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I-70 Storm Water Diversion in Denver, A Part of a More Comprehensive Plan?…Or D.I.A. Revisited?

November 2, 2017

Some of the 261trees at Denver City Golf Course to be bulldozed for a storm-water diversion project. Is this just one piece in Denver’s plans to create infrastructure in place for a 2026 Olympic bid?

The same week that the city of Denver  agreed to a $4.6 million settlement for a “wrongful death” suit in the killing of Michael Marshall in the custody of the Denver Sheriff’s Department, the city’s mayor, Michael Hancock has also gotten into “the business” of destroying trees.

Between 50 and 75 people showed up at Denver’s City Park Golf Course to protest the destruction of 261 trees there, many more than a century old. It might not sound like a large turn out, but given the fact that the candle light vigil had two day’s notice – and that people showed up from all parts of the city – to protest the mayor’s action – along with media – it wasn’t a shabby showing at all. Remarks by Dennis Gallagher, former city auditor and Candi CdeBaca, a rising aspiring local politician with strong community-activist backing from the Globeville-Swansea area, emphasized the political stupidity – and essential developer greed – behind the project.

It is at best, a very clumsily thought out part of a larger project.

Using federal and state (tax payer) funding, state authorities have plans to reroute a part of the interstate highway – I-70 – underground in what is a northeast section of Denver called the Globeville-Elyia-Swansea neighborhood – an overwhelmingly working class, Chicano neighborhood, that was itself traumatized by the original building of the interstate in the 1960s. Part of the plan involves constructing a storm water diversion project – s essentially a DAM across 2 1/2 miles of north Denver, running 6 blocks south of the Interstate, parallel to it – through a largely Black neighborhood. There it is all funneled underground over to Globeville Landing Park where this collected water will enter the South Platte.  An additional element — flooding about a third of City Park Golf Course, listed on the National Register of Historic Places — was added to help reduce pressure on the existing pipe under 39th Avenue. 

The storm water diversion project is intended to prevent or mitigate flooding in the I-70 corridor that is planned to go underground. The diverted flood waters would be contained in soon-to-be built The city and state earlier denied that the two – the water diversion project and interstate underground remodeling were coordinated, but they no longer press that particular falsehood. A lawsuit filed by a former state attorney general, J.D. McFarland, to halt the project was denied by Judge David Goldberg, who argued that in pursuing the project that the city was not violating its charter, although Goldberg did not deny that the plaintiffs had a case, but one which was, according to city law, outside his jurisdiction to rule upon.

However, according to an article that appeared in Westword Judge Goldberg also noted that although the plaintiff’s case was “beyond the scope of the court to regulate that the diversion project maybe little more than “a thinly veiled subterfuge to pave the way for new construction plans on I-70 and along the I-70 corridor, consideration of the various rationales and funding mechanisms for the Project” and that the ” proposed project will result in a ‘materially detrimental’ effect on the natural habitat and neighborhood due to the loss of mature trees, and that the large-scale regrading of the course may result ‘in detrimental changes to the health of the soil and remaining trees,'”

However, according to an article that appeared in Westword Judge Goldberg also noted that although the plaintiff’s case was “beyond the scope of the court to regulate that the diversion project maybe little more than “a thinly veiled subterfuge to pave the way for new construction plans on I-70 and along the I-70 corridor, consideration of the various rationales and funding mechanisms for the Project” and that the ” proposed project will result in a ‘materially detrimental’ effect on the natural habitat and neighborhood due to the loss of mature trees, and that the large-scale regrading of the course may result ‘in detrimental changes to the health of the soil and remaining trees,'”

Denver citizens at a candle-light vigil, November, 1, 2017, opposed to the storm-water diversion plan and the bulldozing of 200 trees on the City Golf Course that is part and parcel of the project. A citywide opposition group “Ditch The Ditch” is actively opposing the project

A Part of Something Bigger? A Development Frenzy Regardless

The I-70 remodeling, the water diversion project, are only two of the city’s major billion dollar public works projects that are being forced through an all too pliant city council for approval against the will of a growing outcry of opposition from all over the city. There are also billion dollar plans to remodel the city’s Denver Western Stock Show facilities and the Denver International Airport. The former, not so coincidentally, is in the same general area as the I-70 remodeling. Both project are what are referred to as “public-private-partnerships” in which the city turns over much managing authority to private contractors for development. Referred to as making private profit at the public’s expense, such PPP’s are quite common these days, essentially some of the billions of dollars of private equity – or is it trillions – swishing around in the global economy – looking for profitable outlets, more and more at public expense.

The airport remodeling, is nothing short of silly, if  you think about it. Besides the fact that the lion’s share of the deal goes to somewhat suspect Spanish airport construction firm, Ferrovial, itself financed largely by leveraged money, in the end it is essentially about creating more mall space in the airport terminal central area…and giving Ferrovial and its minority partners a thirty-four year contract to manage major aspects of the facility. The airport remodeling project was opposed by service industry unions that service the airport but supported by the construction unions (what a surprise!) who are turning out both nationally and locally to be among the more right-wing social forces in American life, having a field day on the national and local construction boom but leaving their non-construction-worker unions and union communities out in the cold.

Preparing for an Olympic bid? 

There is thus a lot of big money – billions of dollars – swishing around northeast Denver, and a frenzy of development projects that are underway. Diverting interstate highways, digging miles long storm-water diversion ditches, mauling a public golf course and destroying hundreds of trees, remodeling the Denver International Airport so it can have what it doesn’t need – more mall space. All this supported, if not driven, by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and the state’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper…and the political forces – essentially the same forces – behind both of them. Something is going on here but when a few voices, among them mayoral hopeful and local community activist, Larry Ambrose, suggests that all this activity is geared towards making the city attractive for a 2026 Olympic bid, they are charged with coming up with “a conspiracy.”

Well, to doubt that there are conspiracies taking place, little stupid development plans meant to add to the wealth of already gazillionaires at public expense, is to deny the reality of life in Trumpty-Dumpty land where it seems everything is little more than some kind of overpriced land deal. The problem is not whether or not there are conspiracies – there are – but to figure out which ones are real, which ones concocted. In time it all comes together though. Not unlike other American cities, Denver is a place whose local politics is run by developers and the political operatives behind them, the Robert Moses approach to bulldozing urban change and it is alive and well in Denver. What can be said for certain: there are currently in the city of Denver a number of overpriced, poorly conceived mega-projects, each one of which can be questions on their own shaky merits. Are they coordinated into some kind of “master plan.?”

It would be foolish to think they are not.

And at the same time these projects themselves are being bulldozed through a pliant City Council, itself a developer’s dream, it just so happens that the city’s mayor and the state’s governor, palsy-walsy types, are pushing to promote Denver as the 2026 Olympic site, in another effort, as the saying goes “to make Denver a great (and more heavily indebted) city!  And how better to position Denver for such a bid than to go to the Olympic Committee arguing that the infrastructure is already in place! Ah yes, there had to be a little arm-twisting of the city council to approve such matters, changes in the housing code to get the smaller and medium-sized developers and contractors a little piece of the pie (and trigger the development frenzy)..but it will all be worth it in the end, won’t it? The public relations key here – as with the D.I.A. project of thirty years ago – is to convince the public, all to easily convinced I might add, that some mega project is “necessary” – to inflate its urgency. Did Denver need a bigger airport so far away from the city? Is the need for “increased density” – the pretext for the developer frenzy and increasing the city’s tax base all that important from a rational point of view? In each case the developers were ready and willing, along with the banking and financial industry, to move into that “created need” and make a killing.

The current plans will, again, give the city development projects few wanted or needed, resulting in even greater displacement – and we all know who is and isn’t being displaced – but there is money to be made, big bucks once again, especially for those mega-developers and financial interests that will reap the profits, and as other Olympic cities have learned, leave the civic authorities holding the bill.

Denver International Airport revisited. When will we ever learn? Never apparently. Time to organize, city wide.

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