POSTED ON THE DAILY CAMERA: 02/14/2019
Wouldn’t you think the protection of life and property would be the top priority of the Boulder City Council? I would, too.
Unfortunately, the current Council majority has lost sight of this basic public safety priority and has bungled the planning of critical flood control for a large portion of our city.
The residents of southeast Boulder have every right to be furious about City Council’s foot-dragging. They suffered directly from the life-threatening impact of our 2013 floods. Yet there has been little urgency from the City Council majority to finalize a flood control plan for South Boulder Creek, now in its 11th year of technical review.
Steady, albeit slow, progress was made through 2017. During that period, the University of Colorado received certain land use designations on their “CU South” property in exchange for their promise to donate 80 acres to the city for flood mitigation. It was memorialized through an 8-1 City Council vote and was included in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan with approval by four governing bodies. This was expected to set in motion final design work for flood control infrastructure in exchange for annexation of the CU South property. A collective sigh of relief was heard from the Frasier Meadows neighborhood.
Unfortunately, it has moved sideways over the past 18 months. In two meetings held in August and September last year, Council was presented several viable options, including Variant 2 500-year design, which was the preference of the city’s Water Resources Advisory Board, staff engineers, consultants, the public and CU. This option scored highest on the city’s established baseline criteria, including adaptability to climate change.
Notably, Council didn’t seriously consider the preferred option and selected the only one — Variant 1 500-year design — that did not meet their own baseline criteria or the acceptance from the university. Inexplicably, the City Council majority designed their own flood control plans from the dais, based on input from a select few of their constituents who seem hell-bent on stopping any development on the CU South property. All this, despite $2 million in detailed flood control studies by professional hydraulic engineers and the knowledge that it was unlikely their homegrown solution would gain support from the university.
It should be of concern to every citizen, let alone those in the direct path of South Boulder Creek flood waters, that the city has spent so much time and money on this work only to disregard it in favor of something Council manufactured on-the-fly. Understanding that no one on Council has relevant engineering expertise did not seem to bother six members when voting for something unprofessionally concocted with no promise of success.
We can only imagine how the members of the city-designated Water Resources Advisory Board felt. Comprised of local water lawyers and scientists, their charter is to review all capital improvement investments for Boulder’s utilities, including flood control, and make policy recommendations to the Planning Board and City Council.
In an effort to highlight their flood planning concerns, WRAB members issued a special letter in advance of Council’s annual retreat in January. This appeal also was dismissed. WRAB member Ted Rose expressed his indignation in a subsequent Daily Camera Guest Opinion: “You would think a problem of this magnitude would have the concerted attention of the City Council. But you’d be wrong.”
It was disclosed last week that Council’s on-the-fly solution would cost twice as much as WRAB’s recommended flood control plan, and in the process had incurred a six-month delay. It has now been unceremoniously dropped from consideration, and staff has been directed to return again to the original Variant 1 500-year design. As this is the only option that CU has clearly indicated does not work for them, this latest U-turn will undoubtedly add unknown months to the process. And in an ironic twist, Council members had the gall to dress down city staff for their failure to make progress on design work.
We should all be paying attention now. So far, we’ve seen the unmitigated waste of taxpayer dollars, the blind dismissal of technical advice from expert consultants, professional staff and specialized advisory boards, ignorance of public preference, and complete lack of transparency in the process. All the while, City Council is leaving thousands of residents in harm’s way.
It should be noted that CU has repeatedly pledged to work with the city to accomplish city flood mitigation goals, and as long as they get adequate land for future development they are ready and willing to partner with the city on this critical health and safety project. City Council can and should end the political machinations and prioritize the life and safety of its residents.
Jan Burton is a former Boulder City Council member. Email: Jan.firstname.lastname@example.org.