Town moves to provide ground for greenhouses

The proposed geothermal greenhouse project will most likely have a home and the GGP (Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership) intends to celebrate that landmark with a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday, April 16, at noon in Centennial Park.

Vacating a portion of South Fifth Street for the purpose of providing a space for the geothermal greenhouse project, the Pagosa Springs Town Council moved to provide a place in the ground in which to thrive. With unanimous approval Tuesday night, the first reading of an ordinance setting aside property for the project signaled council’s ongoing support for the endeavor.

Still, even with a proposed site and a scheduled groundbreaking ceremony, the GGP has considerable work ahead of it.

“We don’t have a dime yet,” said Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon, several weeks back at a GGP meeting, “but we’re reaching for the stars.”

The groundbreaking will serve not only to raise awareness for the project but will announce the claims of the GGP, the town of Pagosa Springs, and Archuleta County that the project has moved far beyond the conceptual stage and — if funding is secured — is soon to be under construction.

Consciousness is not the only thing the GGP hopes to raise, however. With plans to present a fully-realized proposal to area residents during the groundbreaking ceremony, the GGP hopes local philanthropists and supporters will break out their checkbooks to help grow the project, by providing much needed seed money.

“I think the groundbreaking ceremony will create community empowerment, engagement and dialogue,” said Aragon. “It’s not going to be an easy thing to do with the economic downturn and we’re going to need all the support we can get.”

In fact, the GGP is hoping to rake in funding from various state and federal funding sources including stimulus package money offered by the Obama administration for alternative energy and jobs creation projects.

As currently conceived, the project will include two to three 51-foot domes to serve as community gardens and pilot projects, with one to two 33-foot domes used as a visitor’s center and exhibition garden.

Designated as the first phase of the project, the public geothermal greenhouses would hopefully generate enough interest to establish the groundwork for a Phase II — commercial applications of geothermally-heated greenhouses. Furthermore (and again, pending grants and funding), plans for Phase I would make the project almost entirely energy self-sustaining, using geothermal water for heating and solar energy (through photovoltaic solar panels) or geothermal power generation to provide electrical power.

Although the GGP has yet to decide what will be grown in the greenhouses for Phase I, ideas have circulated among GGP committee members ranging from tomatoes, herbs and medicinal plants, to aquaculture (for example, fish, such as tilapia).

Larger plans for the project look toward various elements promoting Pagosa Springs as a standard bearer in green, sustainable energy and permaculture. Such identification would hopefully attract visitors to the area who would not have normally designated Pagosa Springs as a destination. Furthermore, by involving educational institutions from various levels, the greenhouses would not only provide opportunities for learning and study but could potentially provide groundwork (and, perhaps, institutional support) for internships, certificates, or even degreed programs in areas as far-reaching as alternative energy technology, horticulture and botany.

Finally, the project would provide tangible resources important to the area: jobs and organically-grown produce. As many as a dozen jobs could be created in order to staff all aspects of the greenhouses. Produce grown in the greenhouses would be made available to local businesses and restaurants that, in turn, would advertise their produce as “organically and locally grown, right here in Pagosa Springs.”

If indeed, “April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain,” the GGP is looking ahead from the April 16 groundbreaking ceremony to further events that will raise interest — and money — for the project.

“If the project is approved at the state level in mid-May,” said GGP committee member Sheila Berger, “by the end of May, people will be able to make contributions to the construction of the facility and receive a state income tax credit for their donation.”

Residents interested in learning more about the project, or in donating resources, money or time can learn more about the project and the GGP at www.geothermalgreenhousepartnership.org.

jim@pagosasun.com