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LPEA gets go-ahead on substation

La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) has been given the go-ahead to construct the upgraded Ponderosa substation on Parelli property west of Pagosa Springs.

The 2-1 decision granting LPEA the needed Conditional Use Permit (CUP) came on July 28, following an hour of discussion and gives LPEA two approved locations for the substation.

Under the new CUP, the substation will sit on 1.67 acres located on the Parelli Natural Horsemanship ranch, about three miles west of Pagosa Springs, with a perpetual easement for the property.

In an interview, LPEA Manager of Engineering Ron Meier said about nine acres are included in the easement.

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 will increase redundancy to other substations and will end up serving the Vista and Lake Forest areas, serving approximately 2,750 LPEA customers.

In introducing the CUP request to the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners, Planning Manager Cindy Schultz said the new site on Parelli land is located about 340 feet from the highway, is situated behind a natural rise in the land and will be graded down to situate the substation lower.

Schultz said the substation will be unmanned and will have no lighting except for possible motion-activated lighting.

The site will be gated and fenced with a seven-foot-tall chain link fence and will include a small storage area, Schultz said.

Speaking in favor of the proposal, Randy Ferris, LPEA land rights administrator, said the LPEA board gave full consideration to both sites.

“This alternate site, as it turned out, is superior to the ... site that was being considered a year ago,” Ferris said.

Ferris said the site would be easier and safer to access off of the highway, construction would be safer, and the site would allow for more room, which would increase safety for maintenance and snow removal work.

At the current site, construction would be limited to working around the existing substation on the three-acre parcel, Ferris said, while the Parelli ranch site provides more room to work.

Ferris also noted the project could be completed within LPEA’s original budget and without an increase to the co-op’s ratepayers.

In a later interview, Meier estimated the project cost for the new site at $2.9 million, a $300,000 increase over the old site, but within the original budget of $3 million.

Speaking against the project was Billy Moffatt, representing Kaspar von Braun, a landowner on the opposite side of U.S. 160.

Moffatt read a letter from von Braun expressing concerns of a decline in property value caused by damage to the view from his property.

In the letter, von Braun posed questions about the need for, and the location and financial advantages of the new substation, calling it “superfluous” in light of an approved CUP at the existing substation site.

A former owner of von Braun’s property expressed similar concerns over damage to the view from the property.

Another audience member, Bradley Mundy, asked what consideration had been made for those with irrigation rights near the substation, to which Ferris replied that irrigation had been looked into and that the irrigation would likely be better than it is now due to work done at the site (culverts, etc.), while wetlands would not be disturbed.

Commissioner Michael Whiting was the most hesitant of the commissioners about the proposal, asking about the possibility of moving the site out of the viewshed, and about its funding.

“We know the value of a nice view in this community, that’s for sure,” Whiting said, adding, “If this were just two ranchers out in the middle of nowhere, this would be easier.”

Meier said archaeological sites, Mancos shale and the Pagosa Skyrocket flower, among other factors, meant the site could not be moved again.

Commissioner Clifford Lucero made a comment in favor of the added infrastructure and room to grow at the new site, but said one bit of information stood out.

“I think the most important comment that I heard today is, there’s not going to be an increase to the ratepayers,” Lucero said.

Following a motion for approval by Commissioner Steve Wadley, Whiting said “I would argue that we have improved the value of one property at the detriment of another property and I can’t vote for that.”

The CUP was ultimately granted following a 2-1 vote.

Meier said in an interview that LPEA is looking to begin construction on the substation in mid August and work through the winter to complete the facilityand bring it online by the end of February.

The old substation, with the exception of the transmission line, will be torn down, likely within a month of the completion of the new substation, Meier said.

Ferris said the land at the current site will be reclaimed.

In addition to the new CUP, LPEA was granted a height variance from the 40-foot restriction to 48 feet to allow for structural framework and lightning protection, as well as a variance from a detention pond requirement — a variance Ferris said he thought would further help irrigation.

The first CUP to upgrade the existing substation, located west of Pagosa Springs along U.S. 160, was granted on Aug. 3, 2010, and is good for one year, but construction for the project was put on hold before it began to allow LPEA to assess an alternative, potentially less-controversial site for the substation.

Throughout the CUP process, representatives of Parelli, the neighboring property owner to the south, spoke out, expressing concerns over the size and representation of the project as an expansion (no part of the existing structure would have remained upon project completion), as well as the damage to the view from the Parelli ranch, looking north.

As an option to alleviate the view issues, Parelli staff suggested that LPEA use the larger parcel of land on Parelli property, which would screen the substation from view of the highway.

As a contingency plan, LPEA was granted an extension of the CUP for the current site.

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