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County approves permit for LPEA substation

Construction on the proposed La Plata Electric Association Ponderosa electrical substation “upgrade” has been given the green light with the approval of a Conditional Use Permit by the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners Tuesday.

The request for the conditional use permit was originally heard by the BoCC on July 6 and was continued to the Aug. 3 meeting to allow the commission to receive legal advice on the matter.

The BoCC allowed no further testimony on the project at the meeting, but instead quickly put a motion and second on the table, thus opening the topic to commissioner discussion.

Commissioner John Ranson was the first to speak to the crowd, noting what a difficult decision it was to make.

“After talking to people in the community — I’ve been trying to get out and talk to as many as I can — I think I’ve got to represent the people that I’m listening to and I lean to approving the LPEA substation,” Ranson said.

Commissioner Bob Moomaw echoed Ranson’s comments, adding, “The alternative is a fairly expensive relocation by LPEA which rate payers would have to bear, and so I think that this is a reasonable alternative; not an ideal solution, but under the circumstances, I’m going to have to support it.”

Commissioner Clifford Lucero, too, echoed the sentiments of his colleagues, noting that LPEA had “gone the extra yard” with mitigation plans for the site and said he believes it is best to not place more burden on LPEA customers for a relocated substation.

The approved substation “upgrade” will be built slightly west of the existing substation and be located on the same site west of town along U.S. 160.

The approved substation will double the existing 7 MVA (mega volt ampere) capacity to 14 MVA.

The existing substation serves the area from Harman Park south of Pinon Drive and the majority of western Archuleta County. The new substation would increase redundancy to other substations, and will end up serving the Vista and Lake Forest areas.

The new substation will be roughly 230 feet by 260 feet in terms of its physical footprint, said project engineer Jake Wills previously.

Ron Meier, LPEA manager of engineering, previously said the new substation would “basically utilize the entire parcel of land” owned by LPEA. The parcel is 3.12 acres.

Construction for the project would be a six-to-nine month process.

Wills said LPEA is currently weighing options and risks in determining when to start construction due to the delays in the CUP approval.

Beginning construction now would cause the process to overlap with December’s peak in electric consumption, Wills said.

The BoCC decision was met with comments of “thank you” from project opponents as they quickly left the room.

Representatives of neighboring property owner to the south, Parelli Natural Horsemanship, approached the county and LPEA prior to the May 13 meeting and have spoken out at every step of the process, expressing concerns over the size and representation of the project as an expansion (no part of the existing structure will remain upon project completion), as well as the damage to the view from the Parelli Ranch, looking north.

A mailed statement sent to Archuleta County residents last week opposed the substation with the help of a doctored photo proposing what a new substation on the site would look like (the photo shows a Tri-State substation imposed in front of mountains).

LPEA states that the substation pictured is considerably different in size and configuration than the approved one. The photo also shows no mitigation at the site.

The mailer also contains a written page detailing portions of the project and urging, “Better solutions are on the table. Funding is available. And the County’s future is at stake. We deserve better.”

Mark Weiler, project opponent and president of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, admitted responsibility for the document.

The mailer states, “In addition, it has been requested by the Town Tourism Committee and members of the community to honor the intergovernmental agreement between the Town and County by getting the Town’s views and opinions on this.”

Town Manager David Mitchem stated that, while an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) was discussed at one point, it was never formalized.

However, Mitchem added that it is customary that the county bring developments and projects near to and affecting the town before the town council to ask for opinion, with the reverse courtesy also customary.

Mitchem noted that the town’s opinion concerning the LPEA CUP was solicited months ago.

The town and TTC have each sent letters approving Parelli’s efforts.

Despite those opinions, the project is slated to move forward, but will perhaps face more opposition down the road, as Weiler stated that project opponents were thinking about what step to take next, if any.

Weiler noted that they had already presented their case to the community and the commissioners had made a decision, which they accepted “with honor and grace.”

Weiler also indicated that Parelli is continuing to work with LPEA on an alternative site for the substation.

“There will be days when we agree with what the leaders of our community decide and there will be days when we say, ‘how interesting,’” Weiler said, adding, “At the end of the day, this is our community.”