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Letters to Editor


Dear Editor:

I’ve read the county Notice of Election with the ballot language for the upcoming requests for money. Concerning the request from the Archuleta County School District for $49 million dollars, I find that the school board has not told us what they would like to spend the money on. The text of their proposal says that they “might” build a new K-8 facility, they “might” improve the school grounds, they “might” get new furnishings, or they “might” spend a bunch of taxpayer money on something else. I suppose they “might” even consider a maintenance program for the buildings they want to abandon.

There is nothing in the district’s request that indicates an effort to improve teacher training or supplies, or student betterment. It appears to me that the school board has been convinced to ask for a large sum of money, but they haven’t yet decided where they will put all that Other People’s Money. I suggest that the bond request be defeated and the school board come back someday with suggestions for direct improvement of student outcomes.

Bill Bechtold

Editor’s note: The district has indicated it will build either two facilities (K-4 and 5-8) or one building (K-8). Revenues raised by this bond issue could not be used for teacher training, student betterment, etc. The issue asks for funds for capital improvement.


Dear Editor:

I’m very disappointed in the road and bridge department. Every culvert from Pagosa Junction to mile marker 30 is completely plugged with silt and debris. So much so, that you can’t even see the culverts by the river. They did a good job of cutting the ditches, but didn’t fix the drainage problem. If it’s not fixed soon, we will lose most of the road.

Lisa Cowell

Editor’s note: A call to Road and Bridge was met with the statement that work on that section of road is not complete — that mag chloride work in other parts of the county is being finished and, when done with that job, crews will begin work to finish blading and to clean culverts. Time will tell.


Dear Editor:

Recently I proposed a couple of possible solutions to the teachers’ dilemma, namely expand the project to include a cultural center or cut the cost by soliciting competitive bids. But such proposals may still be unsatisfactory to the Archuleta taxpayers. Now, I didn’t become a zillionaire by throwing money around. In fact, I have always considered myself rather frugal, my kids would say “cheap.” So I am suggesting a way to cut the cost of the new school down to under 10 million dollars.

Buy fifty modular units. A few years ago when I moved into downtown Arboles, I bought a brand new modular all set up on over an acre of land for $125,000. I estimate that with no land charge and a quantity discount the school board should be able to get fifty modular units set up for about five million dollars. I recommend that the school board hire Jim Sawicki as their contract negotiator. I believe a couple of million dollars would be adequate for site development, roads, playgrounds and ball fields. For the cost of repairing the old school, Pagosa could have a new school complex that would serve the community for a generation and be ready for redevelopment by the next generation. I do not believe it prudent to saddle the kids with a 100 million dollar debt.

In days of yore, the old geezers sat on a rock and aggravated the authorities until the old geezers got their heads chopped off. It is my intent to carry on the old geezers’ noble tradition. If this letter doesn’t get the job done, I plan a follow-up with a letter on what I really think of the American education system.

Incidentally, the Arboles zillionaire was out digging post holes and the old body gave way. I finally made it back to my cave, but on the way, the thought occurred to me that Jim and I might never get to fly over the county in my Sopwith camel. I am fine and you’ll have to put up with me until the posthole digger or the authorities do me in.

Bob Dungan


No need

Dear Editor:

In 2007 Archuleta School District 50J retained the Blythe Group to update their Facility Master Plan (FMP). The update included a demographic study, an assessment of the four school buildings, and priorities and probable construction costs for space and assessment needs. The FMP was supposed to be a living document for the District to formulate a long-range plan to use as a tool in planning for current and future facility needs and requirements, and even though the school district spent $64K on it in 2007-2008, they apparently decided not to pay a lot of attention to what it said.

The FMP reports “The initial demographic data … forecasted continued moderate enrollment growth ... ” stating further “ ... District sites in Fairfield Pagosa and adjacent to the Elementary School are well positioned to address growth, no further acquisitions needed right now.” According to the FMP, “When the fall 2007 student counts became available, there was in fact a decline in enrollment …” When briefed in January, 2008, “The Board decided there is not a compelling need for new facilities or additions and there would not be an effort to put forth a bond initiative in November, 2008 or the near future.”

In early 2008, the FMP demographic data showed, “In general, only one third of available homes in the area are affordable to local workers. This limits the ability of local workers to consider their tenure in the area as long-term given the ultimate difficulty of owning a dwelling. Further, the increase in County taxes to sustain limited programs also affects housing affordability.”

The FMP concluded local economic factors were the primary cause of the decline in student population, stating “... growth has been primarily for the second home market and has not produced growth in student population. This growth reflects a ‘resort’ type of community ... Most local Realtors suppose that 90 percent of new housing does not have students as part of the household.”

The depressed state of the local economy Blythe addresses in the FMP was the local economy before the financial/real estate market plunge in September 2008. When the FMP was completed, the construction economy had dropped by 50 percent from local 2005 levels and local assessments had just “increased” by 20 percent. Three years later, the construction economy has fallen almost 90 percent from those 2005 levels, and most properties have lost 35-40 percent of their 2008 values.

The fall 2007 enrollment decline referenced above was a 2 percent decline from the high of 2005. The continued decline until this year is an additional 7.6 percent; but, while a 2 percent decline in enrollment in 2007 was sufficient to convince the board there was no compelling need for new facilities or properties, apparently a 9.6 percent decline by 2011 is not.

In December 2010, while at a CASB convention at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, the Archuleta School Board held a special meeting at which they decided to purchase the property adjacent to the high school for the consolidated campus. They held no public hearings, did no traffic studies, conducted no surveys of parents, etc. I wonder if the “public” meeting was noticed and how many regular folks from Pagosa drove up for the meeting?

Jim Huffman

What matters

Dear Editor:

This letter is in support of Ballot item 3B, the bond issue for building new facilities for grades K-8. In the interest of disclosure, my wife is on the school board.

Much has been written in the past couple of months against the ballot issue. Most of it is off the mark and unsubstantiated, and almost all of it is irrelevant.

Let’s recap. The motives, veracity and decision processes of all of the following have been attacked: the superintendent, the school board, the school facilities advisory committee, the bonding company (only an unpaid consultant at this point), and the school system management team. There have been accusations and inaccuracies.

Regardless of whether you find these opinions substantive or slanderous or something in between, none is on point. None addresses what matters, which is precisely this:

1) We have three school buildings with an average age of 65 years. Rated by the State of Colorado and compared to 1,686 other schools, they are ranked in the 12th, sixth and fifth percentiles. Over 300 deficiencies requiring attention have been identified — some serious; many expensive to fix.

2) The cost of borrowing money now is extraordinarily low — meaning that more of our money will go against principal and less against interest than in more normal times.

3) The ballot issue asks voters to approve a tax increase that translates into about $80 per $100,000 valuation for residential property. The final number can’t be determined until plans have been drawn up, the availability of state and federal funding known, and bids from contractors submitted. And none of that can be determined until the voters have passed the initiative.

Those are the points that matter — and the only points that matter. How the decision to go to the voters was derived or who was involved doesn’t matter. How the school buildings got to their current state — whether through age or something else — also doesn’t matter. Ditto, the rest of the things you’ve been reading about. They’re just misdirection. What matters is that we have deteriorating buildings way past the point of acceptability, and we need to do something.

We can choose to wait to build and patch things up to get who-knows-how-many more years of use from the existing buildings. Unfortunately, that’ll require taking money from the school operating budget — which, in turn, means taking money away from the students, faculty and staff. Or we can vote to accept higher taxes and build a longer-lasting facility.

For reference, I’m told that it took five ballots to approve the new high school — now 12 years old. The original initiative called for $3.5 million and included tennis courts and a swimming pool. The initiative that passed cost $13.1 million and included neither. Can we learn anything from this?

It’s never easy to vote to raise your own taxes. But in this case, it’s the right thing to do — for our students, for our teachers and for our community.

Karl Irons

A vision

Dear Editor:

Our community is being presented with a great opportunity to move forward and create something with long lasting, positive impacts and improvements, but once again, instead of joining in and becoming part of a bigger solution, what we see and hear are arguments and discussions based in scarcity and negativity.

It’s safe to say our community lives and dies on the spending of discretionary income. Whether it’s tourist dollars, retirement or second homes (i.e. real estate and construction), or local stakeholder enterprises (music festivals, ski area, natural resource concessionaires, etc.).

We don’t survive without “other people” spending their money in our community.

So here’s the big picture opportunity being presented: The revitalization of the “Downtown District.” The school wants to move out. Hallelujah! Get the kids out of the downtown area. Demo parts of the building and turn the gymnasium and suitable parts into a community recreation facility. There’s a draw we don’t have. Save the old historic school building and turn it into condos or office space. What do the downtown merchants need? A parking area — looks like there’s a lot of that available in the playground area. With parking, business expansion can come.

Get the utility companies off Lewis street and out of the retail district. Tear down or remodel old buildings on those sites and create a multi-block historical retail distract. Tie the businesses into the stakeholders: Sporting goods vendors that promote our natural resources, music related business that keeps the music festival artists and fans in town longer than three days, other snow sport related businesses, restaurants with ambiance and food other then green chili burgers, etc..

Take the elementary building and turn that into the mayor’s “Greenhouse” project. Utilize the sun exposure and the geothermal availability up there to create another tourist attraction that’s not an amusement park.

Leave the downtown river corridor open space not cluttered up with proposed greenhouses, etc., and continue to improve it. Get rid of the eyesore of the courthouse and jail and build modern facilities while we’re at it, out of the downtown area.

So, how do we do it? We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars. Here’s where scarcity rears it’s ugly head. First we need a long term comprehensive plan. Get a vision Pagosa! There’s millions of dollars out there available without taxing the locals. Empower the community development agencies to seek out those dollars. Go after lottery money, after the foundation and community development grants. Seek out private investors who will come when there’s viable vision, business plans and marketing. Create an atmosphere where it’s economically viable and attractive for “the little guy” to do business, and they’ll come. Here’s one for you: Instead of vilifying Red McCombs for his vision of a community on the mountain, somebody ( town fathers) go convince the guy to spend his money in downtown Pagosa where the infrastructure is already in place. Or find somebody like that to help fund the project(s). Scarcity has already run off a few guys like Dave Brown who had a vision, plan and money to do some of this. Work at developing community consensus instead of individuals guarding there own. Break the poverty mentality here!

“Keep Pagosa Pagosa” is a great statement if you want to stay poor broke and live in scarcity. The past is over, learn from it and move on. Invest in our future. Take the opportunity to move the school out of the downtown area. Create a vacuum in those locations and see what positive things fill them up. Work together as a community instead of a bunch of self-preserving individuals without a vision for a positive future.

Mike Kraetsch

Right time

Dear Editor:

In conversations with community members, some misunderstandings regarding 3B, the school bond issue, have been raised.

First, The SUN has referred to the proposed new facility in a number of articles as a “mega-campus.” This has left some people thinking that part of the plan is for the high school to be torn down and a new facility constructed to house K-12. This is simply not the case; the high school is rated as one of the best facilities in the state by the Colorado Department of Education. A new facility would house K-8, with separate entrances for the traditional elementary- and middle-school students. It is a consolidated campus, located on property neighboring the existing high school, with safety, efficiency and better use of operational dollars that is the objective here.

Concerns have also been expressed regarding potential traffic congestion going to the site in question. However, this was taken into consideration by the steering committee, and a southern access point from Trujillo would be part of the plan. Currently, there is heavy traffic backup on 160 near the elementary school that creates issues of both safety and inconvenience.

Finally, the dollar amount of the bond has been subject of error and misunderstanding. The maximum amount that would be bonded is $49 million. Any grant opportunities would be sought after passage of the measure; it cannot be done beforehand. These grants would decrease the overall cost of the bond.

This is the right time to pass this initiative, not after interest rates and construction costs rise, which they will do as the economy improves. A new facility will provide our students with a safer learning environment, located away from 160 (and certainly the bomb threat at the courthouse last week should underscore this need); a more efficient and cost-effective use of resources; and a needed boost to our community as new families and new businesses would be attracted to the area.

Nicole Kelsheimer


Dear Editor:

Cannon Air Force Base is planning low altitude nighttime training flights (LATN) at 300 feet elevation, three per night, five nights a week, indefinitely, over 61,000 square miles of the mountains and valleys of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico . They will be refueling at night, over tinder-dry forests, practicing spy technology and other war exercises, in this proposed area, while they already have millions of acres in which to practice. They are currently holding a series of community meetings on the recently released Environmental Assessment which found ”no significant impact” (FONSI).

If you live, ranch, camp, climb, hike, hunt or fish between Aspen and Albuquerque, between the Utah border and Salida, and you are concerned about the impact of these night flights on the forests, wildlife, cattle, ecotourism, etc., please make your voices heard. We think the Environmental Assessment does not go far enough in its investigation, and that an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) should be conducted; also, that the comment period is too short with too little notice, and should be extended 60 more days.

The meeting in your area will be held from 6-9 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at the Doubletree Hotel, 501 Camino del Rio, Durango. Comments can be submitted by e-mail until the deadline of Nov. 5 at Please also contact your Congressional delegation.

For more information, log on to

Richard McCracken

Arroyo Hondo, N.M.


Dear Editor:

I would not vote for Barak Obama!

I would vote for Herman Cain!

I support the TEA party!

According to Morgan Freeman, that makes me a racist!

John Meyer


Dear Editor:

Ya know, I think there’s enough property at our local airport to extend the runway and accommodate some grown-up aircraft … the ones that can bring in those premium dollars to the community in abundance. I’m certain that the FAA could come up with another of their fantastic deals for the local taxpayer ta choke on in the form of another multimillion dollar grant if we jist cough up our fair share! After all, we can pay the loan off over the years — piece-o-cake!

No problem! Let’s go large and build a runway that can handle those big Boeing airliners; the ones that can carry swarms of bulk spenders to Pagosa. I can hear the pilot’s callin the tower now with, “money aboard!” Those fancy Lears only carry a few fat cats … lets go fer the “big bucks.” Why we might even be able ta git that zillionaire out in Arboles, Mr. Dungan, ta part with some of his superfluous foldin pocket change for the expansion runway.

Idea: Since we have all these air racers jist flockin ta Pagosa now, let’s put up some pylons in the future and git some “real” air racers ta P-Town and stage a really memorable race. All ya gotta do is establish some more turns in the course and really set up a challenge — go for the gusto! And set the turns up all around Navajo Lake and Arboles; the “troglodyte” would be thrilled! His cave walls would vibrate him ta consciousness. He’d probably blame it all on global warming.

Ah, yes, nothing like the sound of affluent racers over da Hot Springs ta stimulate the local economy.

Jim Sawicki

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