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LAPLAWD squeaks by
8/15/2008 By: Carole McWilliams
La Plata County now has a rural water district.
Eligible electors approved forming the district Tuesday with 481 yes votes to 449 no votes.
This tally includes provisional votes that were determined to be valid, according to Dick Lunceford, who led the effort to bring the water district to a vote.
He said 31 provisional ballots were cast, and 10 were determined to be valid. Seven of those were yes votes.
The 2008 La Plata County Fair attracted
an estimated 10,000 people
last weekend. Megan Semler,
a BHS senior is the new fair
queen for 2008-2009.
The provisional ballots were checked by a canvassing board consisting of Lunceford, elector Cheryl Lynn, and designated election official Dan Schler.
Lunceford was an unopposed candidate for the water district board. Lynn is the wife of another unopposed board candidate, Dan Lynn.
Lunceford said they checked the provisional ballots three times against assessor records and voter registration lists. Twenty-one were disqualified mainly because owners had excluded the properties. A few of the provisional voters weren’t on either the state or county voter registration lists, he said.
Gregg Johnson won the only contested board seat with 287 votes, versus 212 for Kent Curtis. Those don’t include the 10 qualified provisional ballots, Lunceford said.
Other unopposed candidates for the new five-member board are Patty Dressel and Bob Beebe.
The first board meeting will be Monday at 10 a.m. at 954 E. Second Ave. in Durango, the office of water engineer Steve Harris. He has been involved in efforts to create a rural water system since the Pine River Irrigation District board first started proposing it in the mid 1990s.
The board faces a long agenda for its first meeting.
Lunceford said he is gratified that voters approved forming the district, but he is feeling rather overwhelmed by the task ahead.
“I realize going forward that we have a tremendous amount of work to do to convince the people who voted against this, to address their concerns,” especially the belief that use of water from Vallecito will take water from irrigators, he said.
“We have to work cooperatively going forward to get all those people on board too. We have to get approval of the mill levy, and that would be difficult” without winning over some opponents.
The new board will have to make a lot of decisions to fill in blanks in the district service plan, such as the water source, treatment plant location, and where the first water lines will go.
Eligible electors will have to approve a 5 mill property tax and authorize a bond issue to build the first part of the system. The service plan projected buildout would cost about $85 million.
The 400-square-mile service area goes to the New Mexico state line on the south, the Archuleta County line on the east, the Animas River on the west (south of Durango), and about three miles north of Highway 160.
Aside from tribal land and properties excluded by landowners and several gas production companies, excluded land includes parcels in the growth areas claimed by Bayfield and Durango, a square three mile growth area around Ignacio, and rural subdivisions that already have central water systems.
Caryl Helmin-Schmid, who led opposition to district formation, called the vote results a victory for opponents.
In a press release, she asserted that many voters were disenfranchised by the short time the County Clerk’s Office had to come up with a list of eligible voters, plus those who couldn’t vote because they excluded their property from the district.
“When you take into account the hundreds of property owners who excluded their property from the proposed district and were not allowed to vote, this was a resounding no vote against formation of the district,” she said.
“Our concern is that the voter list and property list provided to the election judges by the county contained numerous errors and omissions, and that some voters may have been disenfranchised,” she continued.
“We don't feel this was the fault of county personnel, but rather due to the hasty election, which was requested by LAPLAWD proponents and approved by Judge Dickinson. County Clerk and Assessor's office did not have ample time to compile an accurate voter or property list and our fears that many eligible voters would find themselves unable to vote and be turned away were correct.
Schmid said the group, known as Opponents of the Gopher Hole Project, will concentrate their efforts on the next election, “which actually has far greater importance because it will be about increasing property taxes to fund the project.”
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