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PAWSD: Another ‘no’ to Dry Gulch

Staff Writer

The Dry Gulch Project is one step closer to being off the table as far as the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District is concerned after the board voted at its Sept. 24 meeting to pass a resolution to that effect and send an official letter to Rod Proffitt, president of the San Juan Water Conservancy District.

Although there was some question at the meeting as to whether or not the letter should be made public, SUN staff was eventually able to obtain a copy.

“This letter serves as the 180-day Written Notice,” it began, “by Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) to the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) of PAWSD Board of Directors’ intent to terminate the Amended and Restated Intergovernmental Agreement Concerning the Dry Gulch Project … dated April 12, 2010 (Amended IGA).”

Resolution 2013-04, which during the meeting was passed in a separate motion before the letter was discussed, provided more of the historical background for the current situation.

On Oct. 24, 2006, PAWSD and SJWCD executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which required the president of SJWCD to initiate and pursue negotiations with the owners of property needed for the project. According to the PAWSD resolution, the MOU also required that the funds for such acquisitions come primarily from SJWCD.

However, the two districts entered an IGA on Sept. 13, 2007, which required both to equally share the costs of the project. The funding proportions were changed once again, on that same day, when the two districts entered another IGA concerning a loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The IGA was changed a third time on April 12, 2010.

While the resolution didn’t spell out specifics concerning which organization became responsible for what portion of the project cost after each amendment, it did point out that the second amendment of the IGA allowed for termination of the agreement for any or no reason by either party, as long as written notice was given 180 days in advance of the termination to the other district.

Even though no justification was required, the resolution did offer this explanation for the IGA termination:

“The PAWSD Board of Directors hereby finds cause for termination based upon recent infrastructure upgrades that include, but are not limited to, the new pumping station installed on Lake Forest that now connects Stevens Reservoir, Lake Pagosa, Village Lake, and Lake Forest to the San Juan Water Treatment Plant. As such, PAWSD has reassessed its available supply to meet demands for water through its system. Because of this approximately 3500 acre feet addition to the water supply, it is hereby determined by the PAWSD Board of Directors that the Dry Gulch Project is no longer necessary for PAWSD to ‘meet [its] projected demands for water to be supplied by its system.’”

“During this 180-day period,” the board’s letter to Proffitt continued, “the PAWSD Board desires that it and the SJWCD Board meet to discuss and work through the issues resultant from the Dry Gulch Project.” As specific examples of issues to be discussed the letter listed property ownership, water rights and financial obligations.

“We look forward to using this time period in a productive manner,” the letter concluded. “Please be aware, however, that if an agreement cannot be reached, the PAWSD Board is committed to using all available remedies to address the current issues associated with the Dry Gulch Project.”

At the Sept. 24 PAWSD board meeting, the discussion began with concerns about the content of the letter and whether or not it might contain statements that were derived during an earlier executive session with the board’s lawyer and would therefore violate attorney/client privilege if the letter were made public.

Director Michael Church said, “We voted five to zero in executive session for a letter.” The other members of the board quickly jumped in to correct Church, since voting on an issue during an executive session is a clear violation of Colorado’s sunshine laws.

“Well, we had a consensus,” Church stuck to his guns, even though a closed-door consensus is also illegal, “and I won’t vote for a watered-down letter. This letter needs to be firm, and I think everybody knows what I think needs to be spelled out. I am giving you guys the courtesy of not elaborating on it, since you are concerned about that. The attorney specifically explained one of the things that needs to go along with this, and it is omitted from this letter. This letter has been walked back, in my opinion.”

At this point, the rest of the board stopped Church to explain that the motion on the table was for passing the resolution, not for accepting the letter as written.

Church agreed the resolution was fine, and director Glenn Walsh added, “I think this resolution is very professional. It gives a professional and gentlemanly recount of a series of agreements, which started out with the San Juan Water Conservancy District paying for the property for Dry Gulch, and wound up throwing all of that cost onto this district. It also explains why we don’t need Dry Gulch now.”

While everyone voted to pass the resolution, director Roy Vega began the second part of the discussion by explaining, “The issue regarding the letter has to do with how unequivocally we describe the position of the board. I would like to hear what the objections are, but as far as I’m concerned, the letter is sufficient, and doesn’t have to be any more descriptive. The chairman of that board,” Vega nodded towards Proffitt, who was sitting in the audience during this portion of the meeting, “is astute enough to recognize what is being said, even though it is being subtly said in the letter. We don’t need to use a two-by-four. I give them credit for being able to read between the lines.”

Director Burt Adams agreed the letter was sufficient and advocated mailing it that same day. Chairman Allan Bunch agreed, and went on to advocate for demanding a response to the letter within 30 days, admitting his belief that the letter would not be well received by the SJWCD board.

However, in a follow-up interview with SUN staff, Proffitt said, “I attended the meeting at which the resolution and the draft letter were adopted, but there was such a lack of transparency in that meeting, it was impossible to determine motives or intentions.” 

Despite claims that he didn’t understand all of the alleged beating around the bush, Proffitt expressed a willingness to participate in an open dialog with PAWSD. “I have asked Allan (Bunch) to attend the next SJWCD meeting. If other members of the PAWSD board plan to attend, I have also offered to schedule a work session ahead of the meeting to foster a discussion.”

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on October 3, 2013.