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Town council weighs options on transfer station property


On May 7, Pagosa Springs Community Development Director James Dickhoff came before the Pagosa Springs Town Council seeking guidance on La Plata Electric Association’s (LPEA’s) request for the town to convey town-owned property to LPEA to accommodate a new electric substation. 

The property in question is located at 2140 County Road 500, and is the location of an Archuleta County transfer station and recycling center.

The town currently leases the property to the county for its operation of the transfer station, but town staff has recently learned that the county “is planning on moving the transfer station to another location, likely within the next year,” states an agenda document on the matter.

It also states that “LPEA has completed much work for the surveying and engineered design of their site needed for their new substation,” being called the “Trujillo Substation.” 

The section of the property that LPEA is asking the town to convey is approximately 4.25 acres and is described as “an unused portion” of the property,” according to the document. 

Should the town agree to convey the property, LPEA would need to submit “a Subdivision application and Conditional Use Permit application with Archuleta County…for subdividing” the land, since it sits within the county’s jurisdiction, according to the document.

Dickhoff explained that the original plan was for the town to convey the property to the county and then the county would convey the small 4.25-acre section to LPEA for the substation. 

However, with the county’s stated plans to move the transfer station to another location, town staff was “looking for guidance” on how to proceed with the property, Dickhoff indicated.

He described the portion that LPEA seeks as “up on a bench directly south of the transfer station area,” and that LPEA will use most of that bench.” 

But, he said, the town is looking at “reserving some space along the south-facing hill for a potential solar garden in the future.”

He also said that “the old dump” could be an ideal location for “some ballasted solar panel systems that could sit on top of the capped landfill,” which could be an “ideal place to feed that [solar energy] right into the grid.”

“We are currently looking at those opportunities for solar farms,” Dickhoff said. 

He added, “As La Plata is moving forward with getting out of their Tri-State contract, there will be more opportunities for solar gardens in the future. Right now, they are still under Tri-State regulations ... so, what we wanna do right now is start doing some legwork and understanding how that solar garden might work.” 

But, he noted, the purpose of coming before the council at the meeting was to get some guidance on if the council wants to convey the property, and, “If so, how?”

He added that he provided “some analysis of potential property values in that area, along Trujillo Road” in the information packet for the meeting. 

Council member Madeline Bergon expressed wonder about if LPEA is “prepared to potentially do a purchase” of the property from the town, “if it comes down to that?” 

Dickhoff explained that LPEA has already spent $2 million on the equipment for the substation and would probably do whatever it takes to install the substation at that location, adding that “there is no doubt that the substation is a needed community benefit ... and they are fully committed to making this happen.”

Bergon said that since “we are not getting any kind of deal from La Plata — they don’t really do anything to sweeten our pot — then I would feel OK asking them for a monetary” purchase or donation for the property. 

Council member Mat deGraaf explained that he would not be in favor of “giving anything away” and that he would prefer giving LPEA a “conditional use permit” to operate the substation, but for the town to maintain its ownership of the land. 

Council member Gary Williams suggested that the town get the land appraised to see what its value is before doing anything. 

He added that he “would be open to leasing it long-term,” adding that “we want to be good community partners,” but that he is concerned with LPEA’s “layout blocking access for us to the other part of that property.”

He added, “I just want to make sure that we maintain that access” and that he thinks it would make “a good, large dog park.” 

Council member Brooks Lindner expressed agreement that he “would not be in favor of giving it away,” echoing what Williams’ statement that it would be “beneficial to look into leasing it.”

He noted that he also “loved” Dickhoff’s mention of using the property for a potential solar garden. 

“That’s very exciting to me to know that that’s something you’re thinking about and, regarding that, I feel more of a need to maintain ownership of the land for future potential uses,” he said. 

Bergon asked why some on the council thought it was better to lease the property rather than conveying it or selling it. 

deGraaf explained that “in the 16 years that I’ve been here,” the town has “changed a lot.” 

He said, “the property now may be seen as less than valuable or less than ideal ... but it may be a different environment in 20, 30, 40 years, and so I feel like, we own it now, and it could be a greater value down the road and we aren’t able to see it now.”

Mayor Shari Pierce added that maintaining ownership and leasing the property would provide a revenue stream to the town for the foreseeable future, using the example of the cellphone towers on town-owned Reservoir Hill. 

She then recommended that the council direct the town staff to bring before the council an appraisal of the property in question, “so we know what we have to leverage and then maybe we can look at some of these other options. ... Then we can look at the sale versus the lease.”

 She asked the council if this sounded like “acceptable steps.”

It was agreed that the issue of the property would be reconsidered once an appraisal of the property has been conducted by the staff.