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Starks resigns from town staff

By Ed Fincher

Staff Writer

At last Thursday’s town council meeting, Phil Starks officially announced his intent to quit both of his positions with the town, as the director of the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District and as the director of the downtown geothermal heating district.

“My last day will be on Oct. 19,” Starks announced. “I will be taking a position in the Cortez Sanitation District as the district superintendent. Hopefully we’re going to get everybody trained up and up to speed to smoothly take over. I will be available to whoever is actually taking my place. I just want to thank you all, especially the ones who have been here for the full duration. It has been a pleasure working with all of you and I will be missing this town very much.”

Mayor Ross Aragon said, “You have such a good attitude and I’m going to miss that. You’re the only guy I know who can take a manhole cover and just toss it over to the side like a Frisbee.” Everyone laughed, but there was no doubting the story. Starks stands out as a big, stoutly built figure.

Council member David Schanzenbaker said, “I am very sorry to see you go, especially your experience with our geothermal system. Are you going to be able to replace that knowledge a little bit?”

“It’s hard to say,” Starks replied. “You learn as you go so it is kind of an acquired knowledge. Unfortunately, the next person is going to have to acquire the knowledge as well. I will try my best to keep abreast of what’s happening, and if anyone ever needs to get a hold of me, I’m available.”

Town Manager David Mitchem said, “Phil, it has been my pleasure working with you. I believe without Phil’s really strong efforts and relationship with the department of health they would have taken a very different attitude towards us. They could have fined us, but they elected not to and a lot of that has to do with the good work that Phil has done and the confidence they have in him. As I said to you a couple weeks ago, his good work with the water authority brought in $2 million worth of financing. They peppered him with questions, he did a great job of answering them, and he brought home the money. It makes our whole process to solve this problem with the health department a lot easier.”

“I still can’t believe CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment) hasn’t fined us yet,” Starks laughed. “Hopefully they won’t, but as long as you keep moving forward they should support you.”

The PSSGID, in large part due to the efforts of Starks, was recently approved for a $2 million loan from the water authority’s Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund (WPCRF) to help pay for a project that will construct force mains and lift stations to send sewage from the outdated lagoons near Yamaguchi Park to the Vista Waste Water Treatment Plant, which is operated by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD). This will allow PSSGID’s existing wastewater treatment facility to be decommissioned.

The project is needed because the existing facility is operating at near capacity and is no longer capable of treating wastewater to acceptable levels. The facility has exceeded biological oxygen demand limits and is not capable of meeting the monthly ammonia standards. Plus, this pipeline project will eliminate the PSSGID’s discharge point into the San Juan River, which is just upstream from PAWSD’s water intake structure.

The total cost of this project is estimated to be $5,250,000 with $2,000,000 coming from the WPCRF loan, $2,000,000 from PAWSD, and $1,250,000 from a grant by the Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Fund (EIAF).

“We are moving to a pipeline system with PAWSD,” Mitchem said. “One of the options in the interim is to hire a person to handle our piping system, and then hire a contractor who contracts out to operate lagoons. Phil has been soliciting input from contractors. In the year and a half in which we are going to be building this pipeline, instead of hiring a permanent employee to run the lagoons, just hire a firm or hire somebody on a temporary basis, that way you don’t have an ongoing expense or a skill set you no longer need.”

“We’re going to probably split it up,” Starks added. “Dennis Ford is going to be taking over the geothermal, and we’re going to be looking to hire somebody just for the collection system supervision. They’ll be doing customer billing, inquiries, connections, cleaning, maintenance, being on call and so forth. That way we don’t have to pay someone to operate the waste treatment plant and then take it away from them later on.”

In a separate interview, Starks claimed that money was the main reason he decided to move to Cortez. He is trying to raise three kids and since he hasn’t received a raise for the last five years he said he is slowly going broke here.

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on October 10, 2012.