Ceremony held for geothermal greenhouse project

Pagosa area residents braved a chilly April morning last Thursday to attend a groundbreaking ceremony staged by the Geothermal Greenhouse Project (GGP) for an announcement of a site for the greenhouses (at the west end of Centennial Park) and that the project has the support and plans necessary to begin construction this summer.

“This is not going to be an easy chore,” said Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon, standing with Archuleta County Commissioners Bob Moomaw and Clifford Lucero to address a crowd of about 75 attendees. “Because of the economic downturn, this is going to be one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced.”

Despite the challenges, Aragon and the GGP see the project as a much-needed boost for the region, not only as a means of jobs creation but as an economic driver; not only in what the greenhouses produce but also in their potential as a tourist magnet, as one of the only community geothermal greenhouse facilities in the world.

“This is going to be a tremendous benefit to the community,” Lucero said.

Should the project take shape, the GGP sees more than just a benefit to the community. Indeed, the greenhouses would create a stunning, futuristic addition to the Pagosa Springs landscape. Picture three to five geodesic domes nestled in the crook of the Sixth Street bend of the San Juan River. On the far west end of Centennial Park, the half-submerged orbs would glow in the Pagosa night sky with the luminescence of moon bases from a science fiction movie.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes more than a just a town to raise February tomatoes in a geothermal greenhouse. Long a local grassroots effort, the GGP has quickly moved beyond the sincere dream of several community organizers to garnering support at the local, state and federal level. Attending Thursday’s ceremony, Lisa Schwantes, representing U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet‘s office, expressed enthusiasm for the project: “This is great, seeing this community come together for a really positive project.”

In a later call to Sen. Bennet’s office, the Senator expressed his own support for the project. “This project represents the kind of bold and innovative thinking we’re going to need to meet the demands of the 21st century,” said Bennet. “It’s a clear example of Colorado’s leadership in the New Energy Economy and a case study in what we can achieve when communities work together to build a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.”

The project has also received support from the office of U.S. Rep. John Salazar. In fact, both Bennet’s and Salazar’s offices were instrumental in helping the GGP place a $265,800 funding request before the Congressional Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Committee just under the request deadline. Beyond Colorado legislatures, the project has the support of the Governor’s Energy Office as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, both entities interested in making further funding available for the project. Furthermore, Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, Inc. (Region 9 EDD) unanimously approved the project for the Colorado Enterprise Zone Tax Credit program last week, opening the door for financial and in-kind donor’s eligibility for state income tax credits — 12.5 percent in income tax credits for in-kind donations, 25 percent for monetary donations.

Closer to home, both the town and the county have promised resources for the project with an eye on what promise a geothermal greenhouse facility might provide for the area. With land and 100 gallons per minute of geothermal water provided by the town for the project, Pagosa Springs has committed as much as it can with an increasingly penurious budget. Likewise, the county has allocated staff resources and time towards development of the project and may further award Ballot Issue 1A funds for site construction.

Local schools have also expressed an interest in assisting with the project. Attending the groundbreaking ceremony, students from the PAC (Pirate Achievement Center) and Sally High’s seventh-grade class stood as ambassadors of the future, of Pagosa Springs and alternative energy. “The students did extensive research about this project,” said High, “especially, alternative energy resources.”

Guiseppe Margiotta, a volunteer with the PAC program, hopes his students will be involved with all aspects of the project, from construction of the domes to working in the greenhouses. “The GGP could give them a real opportunity to get some vocational skills,” said Margiotta, “But I think there’s some opportunity for other high school students to get involved in this.”

Other educational interest in the project, specifically through the Archuleta County Extension Office, has been expressed. According to Extension Agent Bill Nobles, the Extension Office intends to participate with the GGP on various levels, from consulting on various horticultural issues to the involvement of 4-H members.

Another important component, local businesses, have been eager to volunteer time, labor and expertise to project. Pagosa-based business Growing Spaces has offered to help construct the domes. Hart Construction has volunteered equipment and labor for leveling the proposed site while Dan Burkhart and Civil Design Team have volunteered site planning and surveying, as well as architectural renderings of the project. Legal matters for the site have been donated by Appraisal Services and Colorado Land Title.

Assistance from the community, however, is what the GGP is hoping to get during the next few weeks. Hoping to populate subcommittees for the project, the GGP is asking for local residents with expertise, time and commitment to step forward and help with bringing about the culmination of the greenhouses. Furthermore, the GGP will present its plan to area residents at a public forum in the Pagosa Springs Community Center from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, May 28. At that meeting, the GGP will present project designs and plans, with a question-and-input session planned during the final half of the meeting.

jim@pagosasun.com