Jul 31, 2013 8:58 AM by Maddie Garrett

Black Forest Fire Victims Upset Over Tank Construction

The battle over a water tank being built in Black Forest is as heated as ever. As first reported in May, dozens of neighbors were protesting a water storage project by Cherokee Metropolitan Water District.

The water will be pumped from wells to two, two-million gallon storage tanks at the intersection of Frank and Swan roads. It will then be pumped further down to Cherokee's district in Cimarron Hills, which has struggled with water supplies for almost a decade.

That project, called Sundance Ranch Water Supply Project, is still on, despite the devastating fire. Neighbors nearby who were victims of the fire, said the construction of the tank is just adding insult to injury.

"Pretty frustrated and very, very upset, it is total disregard for the residents of black forest," said Black Forest resident Alan Kanapa.

Joan Vairin, who's property is across the street from the tank site, has been vehemently against the project from the start.

"Everybody feels like there is no respect from these people at all," she said of Cherokee Metro.

Vairin and her husband lost everything in the fire. Now she's worried she's losing the battle against water tanks she never wanted in her neighborhood.

"We're all going to have to look at this hideous mess. I don't understand where the justice is here, I mean the people of Black Forest have been torn apart by this fire and here they are again, tearing us up even more with this," said Vairin.

She and her husband said they are debating whether to rebuild their home. They may not, in large part because of the tanks.

"All we really wanted here is to have these tanks buried," she said.

In fact, the tank location was turned down by the El Paso County Planning Commission at its meeting in May. But under the law, Cherokee Metro could overrule that decision. And they did.

"As you know we've been water short for the better part of 10 years and so getting that tank on construction, getting it on schedule, keeping it on schedule was really important to us," explained Cherokee Metro General Manager Sean Chambers.

The fire has set the project about three weeks behind schedule, and they've had to make a few changes to the original plan. Huge trees that were supposed to be left to help conceal the tanks from the road are now gone. There are almost none left on the site.

"We had a state forester evaluate the site, tell us what they thought about the safety hazard for the tree fall and what could be salvaged and what couldn't. And at the end we ended up cutting double the number of trees we first anticipated," said Chambers.

But neighbors question Cherokee's decision to cut so many trees.

"There's a lot of trees around here that are still good, why did they take all of those down? That is totally against their plan," said Kanapa.

While the neighbors said they are not giving up the fight and exploring legal avenues, the construction continues on at the tank site. Chambers said he understands that emotions are running high surrounding the project.

"We're obviously building a project in a very sensitive area at a very sensitive time, and that's a difficult line to walk," he said.

Cherokee does hope to ease concerns by planting even more trees than originally planned around the tank to try and cover it from the view of nearby residents.

The tanks will bring several hydrants to the area in Black Forest, the water will be pumped down to Cimarron Hills. The entire Sundance project is set to be complete sometime in February 2014.



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