2008 in review, January-March

January

Downtown Master Plan. The Pagosa Springs Town Council adopted the 2007 Downtown Master Plan. The plan is a conceptual document designed as a guide for regulations that control development, and that incorporate the town’s vision for the future of the downtown area in conjunction with the Land Use and Development Code (LUDC) and the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Winter storms. A major winter storm wreaked havoc in the San Juan mountains Jan. 5 and 6, resulting in highway closures, widespread power outages and lost backcountry travelers. When all was said and done, nearly five feet of snow had fallen in the high country, with accumulations of more than two feet reported in the Pagosa Lakes area west of Pagosa Springs. The Colorado Department of Transportation reported 50 slides on Wolf Creek Pass in three days, with 32 of them reaching the highway. At one point, officials said, slide debris covered as much as 2,250 lineal feet of roadway at depths of up to 16 feet.

Approximately 1,800 Archuleta County customers suffered power outages as a result of the storm, with roughly 10,000 losing power in the entire LPEA service area. By Jan. 10, service had been restored to all but six Archuleta County customers. The American Red Cross opened a warming center at the Pagosa Springs Community Center Jan. 6 and 7 for persons left without power and heat due to the outages.

On Jan. 31, another major winter storm hit the area, forcing highway, school and government office closures. In seven days time, another 22 inches of snow fell at lower elevations in Pagosa Country with an additional 50 inches falling on the pass

Missing snowboarders. Searchers continued to look for two Albuquerque men — Michael George and Kyle Kerschen, both 27 — who went beyond ski area boundaries Saturday, Jan. 5. The pair was supposed to meet with family members Jan. 4, and never showed. Saturday morning, Jan. 5, ski area staff verified the snowboarders’ car was in the ski area parking lot, and the men were officially reported missing.

Ground crews continued search efforts on skis and snowmobiles midweek, although helicopters remained grounded and on standby until a break in the weather.

BoCC saga continues. Dwindling employee morale linked to allegations of commissioners micromanaging county departments, recent resignations and threats of more to come, and key recommendations that had gone unheeded, led members of the Citizens’ Financial Advisory Task Force to issue one of its strongest recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners: Shape up, or step down.

The message came during a special meeting of the board, when the commissioners heeded a previous task force recommendation and approved the hiring of an interim county administrator. In addition, the board approved, via split vote, contracting with an executive search firm to hire a county administrator to replace former administrator Bob Campbell, who resigned Dec. 18.

Commissioners later agreed to a basic code of communication conduct, following task force member warnings that the commissioners’ behavior was having a detrimental affect on employee morale and the county’s financial recovery. The agreement, forged in a session between task force members and Archuleta County Commissioners Bob Moomaw, Robin Schiro and Ronnie Zaday, established basic principles of how board members will communicate with staff, department heads and the county administrator.

PAWSD loan. The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) received word that a loan request for roughly $12.3 million had been approved. Once funded, the district would actually receive about $11.1 million to pay off another loan and purchase more land for the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir.

February

Interim administrator. The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners formally welcomed a new interim county administrator, Greg Schulte.

Schulte brought with him 18 years experience in directing and managing local government, including 12 years working for the City of Sacramento. Before arriving at his post in Archuleta County, Schulte served as the administration division manager for Sacramento’s Development Services Department where, as part of his responsibilities, he prepared and managed a budget exceeding $20 million and was a key player in the department’s organizational restructuring.

More winter. Once again, heavy snow disrupted the lives of Pagosa Country residents, as another major winter storm moved through the region Feb. 2 and 3.

Major mountain highways, local schools, courts and government offices closed for the second time in a week, and the third time since early January.

By Feb. 6, the latest round of precipitation brought 24.5 inches of snow (2.51 inches of moisture) to the Pagosa Lakes weather station, and the Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 92 inches of snow in seven days. Year-to-date, Pagosa had received 127 inches of snow, while the ski area had accumulated 432 inches.

Reservoir litigation. As part of ongoing litigation surrounding the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir, two local water districts and Trout Unlimited (TU) filed additional briefs with District Court, Water Division Seven, State of Colorado.

In a majority decision issued in October 2007, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of a TU appeal, which challenged water diversion and storage rights originally granted to the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) and Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) by Judge Gregory G. Lyman in September 2006. The high court reversed the water court’s judgment, set aside a conditional decree, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. Upon review of his and the Supreme Court’s findings, Judge Lyman ordered both sides to submit briefs “on remand.”

Village at Wolf Creek. Area conservation groups declared victory in their battle against the proposed Village at Wolf Creek, when the United States Forest Service and Village developers agreed to go back to the drawing board and complete a new environmental impact statement (EIS) for the controversial development. Attorneys for Colorado Wild and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council sued the Forest Service in October 2006, challenging the Forest Services’ April 2006 decision to authorize construction of two access roads across public land for the purpose of building the proposed 10,000 person village. In the suit, the groups said the agency’s first EIS, issued in March 2006, was fundamentally flawed because it focused almost exclusively on the impact of the access roads and not the village as a whole. The settlement was an outgrowth of that lawsuit and a preliminary injunction issued Oct. 4, 2007, by U.S. District Court Judge John Kane, which stopped the project from moving forward until a final ruling was issued. However, rather than wait for the courts, the Forest Service and developers agreed on undertaking a new EIS.

March

Audit report. Archuleta County finance staff marked another milestone toward financial recovery with the successful completion and submission of the 2006 state mandated, government audit.

According to remarks made in the first week of March by Archuleta County Finance Director Don Warn, county staff submitted the audit to the state auditor’s office at the end of February, and the county’s property taxes were released.

The state froze Archuleta County’s property tax revenue Dec. 10, 2007, after the county failed to submit the audit by the July 31, 2007, deadline. The missed 2006 audit deadline marked the county’s fourth consecutive failure to meet the state’s audit submittal timetable, and the cycle forced the county into an ongoing game of catchup — trying to balance ledgers rife with errors, cryptic entries and erroneous fund balances months after the fact, while simultaneously trying to manage the organization’s day to day financial affairs.