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Water supply planning group makes progress

In a display of comity last Wednesday night, the Community Water Supply Planning Group (CWSPG) transcended the contention and dissension of its two previous meetings, not only agreeing to form three subcommittees to investigate the issues the group was originally charged to address, but also reaching a consensus that the group would need input from experts to help it achieve those goals.

That spirit of cooperation was timely: Previous to the meeting, members of the CWSPG apparently realized that the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners and the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District’s (PAWSD) board had lost patience with the work group’s inability to reach an agreement on even fundamental meeting procedures.

The CWSPG formed in late June when PAWSD had solicited community members to assist in addressing issues of future water storage.

Meeting for the first time in early July, the CWSPG spent hours arguing over minutiae and minor procedural disagreements, all under the direction of a facilitator hired by PAWSD. With over 30 local residents making up the group (some from outside the water district’s boundaries), participants had conceded that the group was too large and unwieldy.

Meeting again in mid-July, the group (using the same facilitator) appeared to be no closer in achieving the goals for which it was formed. Lacking cohesion and an ability to cooperate to form even the simplest procedural agreements, the future of the group appeared in peril as the PAWSD board and the BoCC considered whether or not to retain the group or reform it, creating a “county-model task force” to tackle the issues of water storage.

Early in last Wednesday’s meeting, several panel members alluded to e-mails sent between select group members that set forth agreements on how the group should operate if it intended to remain intact. However, other panel members expressed dismay that such ex parte communication had taken place and that they had not been included in the e-mail correspondence.

“I wasn’t aware of these e-mails,” said panel member Bob Hart, asking, “Why wasn’t I on the list?”

Accepting the resignation of the facilitator from the previous two meetings, the group accepted PAWSD Special Projects Manager Sheila Berger as its new facilitator as well as panel member Bruce Dryburgh as the group’s chairman. With Berger taking a fairly passive approach as facilitator — mostly taking notes and rarely needing to steer the group back to its agenda — it was Dryburgh’s authoritative approach as chairperson that helped the group move forward with business as listed on the agenda.

Previous to the meeting, Berger had proposed an agenda for the CWSPG meeting, but that agenda was replaced by an agenda provided by Dryburgh on the morning before the meeting — an agenda that, apparently, had been devised by the subgroup participating in the e-mail discussion.

While the group mapped out its future course, deciding to break into subcommittees in order to address the water storage issues PAWSD had posed to the group, and agreeing to keep the size of the group to the members attending last Wednesday’s meeting (18 members), there was some disagreement on how the subcommittees would operate.

Explaining how the Town Tourism Committee runs its subcommittee — composed of TTC members but open to anyone interested in attending meetings — Hart and panel member Jim Smith (both TTC board members) advocated for opening those subcommittees to the general public. In the end, for the sake of transparency and broader community support, the CWSPG voted to open subcommittees to anyone wishing to attend those meetings, with the understanding that subcommittee results would be nonbinding and subject to CWSPG approval.

Voting unanimously to elect Dryburgh as the permanent CWSPG chair, the only matter not approved by the group was a motion put forth by Smith, a local Realtor.

“I think that impact fees, water resource fees and capital investment fees are a detriment to our economy right now,” Smith said, adding, “I would move that we recommend to the PAWSD board that they waive all water resource fees and capital investment fees,” stipulating that those waivers should be waived for at least a year.

After a brief discussion, however, with some members questioning how the PAWSD board would receive Smith’s suggestion in relation to an apparently pending motion by that board to dissolve the CWSPG, along with discussion on how the CWSPG had no information on financial impacts of a fee waiver, only Smith voted in favor of the motion.

Bringing the meeting to a close 15 minutes before the self-imposed three-hour time limit, Berger complimented the group on its newfound ability to work together and summarized the group’s work during the meeting. It was that summary that Berger presented at the following night’s PAWSD board meeting.

That meeting, with the majority of the audience composed of CWSPG members, began with Berger reading a synopsis of the previous night’s meeting.

Dryburgh followed up with a letter composed by panel member Will Neder and representing the majority opinion of the group that, in light of the cooperation exhibited during the previous meeting, that the group should be allowed to continue its work, given its smaller composition, agreement on direction and function, and seeming ability to work efficiently.

“I think having half as many people was a giant step in the right direction,” Dryburgh said. “I was pleasantly surprised by the composition of the group, we have a wide diversity of talent,” referring to an informal survey done at the end of the previous night’s meeting asking members to state areas of expertise and experience.

PAWSD board chair Steve Hartvigsen expressed a concern in the composition of the group’s membership. “One-third of the 18 in the group are in the growth sector that is fee adverse,” he said, adding, “that makes me very nervous, referring to the CWSPG-provided list that indicated six members who were either developers or Realtors.

With most members advocating that the group be allowed to continue in its smaller configuration, county commissioner John Ranson also advocated for keeping the group intact — in an apparent reversal of statements made earlier that day in discussions with PAWSD board members.

“We made a mistake when we let the planning commission go,” Ranson said. “I was impressed with how the group operated last night. Commissioner (Bob) Moomaw is for giving the group a chance ... we’re concerned about the size of the group, but I think this group deserves a chance.”

With PAWSD directors Allen Bunch and Roy Vega (both of whom had attended the previous night’s meeting) advocating for the group and directors Bob Huff and Windsor Chacey calling for a reconfigured panel, it was up to Hartvigsen to cast the deciding vote in the matter.

Given reports that the group had turned around from what looked to be an imminent wreck, along with BoCC recommendations as presented by Ranson, Hartvigsen voted to allow the group to continue as proposed in the CWSPG meeting summary.

Although the CWSPG had not scheduled formal subcommittee meetings as of press time Wednesday, meeting times and locations will be posted on the PAWSD website at when that information becomes available.

According to an internal memorandum sent to CWSPG members yesterday, three subcommittees dealing with current water resources, population projections and current PAWSD fees and rates have been established.

The CWSPG will meet again at the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 11, with informal subcommittees meetings held first, followed by a meeting of the reconstituted CWSPG. The public is invited to attend and participate in subcommittee meetings and can comment during the general CWSPG meeting (but are excluded from voting).