What if you held a public hearing and nobody came?
In fact, that was almost the case at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Pagosa Springs Sanitation and General Improvement District when only one local resident attended a public hearing for a $5.484 million pipeline proposed to carry sewage from PSSGID customers to a newly-built wastewater treatment plant operated by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District.
The hearing was a procedural requirement mandated by the state of Colorado.
That resident, Vivian Rader, was the lone attendee at the hearing. Other than local officials and applicants (engineers from Bartlett and West), Mark Weiler (who presided over original plans for the pipeline) and members of the press, Rader was on her own — an ironic situation considering that the room had been full just minutes before as the town considered a policy governing public participation at meetings (see related article).
Nevertheless, what Rader had to say was worthy of comments from a dozen attendees.
“I accidentally attended a separate meeting where some people who ran for office and were elected at PAWS spoke,” Rader began, “and I was really disturbed, I didn’t sleep at all that night. Because what I heard there was not what I’ve heard represented to you.”
Saying that Bartlett and West engineers had said, during previous meetings, that potable water lines would not be laid down with sewer lines, Rader continued, “I accidentally attended a Tea Party meeting in April ... and the PAWS member there said, ‘While the ditch is open, we’re going to sneak in a new potable drinking water line for the town’s future use.’ So, it just really disturbs me, to come to these meetings and have these questions asked and then go to another meeting and have that same man say something totally different.”
Following the meeting, Rader told SUN staff that the PAWSD board member speaking about the pipeline was Alan Bunch.
“Someone’s lying at some meeting and I’m just deeply disturbed,” Rader said.
Weiler, Bartlett and West engineers and PSSGID Supervisor Phil Starks assured Rader that Bunch was not speaking for the project, referring to state guidelines regulating sewer and potable water lines.
“We’re not under contract to design any potable water lines,” said Bartlett and West Engineer Jeff Shamberg.
“I can’t speak to what was said at the other meeting,” Weiler said, “but it’s my understanding, there is no potable water line next this, it’s raw water. They take raw water out of the river, send it to PAWS, they will treat it and then it goes to our potable water system.”
Seemingly satisfied with the answers provided, Rader added, “The disturbing thing for me was, that it was, like, we’re going to sneak in for future use because, we’re losing so much water from PAWS now, you have to wonder if it’s because it was not properly shaded that these pipes are now rupturing, that was brought up at that same meeting.
“So, it is a concern for me, for me the concern is hearing different stories.”
After the meeting, Rader told SUN staff that Bunch and PAWSD board member Glenn Walsh also said, during the April Tea Party meeting, that following completion of the pipeline, PAWSD would substantially increase rates for town customers.
Had more town residents been in attendance, Rader’s comments may have raised a few eyebrows. Unfortunately, when a public hearing is held and almost no one attends, what is said at those hearings pretty much amounts to the sound of a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it.