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County continues water district decision
9/21/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
People for and against a rural domestic water district in southeast La Plata County will have more time to make their feelings known.
On Tuesday, the county commissioners announced they will continue taking comments on Oct. 15 at SunUte Community Center at 7 p.m.; and they will continue taking landowner exclusion requests until Oct. 5.
The commissioners stated their intent to approve all exclusion requests, including mineral interests, submitted by that date.
Residents filled the commissioners’ meeting room and spilled out into the hall Tuesday. They commented for and against the district service plan, the second effort by a citizens’ group that wants the district.
Opposition has centered on the main proposed water source (Vallecito) and the prospect that people in low density areas could be paying the district property tax for many years without getting water service – even though their irrigation water is supplying the system.
County attorney Jeff Robbins gave his opinion Tuesday that public notice was properly given on the proposed district. There have been complaints that the notice looked like junk mail, and that the deadline was too short to file for exclusion.
County planning Director Nancy Lauro noted that commissioner approval of the service plan is based on whether the plan satisfies four mandatory state criteria – that there is a need for the service, the service is not already being provided, service can be provided in an economically viable manner, and the district will have the means to repay debt.
If the plan fails to meet any of those, state law says the plan must be rejected. A plan also could be rejected based on five other discretionary criteria.
Several people argued the plan doesn’t meet all the mandatory criteria. Lauro said county staff “believes the service plan as submitted is adequate. … From all the comments it appears there is no doubt there is a need for a reliable domestic water system.”
She also said, “We believe the financial criteria have been met.” The plan includes water loading stations for areas that won’t get water right away, she said.
The county comprehensive plan supports rural water systems, Lauro added. She noted concern about encouraging rural sprawl. “There are properties that haven’t been able to subdivide because of lack of water,” she said. “This probably will make more properties eligible for subdivision, but if it’s done according to the area plans, it shouldn’t contribute to sprawl.”
She advised that, like the 2004 service plan, this one will not provide service to the Southeast Area Planning District until that district has an adopted land use plan. Many of the proposed district’s most ardent supporters and opponents live in that area.
Lauro said exclusion requests had been filed for 666 properties, and more have been coming in. The 666 represents 32 percent of the assessed valuation of the proposed district. Most of the valuation is gas companies.
Total service area assessed valuation is $1.37 billion. Exclusion requests tallied at that point totalled $439.6 million, or 32 percent. Gas company exclusions are $424.7 million. Surface owner requests are $14.9 million assessed valuation.
County Finance Director Karla Distel said the district’s financial plan needs valuation of $984 million to work.
The proponents’ consultant, Wayne Monson, said the system will be built on a pay-as-you-go basis, so the district can respond to changes in property tax revenue as gas industry valuation goes up and down.
The plan is a “relatively small” bond issue ($18 million) up front to build the treatment plant and get started on distribution lines, Monson said. Once the full system is built and paid for, the plan is for the property tax to end and the district will run from tap fees and operating revenues.
There was concern about the accuracy of cost projections to build the system, and about lack of specifics.
Engineer Steve Harris said their estimate is from 2006, with $85 million to run 8 inch lines along all the county roads in the service area. The district won’t have to buy right-of-way for distribution lines, just for above-ground facilities, he said.
Rancher Phyllis Ludwig said the water should go to the people who built Vallecito dam, not to people outside the Pine River Irrigation District service area.
County Road 509 rancher Tom Givon said a domestic system is needed. He has drilled four water wells – three dry and one with water that’s good for mixing concrete but not for drinking.
Jan Neleigh, a large landowner west of Bayfield and long-time rural water system supporter, said she used to have a water well that produced 20 gallons per minute, and she has drilled three others. The last one was next to Dry Creek but only produced 1 gpm and had explosive levels of methane, she said.
“I’m offended that certain gas companies aren’t participating in this (rural water district),” Neleigh said. “They’ve had a real impact on my part of the county.”
County attorney Jeff Robbins said companies that have asked for exclusion are Burlington Resources, Chevron Midcontinent, Chevron Texaco, Conoco, Conoco Phillips, Elm Ridge, Energen, Maralex, Northwest Pipeline, Red Cedar Gathering, Red Willow Production, Samson Resources, Williams Field Services, Williams Gas Procession, and Williams Production.
Proponent group chairman Dick Lunceford noted that BP has not asked for exclusion. They will pay most of the district’s taxes.
County Road 221 resident Dick Norton urged approval of the service plan. “It’s unreasonable to expect a complete plan with complete engineering now,” he said. “Let the people decide... We’ve been talking about doing something for 10 years.”