Geothermal greenhouse project — patience and time

Slog a considerable way through “War and Peace” and you’ll find that Tolstoy writes, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”

Local residents might feel that progress on the geothermal greenhouse project is rather like reading “War and Peace”: wondering when something will finally happen and asking, halfway through, if the effort is worth it.

During the Monday meeting of the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) in the office of Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon, committee members expressed confidence that Tolstoy’s two most powerful warriors will help bring their project fruition and convince Pagosa area residents that the project will be a boon for the region.

Local residents interested in the progress and scope of the geothermal greenhouse project will have a chance to see how the project is shaping up, get questions answered and volunteer to assist with the project when the GGP hosts an open forum at the Pagosa Springs Community Center South Conference Room next Thursday, May 28, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The open forum will include project sketches and site designs, available to the public for the first time, giving local residents a visual representation of what a final build out should look like, along with an idea of what kind of footprint the project will have on the west side of Centennial Park.

Additionally, the GGP intends to present a rough draft of a business plan that will explain how the project will not only sustain itself (free from town or county government subsidies) but also create jobs, providing employment for those working at the greenhouses.

Although the project has been planned with the efforts a few community volunteers — all of them working countless hours on their own time — the open forum will be the GGP’s next step for including a wider coalition of community members for the planning and development of the project. Although many local businesses, growers and other community members have participated in brainstorming the project so far, the GGP is looking to involve more residents in the planning process.

“We’ve had, so far,” said GGP committee member Michael Whiting, “about two dozen volunteers from the community who have come forward and gone deep in the development of business plans, grant writing, greenhouse management and permaculture. Now, we’re ready to go broad, instead of deep, and get a more comprehensive community involvement.”

Currently, the GGP is soliciting volunteers for subcommittees on its Web site (geothermalgreenhousepartnership.org) but hopes that more volunteers will come forward at the meeting next Thursday. The GGP had previously worked with fewer people in order to get the project off the ground but states they now feel ready at this point in project planning to expand its volunteer base.

“We had a running group,” explained GGP committee member Kathy Keyes, “to keep it light, keep it moving. We weren’t being exclusive, but were shooting for results.”

On May 28, the GGP will begin the meeting by introducing the project, along with various committee members, then give attendees about a half hour to view plans and project renderings, as well as visit tables set up to explain the functions of the various subcommittees needed to further progress on the project. Those subcommittees include permaculture, business and marketing, education, resource development, and events. After giving attendees time to review information, the meeting will reconvene for a question and answer session.

More than soliciting local volunteers, however, the GGP hopes to present the geothermal greenhouses as a beneficial addition to the community — one that will not only provide jobs and educational opportunities during tough economic times but would potentially attract tourists to the area who would not normally visit. Furthermore, the GGP hopes to stress that the greenhouses would, of course, provide fresh produce for local residents, businesses and restaurants.

Most importantly, the GGP proposes to make its produce available to low-income families and seniors, populations for whom fresh, naturally grown produce can be outside an already narrow budget.

Finally, the GGP hopes that, by answering questions, soliciting input, and collecting volunteers, the project will move forward as a community effort to respond to a difficult economic downturn. Although not a nostrum for the economic ills felt region-wide, the GGP sees the project as a way of signaling that Pagosa is not willing to surrender in the face of adversity.

“If you lose hope, you lose everything,” said GGP committee member Sheila Berger. “This is about hope.”

jim@pagosasun.com