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Move the biomass project forward

There was a large and overwhelmingly positive turnout at the recent meeting at the Extension Building, called to allow people to speak out concerning the proposed national monument designation for the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area.

At the meeting to hear comments and answer questions were special guests Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Scott Tipton, USDA Undersecretary Harris Sherman and Regional Forester for the Rocky Mountain Region Dan Jiron.

Thus far, major Colorado elected officials have cooperated across party lines to see that the designation takes place. Bennet and Tipton have been deeply involved in the process and Sen. Mark Udall is on board with the idea. All involved have predicted success, though the designation, like most federal legislative processes, is proceeding at a snail’s pace. The most desirable answer: the president takes action and circumvents the Legislature.

Success, when it comes, will be a boon to our area. Claims have been made that the designation will draw additional visitors to the area. Claims are made that the area will reap an economic benefit once the designation occurs.

What is most notable here is the bi-partisan cooperation on the part of Bennet, Tipton and Udall.

We need that cooperation to persist and, in particular, we need it concerning another matter of great importance to Pagosa Country. In our mind, a matter more important than the national monument tag for Chimney Rock.

For more than two years, The SUN has reported on a biomass project proposed for Pagosa Springs. In brief, the project would take material from the forest (designated by the Forest Service for removal in an effort to promote forest health) and convert that biomass through a gasification process into electricity at a plant located in the Cloman Industrial Park area near the Stevens Field airport. The conversion would be accomplished with minimal environmental impact.

This is a project that could significantly improve the condition of the forest lands in Pagosa Country and that would inject a minimum $1.2 million into the economy each year in the form of wages paid to local workers.

It’s a win-win, don’t you think?

We do, and so does nearly everyone who examines the proposal.

The project is ready to go. The private funding is in place, the materials are available, the equipment is at the ready.

So, why has it taken the Forest Service this long to award a contract? The USFS has spun its wheels, with no bid yet awarded for the Pagosa Area Biomass Long-term Stewardship Contract. That contract could go to a traditional timber company or to the local project. When asked about the delay, the response is that it is a matter of funding. We have a suspicion the funds are available and, if they’re not diverted to less productive projects on the Front Range, the local contract could be awarded.

It should go to the Pagosa-based project. It is innovative, forward-thinking and well-managed.

Several of the visiting dignitaries got an explanation of the local project and a close look at some of its elements. The general reaction? Great project.

Well, do something about it. The Pagosa project could be up and running, dealing with Forest Service needs, creating energy that goes into the regional system, providing much-needed employment for local workers.

Cooperate, please. We hope the visiting politicians and officials will urge the Forest Service to move this situation forward now, with similar ideas put in place in other locations.

Karl Isberg

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