River restoration project flows on

More details for renewed progress on the San Juan River restoration project were disclosed at Tuesday’s meeting of the Pagosa Springs Town Council, including the disposition of a popular whitewater feature known locally as “Davey’s Wave.”

Council member Angela Atkinson, directed by council to investigate options for kick-starting the project, reported that Recreation Engineering and Planning (REP), the firm currently contracted by the town for the project, has agreed to complete several aspects of the plan, at no charge.

With 15 percent of design and survey still unfinished, REP has agreed to complete those tasks along with overseeing construction plans carried out by another contractor. Furthermore, REP agrees to design the move of Davey’s Wave to an upstream location, in compliance with Army Corps of Engineering mandates, again without further billing the town.

Atkinson reported she met with Gary Lacey from REP in Boulder last week to discuss billing and contracts that have been a point of contention since earlier this year. According to Atkinson, “I was convinced there was a tremendous amount of work completed and that their billing was legitimate.”

Atkinson went on to add that, “REP wants to make this right.”

The renewed river project will employ a local company, Riverbend Engineering, in favor of REP, contingent upon acceptance of town contracts. As reported in The SUN last week, Riverbend has proposed completing the project with a much-revised plan that includes scaling down whitewater features and constructing those features far upstream from the originally-planned location near Centennial Park. Features proposed in the new plan would be designed to go into the section of river just in front of Town park.

Although council approved of the general concept for the new project, at least one local kayaker expressed his dismay with the project. Citing last week’s article in The SUN, Anthony Doctor said, “I’m curious why we have to settle for a whitewater-lite design,” while rebutting several points made in defense of the project spelled out in the article.

Former town manager Mark Garcia, a longtime point man on the original project, also weighed in with questions regarding the revised project. Among several questions, Garcia asked, “Have all efforts been exhausted in securing easements for Centennial Park features via The Springs Resort?”

“If we can come up with a plan that doesn’t require us to strong-arm private owners,” Atkinson replied, “We should seek out other options.”

With council itching to see some progress on the project, town staff was directed to draw up contracts for Riverbend Engineering. Those contracts would allow the firm to go forward with site surveys, investigations, and designs for the installation of whitewater features near Town Park (at which the town owns all easements).

Several issues will determine if the Town Park area is appropriate for whitewater features: relative grade of the river at that spot, bedrock levels in the river, and lack of interference with operations of the U.S. Geological Survey gauging station. If those investigation show viability for the proposed features, the project could be completed some time well before the 2009 spring runoff season.

jim@pagosasun.com