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Whiting resigns from GGP board

Friction between Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon and Archuleta County Commissioner Michael Whiting — both founding members of the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) — has resulted in Whiting’s resignation from the board.

In a prepared statement presented to the board at Monday’s GGP meeting, Whiting stated, “Rather than allow the Mayor’s attempts to bully me off this second Committee force the GGP to further violate the fiscal sponsorship agreement, or do other irreparable damage to what we have built so far, I will resign from the Committee as soon as my replacement has been selected by the SLA Board of Directors.”

“I don’t want anyone to misinterpret my resignation from this Committee to mean I will not continue my work for geothermal and renewable energy business development in Archuleta County,” Whiting’s statement concluded, “including the GGP, the Wells Fargo Grant I am currently drafting, GEO, GWG, Eco-Logic, or the World Futures Council, and other efforts.”

As reported in last week’s edition of The SUN, tensions between Aragon and Whiting were brought to light following an e-mail circulated by Whiting asserting that the mayor had told Whiting to step down from the GGP board. Aragon later confirmed Whiting’s claim.

Last week’s article also reported Whiting’s claim that Aragon had been instrumental in having Whiting removed from the board of the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (CDC).

Whiting continued in his statement, “It is the fear of many (because they have told me so) that Ross is willing to allow his irrational anger toward me to damage the GGP if I stay. He has neither the legal authority nor actual ability to do either by himself, but fear is not rational.”

“First, I find it interesting that Mr. Whiting has brought in the newspaper to make his point,” Aragon said, “or a blogger (a reference to interviews with Bill Hudson) in his attempt to discredit me.”

Aragon went on to deny that he had ever asked Whiting to serve on the GGP. “He invited himself to the table; he has a history of sitting at the table when he has not been invited. He was terminated (from the GGP board) and he subsequently sat at the table after I asked him to resign and I told him his services were no longer required, which I found very, very disruptive.”

“The record doesn’t reflect that,” Whiting responded, “he did ask me. He asked Sheila (Berger) who would be good to serve on this; she recommended me and he asked me.

“I resigned from the GGP committee. That’s what the mayor wanted and he got what he wanted,” Whiting said. “I consider the matter closed.”

Whiting’s statement went on to claim that, “The Mayor and I have worked closely together as a team for three years on the GGP. I drafted and negotiated the lease and tap agreements, and Ross carried them through Town Council. We worked side-by-side with Michael Bennett (sic) and many other state and national officials to promote our cause.”

“I think there’s a little bit of embellishment there,” Aragon responded, claiming that he had made initial contact with Bennet’s representative Ann Brown. “I’ve known her a very long time. I made that contact.”

Whiting disputed Aragon’s statement but did not provide details. “Up until recently,” Whiting said, “the mayor and I had worked together as a team to get the GGP where it is today. He missed my point entirely.”

Attributing tension with Aragon to personal enmity, Whiting went on to state in his resignation that, “The Mayor’s anger toward me is now out in the daylight and well known. With my resignation, this will be the second board on which the Mayor has used the vulnerability of others to remove me. Unlike the CDC, I am stepping down voluntarily, because of the vulnerability of the GGP.”

Aragon denied that the issue has been personal, saying, “He interprets that we don’t agree as anger.” Instead, Aragon stated, “His biggest problem is his giant ego and that leads him to distort the facts.”

“I’m not the only one that comments on that,” Aragon added, saying, “His ego is bigger than Mount Whitney, Mount McKinley combined,” and claiming that all statements Whiting had made regarding the project had been, “‘I, I, I.’ He makes it about himself instead of the project.”

“I’m not going to respond to personal attacks,” said Whiting. “He’s really grasping at straws. We have a stagnant downtown. He needs to focus on the town.”

Whiting’s statement was clear, however, that he felt the mayor was responsible for forcing him off of two boards.

“Ross wants to get rid of me,” Whiting’s statement read. “He has a right to his opinion. But he is trying to re-write history and the record, saying alternatively that I had no role in our success, or that the GGP is an example of my failure. He might see the GGP to-date as a failure. I do not. Anyone familiar with the GGP knows the facts. And my record speaks for itself.”

“Nobody’s ever said that it’s a failure,” Aragon countered. “Again, he brings up this drama into this and makes it about himself.”

However, Aragon defended the lack of progress on the project by pointing to the economic downturn and its effect on funding, adding that no promises had been made regarding how soon the project would break ground.

“There has never been a time frame,” Aragon said.

However, as reported in the Dec. 1 edition of The SUN, Aragon was quoted as saying, “I’m almost one-hundred percent positive that we’ll be moving on that by early summer.”

Although Whiting said, “I have a lot of optimism for the project,” his resignation expressed some concerns that personalities would potentially imperil the project. “If you make something valuable,” Whiting’s statement read, “someone will want to control and possess it. The Mayor sees me as a threat to his control of the GGP. Someone has to let go in order to spare the GGP from being damaged. Someone for whom creation and results are more important than control and possession.”

When asked to respond to Whiting’s statement, Aragon denied that it was an issue of control. “The issue is that he got out in front and we can’t have one person get out in front, it’s very, very disruptive.”

The mayor added that he felt Whiting’s previous actions were counter to the teamwork Aragon felt was essential to progress on the project.

“There is not a single thing that I have done on behalf of the GGP that wasn’t a result of the committee’s consensus,” Whiting responded. “This has been a team right up until the point where Ross said it wasn’t.”

“I reiterate,” Whiting concluded, “I consider the matter closed.”

Indeed, in a press release forwarded to The SUN on Tuesday, Elaine Wood, writing for the remaining GGP members, stated that, “Michael Whiting, SLA (Southwest Land Alliance) representative, announced that he has asked the SLA to appoint a new representative to the GGP. The GGP members thanked Michael Whiting for his contributions and said they looked forward to working with a new SLA representative.”

Although the GGP statement closed the book on Whiting’s participation with the GGP, the statement alluded to another issue that appeared to present a curious obstacle for the GGP’s proposed project.

Wood stated later in the release that, “The GGP agreed that it would be prudent to consider the future development of 5th Street when placing the first dome to be good stewards of the land, community and financial investments.”

During Monday’s GGP meeting, Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem and Pagosa Springs Town Planner James Dickhoff told the group that discussions were taking place with property owners Matt Mees and Bill Dawson regarding disposition of land the two own, located across the San Juan river south of the Fifth Street terminus and adjacent to the west of The Springs Resort.

Dickhoff explained to the group that the possibility existed for the construction of a bridge linking Fifth Street to the Mees and Dawson property. That bridge would connect to a proposed road that, Mitchem said, could either merge with Spring Street (just south of The Bank of the San Juans building) or further south at the delineated (but undeveloped) Innsbruck Drive.

“My intent was to ask the GGP to be flexible,” Dickhoff said, regarding the possibility of a Fifth Street bridge.

Both Aragon and Mitchem said that discussions regarding the bridge were just that — “Just thinking out loud,” the Mayor said yesterday.

Aragon claimed that ideas for a Fifth Street bridge had been brought up to council before, saying, “That has been going on for years.”

However, when the GGP was granted a lease on town land on the west end of Centennial Park, the issue of a bridge at Fifth Street was never raised. In fact, the GGP had twice developed site plans for the project (the latest presented last month, as reported in the Dec. 22 edition of The SUN), with neither plan providing allowances for a potential right of way necessitated by a traffic bridge crossing the river from Fifth Street.

Monday’s meeting put the GGP on notice that previous plans would need to be shifted east if plans for a bridge moved forward.

However, both Aragon and Mitchem stated that they did not think those revised plans would cause delays in building a greenhouse.

Currently, the GGP has a lease with the town for 100 gallons per minute of effluent geothermal water. That lease carries the stipulation that the GGP, “shows significant progress within three years” of the lease’s signing in order to remain valid. The lease was signed in January 2010.

On Tuesday, Mitchem said that, should delays hamper construction of the greenhouses, he was confident the Pagosa Springs Town Council could be convinced to reauthorize the lease.

Nevertheless, the GGP press release expressed confidence that the project was moving forward, pointing to “significant action” on plans for the group to file for 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax status as well as “a future fundraising event that may be coordinated with the hosting of the Colorado School of Mines geothermal research project planned for the end of May.”

Tuesday’s release ended with the statement, “The public is always invited and encouraged to attend the GGP meetings which are currently held biweekly on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. at 703 San Juan Street, Suite 203. The next meeting is scheduled for February 1st.”

jim@pagosasun.com

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