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Town gives nod to geothermal work plan

For the fourth time in at least as many weeks, the Pagosa Springs Town Council once again grappled with the issue of funding geothermal research and once again engaged in a long, contentious discussion on the matter.

Early in the meeting, Rich Lindblad and Ken Vickerstaff, supporters of the research, made a presentation to council that they hoped would convince members of the need to fund the process. Representing the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center, Lindblad explained his role as a small business development counselor, saying, “Our goal is nothing less than creating jobs.”

At the end of his presentation, Lindblad stated that he felt the best opportunity for small business development locally involved taking advantage of geothermal resources.

Vickerstaff followed with a presentation of agricultural applications developed through tapping geothermal energy. Including fish farming and greenhouses for organically grown produce, Vickerstaff explained that the area’s geothermal resources would not only provide efficient and cost-effective heating sources, but would designate local agricultural products as sustainably grown.

Later in the meeting, the council was asked to “bless” a decision by the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation to spend $2,000 to fund a work plan that would satisfy council’s concerns regarding details of the study.

In late February, county commissioner and CDC board member Michael Whiting proposed reallocating $30,000 of CDC money to fund the research. Although the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to reallocate their $15,000 portion of CDC funding to pay for research, council has twice rejected reallocating its $15,000 of CDC funding.

Council members opposed to allocating CDC funds for the research have cited discomfort with inadequacies and unanswered questions in the proposed work plan outlining the study.

As reported in last week’s edition of The SUN, the CDC avoided sidestepping council and did not spend the $15,000. However, as a compromise, the CDC agreed to spend $2,000 for consultants to develop a work plan that would be amenable to council — and hopefully convince members to reallocate the $15,000 to fund the first phase of the research.

Thus, council was not being asked to spend any money nor was it being asked to agree to the reallocation of CDC funds, but merely to state approval of the CDC’s expenditure.

What followed was nearly an hour of discussion rehashing previously stated support or objections to the study. Furthermore, council debated whether a Request for Proposal (RFP) should be issued to contract that research.

The final vote to approve the CDC’s move resulted in trustees Darrell Cotton, Kathie Lattin and Shari Pierce opposing, Stan Holt, Jerry Jackson and Don Volger supporting. Not exactly rare, but neither very common, the deciding vote came down to Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon who stood with the supporters.

Vickerstaff told council that the revised work plan could be delivered as early as tomorrow.

In a related issue, council was told that another RFP, soliciting proposals for expanding the town’s geothermal heating system, had only received one response (Hardin Geothermal), but that, as Town Manager David Mitchem said, “A number of items need clarification ... we do not have a recommendation at this time.”

It remains to be seen if those items will be addressed by the May mid-month council meeting or if staff will make a recommendation for awarding a proposed geothermal utility contract.

Council meets again Thursday, May 19 at noon in Town Hall.

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