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SJWCD hasn’t forgotten Dry Gulch

Members of the board of the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) have not forgotten the matter of the Dry Gulch Reservoir Project.

Board director Larry Ash, as the only member of the alternate finance committee in attendance, spoke Monday about the setbacks that the Dry Gulch Reservoir Project faced over almost 10 years: the years tied up in litigation, the struggle with the Southwest Land Alliance, the lowered assessed values diminishing the SJWCD funding source. When it comes time to ask for a loan extension, Ash said having documentation of the unavoidable delays encountered will be to the board’s benefit.

“It’s diligent of us to document these setbacks so we are prepared,” Ash said.

The project began in 2003 in the wake of one of Pagosa’s worst drought years, and within a few years of the project’s inception both SJWCD and the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) had invested millions of dollars in it.

The last few years, however, the project has gone through lengthy litigation with by suits brought by Trout Unlimited and opposition from many citizens in the community. While the topic receives little attention at the PAWSD board meetings now, SJWCD seems focused on pursuing this project, seeking partnerships and possible buyers for the project site.

The SJWCD received a $1 million grant from the Colorado Water Conservancy Board toward the project; however, PAWSD received a $11,217,000 loan, which must be repaid. The first principal repayments are due beginning September 2013 unless an extension is applied for and granted. SJWCD has agreed to pay 10 percent of the payments on interest for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

However, board director Carrie Weiss emphasized that SJWCD is not contractually obligated to continue to help PAWSD with the payments. The SJWCD board was in agreement that the Dry Gulch Reservoir began as a joint project between their group and PAWSD. In that spirit, Windsor Chacey, board member for both SJWCD and PAWSD said, “SJWCD should lend a hand to PAWSD.” In what form this hand-lending will manifest itself has yet to be decided.

In addition to documenting the setbacks to the project, SJWCD will continue to work toward creating a promotional package highlighting what has been accomplished thus far in creating Dry Gulch Reservoir. The package will be made with the intent of finding a partner interested in completing the reservoir.

The board also agreed that a letter should be sent to the Southwest Land Alliance requesting a detailed accounting for how $25,000 from SJWCD and PAWSD was used, since neither a conservation easement for the Laverty property nor a Greater Outdoors Colorado grant was obtained.

Weiss said that a joint letter from PAWSD and the SJWCD would be appropriate, since both entities were invested in the project. However, the board agreed that if PAWSD does not agree to send a joint letter, they will send one.

“We should move forward and show diligence that we did everything we could to pursue the completion of this project,” Ash said.

In other business, the 2012 budget was discussed. Though the budget was approved at the November meeting, the final assessed values were down $300 from what SJWCD expected to $71,049. This means there is an average $911 tax abatement. Weiss motioned to approve a .004 mill levy increase, which would equal $899. The board passed the motion. Within the week, Weiss said the mill levy increase will be filed with the Archuleta County Commissioners and the budget will be filed with the state.

lindsey@pagosasun.com

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