Thursday, March 29, 2007
County takes hard look at reservoir plan
By James Robinson
As the San Juan Water Conservancy District works to finalize a multi-million dollar land purchase that will later become home for the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners has issued a request for proposals asking for an independent review of a Harris Water Engineering Inc. report that, in part, justifies the 35,000 acre-foot reservoir and addresses the area’s future water needs.
Harris Water Engineering is the water district’s engineering consultant.
The move to authorize the request for proposals came during a March 20, board of county commissioners meeting, and the commissioners’ push for the independent review stems from three points of concern: Is a 35,000 acre-foot reservoir a priority? Secondly, considering that water will have to be pumped up out of the San Juan River and to the reservoir site, is Dry Gulch the most cost-effective location and is the engineering that supports the site’s viability sound? And third, should the county impose impact fees on new development, per a SJWCD and Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District request, in order to help pay for a water storage project as large as Dry Gulch Reservoir?
Although the SJWCD is spearheading the land purchase, Dry Gulch is a joint SJWCD-PAWSD project.
Archuleta County Administrator Bob Campbell said the county isn’t necessarily opposed to levying impact fees, but he questions forcing residents to pay for water storage needs 50 to 100 years in the future when the county faces other, arguably more pressing financial issues such as roads, infrastructure, law enforcement and facilities.
“Studies say we need 12,000 acre-feet in 2040, but we’re not sure we should make today’s taxpayers pay for water development much beyond that. Besides, we feel there may be other smaller alternatives to look at,” Campbell said.
The Dry Gulch Reservoir site is located about two miles northeast of Pagosa Springs and south of U.S. 160, near the Weber Sand & Gravel facility. As currently designed, and at full buildout, the reservoir could accommodate 35,300 acre-feet of water storage, including the district’s existing right to 6,300 acre feet. Included in the plans are a dam 3,000 feet long and 160 feet high and a lift station required to move water from the river to the reservoir. Upon completion, the reservoir’s total surface area at high water line will be roughly 621 acres. Total cost estimates have approached $140 million.
San Juan Water Conservation District Board President Fred Schmidt said although the Dry Gulch site could ultimately accommodate a 35,300 acre-foot reservoir, land acquisition doesn’t automatically guarantee construction of a reservoir that size. Schmidt said acquisition of the Dry Gulch site allows room to meet water storage goals for 2040 with space for future expansion to the 35,000 acre size depending on funding and need. Schmidt added that the project will most likely be built in phases.
According to the SJWCD Web site, PAWSD currently has 2,900 acre feet of water storage in its system, and will have 4,000 acre-feet with the completion of the Stevens Reservoir expansion due sometime next summer.
Harris studies indicate that by 2043, the district will require a total of 12,000 acre-feet. Thus, the district has a storage shortfall of 8,000 acre feet. According to district representatives, the first phase could result in an impoundment of 12,000 acre feet, while later Dry Gulch expansion could be undertaken as funding and needs allow.
“The size of the reservoir in 20 years will be decided on need and economic ability,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said grant funding will play a major role in the success of the project, and that the district recently received tentative approval on a $1 million grant, plus access to a low interest, state-sponsored loan program that could save the district $4 to $5 million in interest over the next 20 to 25 years.
Schmidt said the grant award for land acquisition was virtually unprecedented and represented a tectonic philosophical shift in the state’s approach to solving long term water needs.
“To me, this (the grant award) is very unique and shows that after their staff has gone through all our studies, they see the need and importance of such a long term project for our economic well being,” Schmidt said.
And with escalating land prices, and development gobbling up suitable sites, Schmidt said the risks of not having storage capacity in the future are far too great.
“If we want to buy the land can we afford it? And second, will it even be available?” Schmidt said.
And once property not purchased now becomes lakefront property, per-acre prices could skyrocket, putting future purchases well out of the district’s reach.
Both PAWSD manager Carrie Weiss and Schmidt said neither they, nor their respective board members, have a personal business interest in property near the proposed reservoir. And Schmidt added that he does not know anyone with an interest in property near the Dry Gulch site.
Schmidt explained that the district began the project 14 years ago with 13 possible reservoir sites. After two years and site analyses, the district whittled those options down three. According to Schmidt, a developer beat the district to the punch on their first choice, and purchased the property before the district could do so. The property went for $800 an acre. The third option was not cost effective due to distance from PAWSD infrastructure, thus Dry Gulch came out on top due to its proximity to the San Juan River, town and existing water lines.
According to Schmidt, the Dry Gulch property will sell for more than $10,000 an acre, and that, according to Schmidt, is evidence that waiting any longer could make water storage cost prohibitive.
“Is it prudent to buy the land we need now? Yes it is,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said negotiations on the sale of the Dry Gulch property are complete, and he anticipates the signing of the sales contract to occur in mid-April. Until the contract is finalized, Schmidt said he was unwilling to disclose the sales amount.
When asked about the appraised value, Schmidt said an updated appraisal was due out in 45 to 60 days.
Schmidt and Weiss said both districts have an open-door policy and have been willing to meet with the county to answer questions and to address their concerns. Weiss and Schmidt said that during the last two years, the county has not taken that opportunity, and both see the request for proposals as an expensive duplication of work already done.
Archuleta County Commissioner Bob Moomaw will soon take a seat on the conservancy district board, a move that Schmidt and Weiss supported.
Schmidt said he hopes the conservancy district board and the BoCC can sit down to discuss impact fees, site locations, engineering and future water needs before the county spends money on an independent review.
And Weiss added, “We welcome whatever reviews they want to do, but we have information here. I believe that whatever studies they go through will just reaffirm what our consultants have already established.”
According to Campbell, in addition to reviewing the Harris Water Engineering Inc. report, the independent engineering firm will also review PAWSD’s operational policies, and its rate and fee structure to determine if they are the best practices and in the best interest of the community.
Campbell said PAWSD’s policies and fee structure are of particular interest to the county as it moves forward with building new facilities. Campbell said $700,000 of the cost of the $22 million courthouse campus project will result from PAWSD related fees.
Staff writer Chuck McGuire contributed to this story.
Budget change considered for Dry Gulch purchase
By Chuck McGuire
The San Juan Water Conservancy District Board of Directors will consider a resolution to amend the district’s 2007 budget at its regular monthly meeting Monday, April 9.
The amendment, if passed, will increase both lease/purchase proceeds and total expenditures, by approximately $7.2 million.
According to director Carrie Weiss, the amendment is necessary to accommodate the purchase of property for the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir outside of town. Though the district has no official agreement to purchase the real estate just yet, it has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the landowners for the eventual acquisition of roughly 600 acres. Weiss said the official multi-million dollar contract could come as early as the April 9 meeting.
In the amended version of the district’s current budget, the revenue side reflects three primary changes — one negative and two positive.
The negative change indicates a $270,000 reduction in anticipated revenues from impact fees, in part because Archuleta County has been slow to enact them on new construction under county jurisdiction.
Additionally, Weiss said, while the town has imposed impact fees, it has not been assessing them against commercial construction, resulting in further decreases.
Two revenue increases indicate $7.2 million from lease/purchase proceeds and nearly $300,000 in the form of a transfer from the district’s reserve fund.
Lease/purchase proceeds are described as monies obtained through grants and loans for the purpose of pursuing “capital projects,” such as the purchase of land.
As one would expect, on the expenses side of the budget, capital projects increased the most, while smaller line items rose or fell proportionately, resulting in a balanced 2007 budget.
Until the district’s April 9 meeting, a copy of the proposed amended budget has been filed and is open for public scrutiny at the district offices at 100 Lyn Ave., Pagosa Springs. Any elector within the district may, at any time prior to the final adoption of the Resolution to Amend the 2007 Budget, review and register any objections thereto.
The April 9 meeting will take place at the district offices and is open to the public. The public portion is scheduled to begin at 9:15 a.m.
New report clarifies town tap limits
By James Robinson
Scheduled modifications at the town’s sewage treatment plant will give elected officials more latitude than previously expected in approving development proposals, according to an updated engineering report released March 13.
In a memorandum to Town Manager Mark Garcia, Mark Dahm of Briliam Engineering concludes that, with the installation of state-approved aeration equipment, the facility could handle another 175 to 250 additional taps.
A preliminary Briliam assessment released earlier in the month put the number at roughly 100, a figure which caused town council-member concern during a March 8 meeting after the council approved 375 new units at various stages in the planning cue.
The modifications, due for installation before April 15, are part of an effort to keep the town plant in the state’s good graces following a number of intake, or “organic loading,” violations during 2005 and 2006.
Organic loading is a term engineers and waste water treatment professionals use to describe sewage intake at a treatment plant during the course of a day. Organic loading is measured in BODs.
According to the town’s state issued permit, when organic loading broaches certain thresholds, as dictated by a measurement of plant capacity, it triggers either planning for a new facility, or construction of a new facility. During 2005 and 2006, organic loading exceeded state-mandated limits and activated both triggers.
As part of the town’s agreement with the state, the added aeration equipment will enable the plant to accommodate a higher organic loading limit, and will keep the plant in compliance until a new waste water treatment facility comes on line in December 2008.
In the meantime, and according to town documents, there are roughly 900 units in varying stages of the planning cue with 20 completed and builders having obtained building permits for at least 54 units.
Although unit numbers alone may appear to bode ill for the current plant, Garcia said he anticipates the new plant will be fully operational well before some of the larger developments, such as the 218-unit Dakota Springs and the 119-unit Pradera Pointe, require connection to the system.
“We still have some time,” Garcia said.
Chimney Rock Interpretive Association to hold open house
The Chimney Rock Interpretive Association (CRIA) is a volunteer organization that helps the Forest Service maintain the Chimney Rock Archeological Area and provides guided tours at that site. CRIA operates under a special use permit from the USFS but receives no funding from the Forest Service. It has been a stand-alone 501(c)3 non-profit organization for slightly over two years, having separated from the San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) to take over these responsibilities. Many of the same people who were volunteers in the previous organization remained with CRIA and have been giving tours and working for the site for many years.
The Chimney Rock Interpretive Association is in the middle of an expansion, both in activities and the number of volunteers. “It is an exciting time for CRIA,” said Bob Henley, president of the board of trustees. “There is a lot of continuity stemming from our past association with SJMA, but many new things are going on to make CRIA even better. We are firmly on our feet now and are looking for new faces who would like to join us and help with our new activities.” To let people know more about us, we are holding an open house Saturday, April 7, at the community center.
One of the most sought after tickets CRIA has to offer are those for the Major Lunar Standstill, something that happens only a few times per year over a three-year period. Then, there is a 15 1/2- year time gap before this lunar event starts happening again. Viewers are taken up to the U. S. Forest Service fire tower to witness the moon’s rising between the twin towers. Tickets go on sale for this year’s MLS events on May 15, which is also opening day for guided tours. This is the last year the Major Lunar Standstill will take place for almost two decades. If you want to see this extraordinary event, better make it a point to call for tickets when they open up for sale.
Chimney Rock Interpretive Association and their volunteers are most noted for their daily guided tours. They give four tours a day from May 15 through Sept. 30 each year. This requires a volunteer staff of tour guides and cabin hosts. “We are actively recruiting new people for these positions right now,” said Tanice Ramsperger, and there are many behind-the-scenes positions for which we need new people as well. We are growing, and with some of our newly planned activities, we have lots of opportunities to get involved. If someone has an interest or skill, we’ll find a way to let them serve.” Maintenance personnel, sign painters, artists, office workers, article writers, proof readers, grant writers, marketing and people who like to work with children are all needed and welcome.
Speaking of children, one of the first activities each year is the Life at Chimney Rock that CRIA holds for school children from the surrounding area in early May, and then again in August for the public. This event features many demonstrations of Ancient Puebloan crafts and skills including pottery making, basket making, preparing Yucca plant leaves to make twine, rope, sandals and paint brushes, atlatl spear throwing and more.
This year, CRIA is planning to continue its popular Full Moon program, an upper trail program to watch the full moon rise over the beautiful San Juan Mountains. They are also planning a Night Sky program complete with knowledgeable astronomers and a complement of telescopes. The Night Sky program will be held monthly and will take place at Chimney Rock in the upper parking lot on nights when moonlight will be at a minimum so the stars can be easily seen. Watch for dates for this new event.
CRIA is also planning to bring a variety of speakers to Pagosa Springs to give talks on Ancient Puebloans and related topics. These talks are free to the public.
“In the past, we have required almost every volunteer to take three full days of classroom training in order to participate in any position,” said Henley. “This year, we will be paring our training down to only two days for tour guides and cabin hosts, the people who deal with the public at the site. Volunteers for other positions will be required to take less training at the beginning of the season and will pick up information on-the-job when working with experienced volunteers. We will be implementing a mentor program to aid in this ongoing training.”
Ramsperger pointed out that this year, CRIA plans to hold an orientation day Saturday, April 14, followed by one day of training Friday, April 27, and a half day April 28. “This will allow those people who work to attend training. Our weekend and night programs will allow those same people to volunteer in off-work hours. We want to make it easier for non-retired, local people to get involved.”
Some say that CRIA is as much a social organization as it is one that maintains Chimney Rock and gives the tours. Ann Sadler said, “When we first started coming to Pagosa Springs two yeas ago, we didn’t know anyone. We wanted to get involved in the community, and friends suggested we become CRIA volunteers. When we learned that CRIA held potluck dinners the third Thursday of every month, we thought that would be a great way to meet new people. So we attended a potluck, got involved and have made several close friends through this wonderful volunteer group. I serve in the office and my husband, Jerry, serves as a tour guide. We love the time we give working on special projects and at the site, and we wouldn’t miss a potluck.”
Sound like fun to you? For more information, call the CRIA office in downtown Pagosa Springs at 264-2278. And, remember to attend the open house Saturday, April 7, at the community center.
Applications due soon for Allard Capital Conference
U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) is accepting applications to the 10th annual Allard Capital Conference, to be held June 6-8 in Washington, D.C.
This year’s conference will be sponsored by the University of Colorado and Fort Lewis College.
Interested residents should submit an application by Friday, April 6.
“The Allard Capital Conference is a unique opportunity for Colorado residents to interact with our nation’s leaders in Washington, D.C. In an ever-changing political environment, the Capital Conference provides key insights into how our government works,” said Allard. “We have a packed lineup of high ranking government officials and political leaders from both parties that will provide a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The Allard Capital Conference is open to 120 Colorado residents, who have previously ranged in age from 18 to 85 and have come from all walks of life. Applicants who are accepted will be notified in late April and will pay a $250 registration fee, which includes conference materials and several meals during the conference. Applications and more information can be found online at http://allard.senate.gov/acc.
Past speakers at the Allard Capital Conference have included cabinet secretaries, senators, congressmen, military leaders and political analysts, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers.
“The conference offers an unprecedented opportunity for participants to hear and talk with national policy makers on issues facing our country and the world,” said University of Colorado president Hank Brown. “We hope many students and Coloradans take advantage of the experience to learn more about our government by interacting with leaders from all branches of government.”
Fort Lewis College President Brad Bartel said, “As Colorado’s public liberal arts college, we know the value of a conference whereby a diverse set of individuals come together to express different opinions, concepts, and possible solutions to our nation’s problems.”
County sets date for E-Cycling Event
By Sheila Berger
Special to The SUN
The Archuleta County Solid Waste Department will be conducting an E-Cycling Event this year at the Pagosa Springs Transfer Station, where computer and other electronic equipment that has reached the end of its useful life will be collected and responsibly recycled. The event will kick off National County Government Week in Archuleta County and coincide with Earth Day, April 21.
The E-Cycling event will take place 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at the Pagosa Springs transfer station, at 2140 County Road 500 (Trujillo Road).
Residents, businesses and schools are invited to bring computer equipment, TVs and other electronics such as fax machines, cables, keyboards, ink jet cartridges, cell phones, CD players and Game Boys™. Charges for disposal range from no charge for small items to $15 for computer monitors and large TVs. For the disposal of large volumes or for more information, contact the Archuleta County Solid Waste Department at 264-0193.
According to the LA Times, between now and 2009, more than 550 million computers and analog TVs will be thrown away in the continental United States — in addition to all of our portable electronic toys. The toxicity of this material is no small matter. For example, computer monitors can contain up to eight pounds of lead! Recent data from the State of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment indicates that other electronic equipment, such as CPUs, keyboards, mice, scanners, cell phones and VCRs, exceed the regulatory limits for heavy metals and should be managed as hazardous waste if sent for disposal. Hazardous materials in computers include mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and silver. The EPA estimates that 75 percent of heavy metals found in municipal landfills are a result of electronics, which could in turn make their way into our water supply.
It is illegal for businesses, governments, and schools to dispose of computers in the landfill. Everyone is urged to refurbish or recycle them instead. When a computer is sent to a trustworthy vendor, it is disassembled for materials recovery — taken apart, with parts then sent to various places to be reused and recycled. In addition, the Archuleta County contracted recycler exceeds Department of Defense standards for data destruction.