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U.S. Rep. Tipton visits Pagosa

Select Archuleta County officials, staff and community leaders briefly met with newly elected U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R) and his staff Monday to discuss items the county officials and staff felt Tipton should be aware of.

“A lot of our goal in Washington is to move the ball forward,” Tipton said early in the conversation while seeking to hear about the issues being dealt with in Archuleta County. “We’re doing a lot of outreach.”

The first item surfaced by Commissioner Clifford Lucero was the push to classify Chimney Rock as a national monument (legislation introduced by former U.S. Rep. John Salazar never made it to a vote before the swearing in of the new Congress, eliminating it from the books).

Tipton responded in favor of the development of tourism, vowing transparency and to listen to the area communities.

Commissioner John Ranson then brought up the topic of Piedra Road and the county’s search for funding to repave the road.

Ranson said Piedra Road is the most heavily traveled United States Forest Service road in the state (it becomes a USFS road roughly at the cattle guard six miles from U.S. 160) and any help on funding to repave the county’s six-miles of the road would be good, calling the road “a fairly major problem.”

County Administrator Greg Schulte added that the county is examining potential funding available through the USFS because of the road’s status as a Federal Forest Highway.

Tipton offered the possibility of reaching out to those involved with the potential funding, informing those present at the meeting that funding becomes a “matter of prioritization.”

Quickly moving on to another topic, Lucero spoke of the Renewable Forest Energy, LLC project, noting that he had heard local businessman J.R. Ford had visited with Tipton and was glad Tipton was in support of the project.

Ford then briefly updated those at the meeting on the RFE project — that the company had finished thinning 190 acres of the 220-acre test tract under contract with the USFS and that he had met with USFS personnel last week.

Ford said he is waiting on a stewardship contract to be put out to bid by the USFS to invest more in the company (already, $1 million has been spent on equipment for the project) before investing in the building of the five megawatt gasification power plant that would be located in Cloman Industrial Park.

Commissioner Michael Whiting also voiced his favor of the project, saying that the project helps put the county “on the map for renewables” and is a branding tool for a rural renewable community.

Lucero also surfaced a hot topic in the community — the proposed Village at Wolf Creek.

“I want to make sure there’s going to be some movements,” Tipton said, vowing full disclosure and public input.

Rather than stating his opinion on the matter, Tipton said he would rather hear from the locals at the table.

Lucero, calling the Village a “complicated issue,” voiced socioeconomic concerns, adding that added jobs were wonderful, but when there’s no snow, those workers would be in Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County.

Shulte and County Attorney Todd Starr then informed Tipton of the legal opinion commissioned by the county last year, which, in short, told the county that the best course of action is to manage the development and likely cannot prevent development from occurring.

Tipton opined the need to understand the impacts to all affected counties.

Ranson then informed Tipton he was supportive of the jobs the development would bring, but that he doesn’t want an incomplete project at the top of Wolf Creek Pass to be an eyesore.

“I feel like Archuleta has to be at the table,” Ranson said.

Whiting said, “I think my gut reaction is that it might be beneficial,” but admitted that he had seen no evidence supporting that feeling.

Whiting’s concern was that, should a land exchange process be done legislatively, “it takes the voice away from people in this region.”

Whiting ultimately stated he was unsure of his stance on the project, saying he needs to see an economic impact analysis specific to Archuleta County and that, although many residents are against any development, the question of “if” is over, but the question of “what” isn’t.

With Tipton on a tight schedule, the meeting wrapped up quickly. Tipton noted that the more communication his office can have with local officials, the better, since local officials know the local issues the best.

“We’ve got some great ideas that are out there …” Tipton said.

randi@pagosasun.com