The Pagosa Springs Town Council voted last week to become even more invested in the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP), but the decision was not unanimous and was preceded by over an hour’s worth of debate.
In the agenda packet the council received before the meeting, Town Manager Greg Schulte wrote, “The Town Council needs to be aware of the potential significance in agreeing to be the applicant for the DoLA (Department of Local Affairs) grant funding on behalf of the GGP: Prior to now, the Town has essentially been in the position of being a ‘lessor’ of land and a water tap as well as a ‘donor’ of seed funding. By agreeing to be the sponsor of the GGP for the Energy Impact funding, and if the funding were awarded, the Town becomes a part ‘owner’ of the project.”
Schulte also included in the packet a letter from Sally High, the vice president of the GGP, in which High wrote, “The GGP proposal is that (1) the Town of Pagosa Springs submit a DoLA Energy Impact Assistance grant application for improvements on the GGP leased .7 acre in Centennial Park and (2) the line item in the 2015 budget for bathrooms near GGP property be approved in the overall budget.”
As it turned out, it was the question of committing $80,000 towards building bathrooms in Centennial Park that generated the most controversy at last Thursday’s meeting.
As Schulte explained, “The immediate fiscal impact (to the town) is both direct and indirect. The indirect part is the incremental staff time to review the preparation of the application for the Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Funds by GGP and Region 9 personnel and then presentation to Town Council for approval. The next application cycle deadline is December 1st. The more immediate fiscal impact is the possible commitment to budget up to $80,000 for placement of restrooms in Centennial Park.”
According to the documentation presented to council, the GGP currently has $125,000 — the town has donated $25,000, the Laura Jean Musser Foundation has donated $25,000, the San Juan Basin Roundtable has donated $25,000 and the Colorado Water Conservation Board has donated $50,000.
To receive the DoLA grant, an applicant must ask for an amount between $200,000 and $2 million, and be able to provide at least 25 percent worth of matching funds. However, providing a dollar-for-dollar match would make the application more competitive.
A commitment by the town to spend $80,000 for construction of a bathroom would count as a match, and would bring the GGP’s matching funds up to $205,000, allowing the partnership to apply for at least $205,000 worth of grant funding. Presumably, this would give the GGP a total of $410,000 to start building the infrastructure and foundation for the project.
At the Sept. 18 council meeting, when the GGP first brought up this proposal, council asked for a better explanation of what the DoLA grant would buy, since the town would be the official owner of anything built with DoLA funds. Consequently, last week’s packet included two new pages — an itemized list of construction items with estimated costs, and a map of the site with yellow highlights to show what the town was buying.
The itemized list, however, showed a construction subtotal of $417,250, an engineering subtotal of $56,500 and a project total of $557,200. While this is considerably more than the $410,000 mentioned above, it also contains no mention of the bathrooms.
In addition, the highlighted map shows improvements to the Riverwalk and additional sidewalks that would surround the three geodesic dome greenhouses, but it does not include the amphitheater as part of what the town would own.
At last Thursday’s meeting, High explained that the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners had written a letter of recommendation pledging support to the project.
According to that letter, dated Oct. 21 and signed by Chairman Clifford Lucero, “The Archuleta Board of County Commissioners supports the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership’s request for funding. We have followed the activities of the GGP with interest and appreciation as these volunteers have raised funds both public and private, been instrumental in keeping the concept of geothermal energy in the public eye, and involved experts and elected officials in the project and the County’s geothermal resource.”
The letter concluded with a pledge to provide $30,000 worth of “in-kind services” to the project, and High clarified to town council this means the county will allow the GGP to use county equipment and personnel to do the dirt work for the project. However, this additional $30,000 was not included in the calculation of matching funds presented to council.
Council member Tracy Bunning was the first to respond to High’s presentation. He encouraged his fellow councilors to move forward with submitting the grant on behalf of the GGP, and then said, “In looking at what the funds are going to be spent for out of this grant, and considering the town will, in effect, end up owning that improvement after it’s completed, I look at this as an improvement to our park system.
“I’m not suggesting that their project is not going to be successful, but the improvement we are looking at here,” Bunning indicated the site map in front of him, “is one that we can utilize if nothing else ever happens … The improved sidewalks, the dirt work that will raise that area of the town’s park out of the flood zone, will make it possible to do other things should this not move forward.”
While councilor Clint Alley agreed with Bunning, councilor David Schanzenbaker said, “I also feel comfortable with the town taking on this new role by sponsoring the grant, but I guess I have some hesitation with committing to build restrooms there at this time. We’ve already committed twenty-five thousand dollars in a cash contribution to the grant match, so I would feel more comfortable committing to build restrooms there after I saw some increased use in that part of the park, because we do have the bell tower restrooms fairly close right now to serve that area.”
“I have to agree with council member Schanzenbaker,” councilor Kathie Lattin added. “With so many other things going on, I want to see more happening with the greenhouses before we dedicate money to put restrooms in.”
As it turned out later, Lattin and Schanzenbaker were the two councilors who voted “No” to the motion to approve writing the grant application and dedicating $80,000 for restrooms in Centennial Park.
While councilor John Egan suggested negotiating with the GGP so that the bathrooms were part of a later phase of the project, Schulte clarified that if the town was awarded the DoLA grant based on a promise to build bathrooms, they would be obligated to build bathrooms. The town couldn’t back out later.
“I would like to reiterate that we are confident, with this site improvement and preparation, we will build,” High hesitated for a second, but then forged on, “we will build the first education dome when we begin construction in the spring … and we have teachers and classes committed to using that space.”
High then pointed out that any children walking down to the site from the middle school or elementary school would need an adult escort to take them across U.S. 160 in order to use the bell tower restroom.
Egan later pointed out that anyone who has sat at the stoplight for the intersection of 5th Street and the highway knows how long that light takes to change, and what a problem it would be for a child who really needed to use the restroom.
Town Planner James Dickhoff also mentioned that, with the new 6th Street pedestrian bridge scheduled for installation before the end of the year, thereby connecting two major sections of the town’s Riverwalk, the need for a bathroom in Centennial Park will increase, regardless of when, or if, the GGP domes are built.