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Voters to decide on water district Aug. 12
6/13/2008 By: Carole McWilliams
Primary election day, Aug. 12, will be the day for residents and landowners in the southeast part of La Plata County to decide whether to form a rural water district.
On June 5, District Court Judge David Dickinson approved the petition from supporters of the La Plata/ Archuleta Water District (LAPLAWD) to set the election.
Voting will be at polling places. Besides voting on whether to form the district, voters will elect a five member board of directors to serve if the district is formed.
Nomination for directors closed yesterday. District organizer Dick Lunceford told the Times that people have submitted nominations in each of five director districts.
LAPLAWD attorney Eric Jorgenson said that if formed, the district probably will seek voter approval in November to issue up to $25 million in bond debt and to impose a 5 mill property tax.
The district service area goes south to the state line, east to the Archuleta County line, west to the Animas River, and north of Highway 160, including the east half of County Road 240 and up to Vallecito dam.
The service area excludes growth areas claimed by Ignacio, Bayfield, and Durango, and existing metro districts that provide water.
Most of the discussion at the June 5 court hearing dealt with clarifying property, mainly gas industry-related, to be excluded from the district.
“This is the first time our firm has run up against oil and gas interests,” said Jorgenson about legal work for groups seeking to form special districts.
Companies with property excluded last week are Burlington Resources, Conoco-Phillips, Elm Ridge Exploration, Energen Resources, Maralex Resources, Samson Resources, and Chevron-Texaco.
Lunceford clarified that these are the same exclusions approved last fall when the La Plata County Commissioners approved the district service plan. Most of the assessed valuation in those exclusions came from the gas-related properties. The court action didn’t further reduce assessed valuation in the service area, he said. It eliminated discrepancies in the property descriptions.
Jorgenson noted a previous effort (in 2004) to form this rural water district was stalled when several production companies went to court after the county commissioners refused to exclude their interests.
“This time the organizers didn’t oppose any exclusions, whether tied to surface interests or not,” Jorgenson said. “The exclusion process has turned out to be significant for the county because there are hundreds.”
Some properties, like pipelines, were hard to define for exclusion because they aren’t tied to a specific surface location, he said. The list was still being tallied on June 4.
“Petitioners and county believe the issue is resolved,” he said.
Matthew Grove, attorney for the companies, asked the judge to include extra time for Chevron to define its exclusions.
He said Chevron also wants exclusion for future gas wells and facilities, for infill development and places not previously developed at all.
Jorgenson responded, “We don’t have a problem with this approach as long as the (county) assessor can handle it.”
Dickinson allowed 30 days to determine all exclusions. He opted to issue the election order on June 5 instead of waiting for all exclusions to be nailed down.
One surface owner who lives in Hawaii was present in court and got his property added to the exclusions.
District proponent Lunceford testified that the district will be able to provide the services listed in the service plan, even after the exclusions. There was no debate of that assertion during the hearing.
The total build-out cost is projected at $85 million, Lunceford said. The first part of the system will be built with the $25 million of bond money. The rest will be built as money is available, Lunceford said.
The expectation is that the 5 mill property tax will bring in $4.5 million in the first year, he said.
Board members will be elected from five districts that will be drawn according to population, not geographic area, he said.
Amy Kraft, who works for the proponents, said the service area has 7,000 to 10,000 tax paying electors.
Those who can vote in the formation election include property owners and non-property owners living within the district who are registered to vote, non-resident property owners registered to vote elsewhere in Colorado, and spouses of eligible property owners.
Owners of excluded property cannot vote.
The water district service plan is available online at laplawd.org.
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