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Archuleta County is still seeking funding for its 95-acre park located adjacent to U.S. 84, after failing to receive a Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant.
A Nov. 6 e-mail sent from GOCO’s Jackie Miller to applicants and received by Greg Schulte, former county administrator, includes a list of nine projects recommended for funding through the Local Park and Outdoor Recreation grants.
Absent from that list is Archuleta County’s request for $350,000 to complete the first phase of the planned 95-acre park that would include a number of amenities.
According to the e-mail, 47 applications totaled about $11.7 million in requests. The nine projects recommended for funding total $2,220,253.40.
“Demand in this grant cycle was extremely high as funding for biannual Local Government grant programs is limited because of funding allocated to other special initiatives that have been offered at the request of stakeholders,” the e-mail states.
With that e-mail in hand, members of the Board of County Commissioners and Schulte met with Sue McWilliams, the county’s grant writer, on Friday, Nov. 16, to discuss the failed request, as well as other grant opportunities.
McWilliams said she had received information that the county’s grant request had not made it through the first cut in the GOCO process, and a review of the application showed a lack of partnering organizations (beyond letters of support received) may have hurt the application, as well as a lack of monetary input from any partnering organizations.
But, beyond the sheer competitveness, another factor may have hindered the county’s request — the September letter from the Colorado Field Supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that sought to prevent Archuleta County from obtaining the funding.
The letter, dated Sept. 10 and written by Susan Linner of Fish and Wildlife, was sent to Miller, the local government program manager for GOCO.
That letter states, “Specifically, we are concerned with Archuleta County’s plans to develop a 95 acre parcel of land with over half of all the world’s known Pagosa skyrocket (Ipomopsis polyantha) plants.”
The letter includes a number of reasons behind the agency’s concern, including that the endemic flower would suffer from the fragmentation caused by development of the property and that the species should be allowed to recover and be taken off the list of protected species.
Looking to minimize the effects of the letter, the county sent a letter of its own to GOCO disputing Fish and Wildlife’s claims.
That letter, also directed to Miller, states, “We strenuously object to and deeply resent the unwarranted interference of the USFWS in our project application with GOCO.”
Among other disputed facts, the county’s letter points out Fish and Wildlife’s lack of jurisdiction, quoting the Fish and Wildlife service and adding emphasis to point out that there is no jurisdiction over private property unless there is a federal nexus.
“As the USFWS admits in the letter, there is no federal nexus regarding the County’s property. Our development of the property and the uses described in our GOCO application are all rightfully permissible and legal uses entitled to the County as owner of the property. We would like to be treated like any other private property owner without undue interference.
“To be clear, the USFWS has no present jurisdiction or standing to regulate any activity on the County’s property,” the letter asserts.
The letter also includes statements that the county has worked with Fish and Wildlife throughout the planning process for the park.
“My gut feeling is that needs to be resolved,” McWilliams told the commissioners on Nov. 16. McWilliams said GOCO originally looked at the proposal without factoring in the skyrocket issue, but that the organization reportedly had concern over the skyrocket.
McWilliams suggested that the county work through the winter months to resolve the conflict with Fish and Wildlife in order to reapply for grant fund in the spring cycle, which would be due in April.
“There was very little public support for the skyrocket during the public process,” Schulte noted.
With McWilliams discussing a lack of monetary support from other organizations as a downfall of the project, Schulte stated, “I still think the well was poisoned by the letter.”
In discussing how to better the county’s current relationship with Fish and Wildlife, several key staff members of the county’s federal delegation were suggested as mediators for the two entities.
“We need to build a better foundation … so we can move forward,” BoCC chair Clifford Lucero said.