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$2 million loan approved for pipeline

Phil Starks, of the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District, reported to town council the approval of a $2 million loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority for a project that would allow sewage to be pumped from downtown Pagosa Springs to the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District’s Vista treatment plant, enabling the clean-up of the old sewage lagoon site near Yamaguchi Park.

“I just want to give Phil public kudos for his great work with the water authority board,” said Town Manager David Mitchem. “He went to their meeting last week and came back with their agreement to fund us at the $2 million level. They peppered him with questions, and he responded effectively. I think their vote was unanimous. He did a great job.”

Council member Darrel Cotton jokingly asked, “Who could turn down that face?”

Although Stark reported success in getting a vote of approval from the water authority, he went on to say, “We have to still do a lot of paperwork. One thing is getting the legal opinion of Mr. Cole (town attorney Bob Cole).” Another is getting the approval of town council, but the sewer line project is still moving forward.

“The sewer line project preceded my entry on the scene,” council member Tracy Bunning said. “If the project goes forward and is completed as currently envisioned, what, if anything, is going to be required of the current sewage treatment facility?”

“We will have to decommission it,” Stark reported, “but to what level of decommissioning is going to be the question at that time. Basically, to bring enough material to fill it would be quite expensive, but first we will be cleaning up the site and removing all the material that’s there, disinfecting and gradually restoring it to as normal as possible. There are approximately 28 acres there.”

Under his breath, Cotton jokingly suggested the sight would be a good alternative location for the amphitheater from Reservoir Hill.

Earlier, at the Aug. 17 town council retreat, during a heated discussion between Mitchem and several council members concerning the policy-setting role of the council versus Mitchem’s request to not be micro-managed, council member Don Volger held the PSSGID up as a good example of being able to set policy and trust staff to take care of the details.

“Let’s just take the example we have already talked about,” Volger said, “which I think has gone over well with the community, which was the agreement with PAWSD to build a pipeline instead of building a new sewage treatment facility. I think most of us would look at that and say, ‘Yes. That was a good decision.’”

Ken Charles, from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, which, along with the state water authority, had a say in whether or not to approve the loan, said, “When I took that proposal back and it had changed from a wastewater treatment plant to this pipeline project, everyone said this was a completely different project and we should ask them to re-apply to the program. I just told them this is a prudent decision in all sorts of ways. You’re saving money in the long run, and you’re avoiding another discharge point into the river. It was a win-win situation, and you let your staff work out the details.”

“The USDA initially gave us a loan and a grant for funding on the wastewater treatment plant,” Mitchem explained, “but the additional requirements that they imposed added up to a figure that was more than the grant they gave us. In the end, it was felt that it was too costly, and therefore we began negotiating with PAWSD. The USDA was concerned that we were talking about a different option with PAWSD, and they said, ‘Well, if you’re going to go in a different way then we want our money back, and we want it now.’”

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

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