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The Pagosa Springs Town Council held a special meeting Monday afternoon where the group immediately moved into executive session to discuss possible negotiations concerning proposed amenities on Reservoir Hill with the town’s attorney, Bob Cole.
Normally, council meetings are posted on a calendar on the town’s website with a star that shows the time and place for the meeting. Also, concerned citizens can click on a link and sign up to receive a notice via e-mail. These e-mails are usually sent out a couple of days in advance and include an agenda for the meeting.
No mention was made of the April 1 executive session on the town’s website, and no e-mails were sent out to the town’s subscribers (the SUN included). According to Colorado’s Open Meetings (or Sunshine) Law, municipal governments must post a notice of any meeting at least 24 hours beforehand.
Thanks to a concerned local citizen, SUN staff was made aware of this last-minute meeting and, upon investigation, found the required notice on the Town Hall bulletin board, with the time and date that it was posted obscured by other notices.
Besides SUN staff, the only citizen present in the council chambers’ audience gallery was local attorney Matt Roane. Mayor Ross Aragon called the meeting to order, Town Clerk April Hessman did the roll call — council members Clint Alley and Darrel Cotton were absent — and the mayor asked for a motion.
“Mister Mayor, I move that we,” council member Kathie Lattin began reading from the agenda in front of her, “move into executive session for the purpose of determining positions relative to matters that may be subject to negotiations, developing strategy for negotiations, and / or instructing negotiators, related to Reservoir Hill under C.R.S. section 24-6-402(4)(e) and to discuss the purchase, acquisition, lease, transfer, or sale of personal or other property interest regarding proposed amenities under C.R.S. Section 24-6-402(4)(a).”
Council member Don Volger seconded the motion, but, before the mayor could call for a vote, councilor David Schanzenbaker said, “I’m wondering if we might want to have more specificity on our reason for going into executive session. We have a previous motion where we have pledged not to move forward on Reservoir Hill amenities until after the election. I don’t even know what we are meeting about, and the public certainly doesn’t know.”
Schanzenbaker referred to a Jan. 24 town council meeting when Roane voiced concern that the town might enter into a contract with a vendor to start building amenities on Reservoir Hill before the upcoming special election — the fear being that, legally, such a contract would be grandfathered in, regardless of what voters decided on the ballot issue on April 23.
At that time, council member Tracy Bunning responded, “There is no intent on this board’s part to enter into any kind of contractual negotiations with anybody in reference to any of the things we are discussing for Reservoir Hill.”
He then went on to stipulate, as part of his motion to approve Ordinance 781, setting up the date of the election and the language of the ballot issue, that, in the meantime, no new contracts would be signed for recreational amenities on Reservoir Hill.
Schanzenbaker’s concern at the April 1 meeting appeared to be that some on the town council had changed their minds and decided to go back on Bunning’s pledge.
“I totally, but respectfully, disagree with you,” Aragon responded to Schanzenbaker. “It does state why we are here.” The mayor referred to the agenda on the desk in front of him, which contained the wording Lattin had just read for her motion.
“Based on my understanding,” Town Manager David Mitchem interjected, “there is nothing that will be discussed that would negate the commitment the town council has made not to do any development on Reservoir Hill until after the April 23 election.”
Cole, participating in the meeting via telephone, confirmed that what was written in the agenda was enough to legally allow the council to go into executive session. When Schanzenbaker again asked if anyone would be willing to add anything to reassure the public about what type of negotiations they were considering, or with whom, he was met by a long silence.
Finally, the mayor asked for a vote; everyone but Schanzenbaker voted to go into executive session and Mitchem escorted the two audience members out of the room.
After the session, Volger exited council chambers and made this statement: “I can’t say a whole lot, but there was just discussion about the chairlift and whether liquidation would be a good idea. No decisions were made; we’re just looking at options. That’s all we talked about and now we will just wait until after the election, when some more concrete decisions will be made.”
Aragon and Mitchem declined comment on the subject of the executive session.
The chairlift has been one of the more controversial aspects of the proposed Reservoir Hill development plan.
In December 2010, the council approved spending $41,000 to have a crew disassemble the beginner chairlift at the now-defunct Chuchara Ski Area near Walsenburg, Colo., and transport it back to Pagosa Springs. Town Tourism Committee Chairman Bob Hart, who also owns Hart Construction Company, was hired for the task. While Hart and TTC Director Jennie Green were the main advocates for purchasing the lift, no conflict of interest questions were raised at that time.
Chuck Peterson of Tramway Engineering, LTD, was then hired to evaluate the lift and its proposed alignment on Reservoir Hill. His written report was submitted to the town in March of 2011 and stated, “The alignment is approximately 1,151 feet long with a vertical rise of approximately 235 feet. The purchased lift had a horizontal length of 800 feet with a rise of 111 feet. The new alignment is 50% longer and has 211% more vertical than the original alignment.”
The report brought up more concerns about the difference between how the lift was designed for use at the Chuchara and how it was proposed for use on Reservoir Hill. “Because the alignment (at Chuchara) had a uniform profile, the lift only had to have three evenly spaced towers in addition to the terminals. In addition, the size of the electric motor, drive, braking and gearbox were selected for the original alignment.
“The profile grade (on Reservoir Hill) is not as uniform as the original profile grade. The new alignment will require 8 towers including two compression towers. The purchased lift has only 6 of the required 16 sheave assemblies. In addition, even at a reduced capacity, the size of the electric motor, drive, brakes and gearbox are not compatible with the selected alignment. The commitment to utilizing the purchased lift may not be wise because of the need to find additional line and machine room compatible components. For this reason the purchased lift is not a good match with the proposed alignment.”
It was later discovered that this report was not presented to town councilors until at least a month after they made the decision, in August of 2012, to move ahead with exploring financing options for the development project. Instead, another engineering company was hired to provide a more optimistic report.
Also, Davey Pitcher spoke at a town council meeting in late April of 2012, expressing his opposition to the planned use of the chairlift by stating, “For the record, as CEO of Wolf Creek Ski Area and on behalf of the Pitcher family, we will always look for ways to help Pagosa if it makes sense and is supported by the community. In no way do I see this vision of Reservoir Hill as either supported by the community or having a chance of success. Therefore I need to be clear that neither now nor in the future does Wolf Creek Ski Area wish to participate in this project.”
Among a variety of concerns, Pitcher also pointed out that the Chuchara lift was not designed for downloading, which is one of the main reasons for having the lift on the hill — to not only transport tourists up onto the hill for hiking, biking and to attend concerts in the festival meadow, but also to bring them back down afterwards.
The question remains, however, if Volger’s statement at the end of Monday’s meeting is an indication that town officials have considered getting rid of the Chuchara chairlift, why did they do it in an executive session?