry near forests, combined with surging numbers of wildfires, is making a let-it-burn approach increasingly difficult.

Twenty-seven wildfires have threatened the northern Front Range suburbs this month, nine times the 15-year March average of three.

Rather than try to let some wildfires burn to stimulate forests and grasslands, federal officials have moved into traditional suppression, mobilizing ground crews early and pushing to pre-position slurry bombers on runways to stop the flames.

Over the past year, federal land managers in Colorado let 30 remote wildfires run their course, agency data show. Meanwhile, more than 3,000 wildfires were suppressed in Colorado.

Nationwide, firefighters suppress about 99 percent of the more than 71,000 wildfires that break out each year, mostly in Western states.

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Water providers raise alert over uranium pollution from mine

Denver-area water providers are pressuring state mining regulators to force Cotter Corp. to clean up a defunct uranium mine contaminating groundwater and a creek that flows into a major reservoir.

The latest water-quality tests showed that Ralston Creek below Schwartzwalder mine carried as much as 390 parts per billion of uranium, which is 13 times higher than the 30 ppb health standard. Contamination of groundwater at the source — inside the mine — exceeded the standard by 1,000 times.

Drinking water remains safe, authorities say, because uranium is removed from Ralston Reservoir water by municipal water treatment plants.

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Defunct uranium mine contaminating groundwater near reservoir

A defunct uranium mine in Jefferson County is contaminating groundwater near a reservoir, but government regulators and mine executives have yet to settle on a plan for cleanup.

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Forest Service weighs mine request to build roads in Colorado forest

Prodded by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Forest Service is reviewing a Colorado coal-mining company’s stalled request to build roads in a federally protected “roadless” forest. The high-level handling reflects tension over efforts to preserve 58.4 million acres of relatively roadless national-forest land across the country. President Bill Clinton’s initiative to create the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule led to years of arguments — including government efforts to defend the rule today in Denver’s 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Colorado has proposed an alternative state plan for managing 4.1 million roadless acres in a way that makes exceptions for coal mining, ski areas and towns threatened by wildfire that want to remove beetle-killed trees.

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