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A resource for real development

The topic of economic development concerns most of us and, while there is wide disagreement concerning the form development should take, there is little argument about whether the local economy needs a boost.

For decades, the notion has held sway that Pagosa Country can and will attract industry. Those who promote the idea imagine owners of industries located elsewhere packing up their operations and moving here, providing a new and vibrant opportunity for employment to needy residents. With the jobs come revenues of all sorts. Everyone benefits, everyone is happy.

It doesn’t happen that often.

More realistic visionaries have proposed that the move will be made by owners of “light industry,” small manufacturing and service firms. A few of these businesses have relocated here in the past quarter century or so.

A few.

The problem? To oversimplify: a lack of resources, a lack of transportation, a lack of infrastructure.

Once upon a time, the area provided the resources needed for “industry” — as in ample grazing lands needed for a thriving livestock business.

There was once more than enough timber to support a burgeoning industry. And there was transport available in the form of a railroad.

Now, the livestock industry has diminished and is but a shadow of its former self. The local logging industry does not exist. There are no sawmills, no loads of timber taken by rail from the county. There is no railroad.

The forest can provide resources of another kind and the soon-to-operate biofuel energy plant will use them. And provide jobs. But it is a limited proposition.

What else do we have that can stimulate economic development? What resources?

The answer could be beneath our feet.

Hot water.

Our geothermal resource has already provided the foundation for part of our tourism industry — bathhouses, spas, pools. People travel here to partake of the waters; they patronize facilities during their ski vacations, during their summer trips.

Now, we could see our geothermal resource put to greater use.

The entire downtown area might one day be heated with geothermal water. A move is underway to investigate the possibility and it is, indeed, a factor in economic development. An advanced and extensive system, with potentially lower energy costs and possible breaks for businesses utilizing the system, would be an attractive incentive.

Every bit as attractive is the possibility that our resource is far greater than we imagined, and more widely distributed across the county. A study of the aquifer (or aquifers) could tell us how big this resource is, where it is, and how current use affects it. A group of stakeholders and elected officials are eager to undertake a study and have met to begin the process. The Community Development Corporation is ready to divert funds previously used for staff to a study, knowing full well that enhancement of our geothermal capabilities fits snug in the best definition of economic development: improve and expand infrastructure to create a viable business environment, then provide incentives to prompt the relocation or creation of businesses. Whether the CDC makes this contribution directly, or it comes from the original governmental donors (town and county) has not been decided, but the money should go to the assessment project. A request for proposals should be forthcoming, a firm selected, and the project initiated as soon as possible.

With geothermal, the options are many. The tourism implications are obvious. Less obvious, but exciting to contemplate, are aquaculture and agricultural applications.

All using a renewable, environmentally friendly resource.

If our geothermal resource is capable of supporting the extra use, it will lead to realistic, and lasting economic development in Pagosa Country.

Karl Isberg

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