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Rural water system vote set for Aug. 12
7/25/2008 By: Carole McWilliams
A rural water system has been discussed since the id 1990s for the southeast part of La Plata County.
On Aug. 12, eligible residents and property owners within the service area will vote on whether to form such a district.
Voting will be at Ignacio Junior High, the old Bayfield Middle School building on South Street, and at Faith Community Church, 1400 Highway 172.
It's open to residents and owners of non-excluded property within the service area. While the entire service area includes around 400 square miles, the non-excluded property is about half that.
Exclusions include land excluded by surface owners and several natural gas development companies (but not BP), land claimed by Ignacio, Bayfield, and Durango as future growth areas, tribal, state, and federal land.
The election on Aug. 12 will be on whether to form the district, and to elect the five member board of directors. A separate election seeking authorization of a property tax and bond issue will be held later if the district is formed.
Directors will be elected from specific areas.
Only one of the five areas has more than one candidate.
Candidates are Gregg Johnson and Kent Curtis for district 3 (the CR 510, Oxford, and west of Ignacio area); Dick Lunceford for the CR 307-308 and south of Elmores Corner area; Patty Dressel for the Ticolote and other areas northwest of Bayfield; Bob Beebe for the Allison-Arboles area; and Dan Lind for the Bondad, Highway 550, CR 302 area.
Several district proponents, board candidates, and Pine River Irrigation District representatives met with the Times on Monday to discuss the proposed district.
"This is the culmination of almost 18 years effort looking at various methods of providing water to the southeast part of the county," said Dick Lunceford, who has led the citizens group that has worked through the state-mandated process to form a new tax district.
“This specific effort is about four and a half years old,” he said. The effort originated with the Pine River Irrigation District. The citizens group was formed after PRID withdrew in 2001 and the county commissioners decided the county wouldn’t take charge of making it happen.
“Our (rural) population is doubling every 30 years, and the aquifer (that supplies water wells) is declining because of more efficient or reduced irrigation,” Lunceford said.
He said one of the arguments against a rural water system is that it will encourage growth, but growth is happening anyway, because this is an attractive place to live.
“We need a water system just for existing residents,” he said. “We want to be looked at as a public utility, just like LPEA or Atmos Gas,” the natural gas supplier in Durango.
It can be a planning tool to get rural development off irrigated ag land, he said, and it can provide water for rural fire protection — a benefit to people both on and off the system.
The system will be built in stages over 15 to 20 years, with bulk water stations for areas that get service later.
If the district is formed, one of the board of directors’ first decisions will be the water source and where the first treatment plant and distribution lines will go.
“This is the best and most democratic way to provide this system,” Lunceford asserted.
Board candidate Patty Dressel is a real estate appraiser. She said that with ever toughening standards for real estate loans, it will be very hard to qualify a property that depends on a cistern and water hauling.
“There are more and more cisterns being put in. I personally wouldn’t want to buy a house with a cistern,” Dressel said. It will get harder for people to refinance without guaranteed water, she said. “I can’t get a loan because I have a cistern.”
Lunceford added that water hauling costs are going up with fuel costs. “If we continue the way we are with no potable water supply, we’ll need deeper wells and more water hauling. If we do nothing, more people will be hauling water in the future.”
The district service plan approved by the county commissioners last fall is based on total system construction costs of $85 million. Lunceford said the construction cost analysis needs to be updated.
Becoming a district will open access to a lot of outside funding, including Energy Impact grants, that isn’t available now, he said.
If the district is formed, the board will consider having a mill levy election in November, Lunceford said. The service plan is based on a tax rate of 5 mills. If approved in November, the district could start collecting property tax in 2009.
“With the special district done this way and the generosity of BP (which would be the main taxpayer), we have the ability to build a system where the taps and water rates will be considerably less than they would be under any other system," Lunsford said. “At the end of the build-out, most of the mill levy will go away, to around .5 mills."
More interviews with citizens for and against the district will be in the Aug. 1 issue of the Times.
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