OURAY BRIEFS | New Mayor Takes Helm in Ouray
by Samantha Wright
Dec 09, 2013 | 1253 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print

OURAY – The City of Ouray bid adieu to its mayor of six years, Bob Risch, as Mayor Elect Pam Larson was sworn in by Municipal and County Judge David Westfall at a Ouray City Council meeting on Monday, Dec. 2. 

Larson read a proclamation establishing Friday, Oct. 6, 2013 as Bob Risch Appreciation Day, and honoring Risch for his achievements while in office, including the near-completion of the Ouray Perimeter Trail, and numerous strides toward making the City of Ouray more energy-efficient.

“He left Ouray better than when he arrived as mayor,” she said. 

Judge Westfall also swore in John Ferguson for his second term, and newly elected Glenn Boyd for his first term, as councilors. Ferguson was unanimously nominated by his fellow councilors to continue serving as Mayor Pro Tem.



After years of simmering on the back burner, Phase II of the Box Canon Geothermal Water Line project shifted front and center at Monday’s meeting, as council discussed at length whether to scrap the original engineering plans for the project and look for a cheaper, simpler way to get the job done. 

Phase II of the Box Canon Geothermal Water Line project is included in the 2014 Budget as a $390,000 line item, and staff is in the process of obtaining a municipal loan to pay for the endeavor, which seeks to replace a critical portion of the pipeline that delivers geothermal spring water from its source in Box Canyon to the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. 

The Box Canon Geothermal Water Line Project dates back to 2009, when the City of Ouray won a grant from the Division of Local Affairs to pay for an engineering study to replace the aging infrastructure that delivers geothermal spring water from Box Canon to the Hot Springs Pool. The project at that time was divided into three phases. Phase I, which replaced the vault infrastructure at the source of the hot springs in Box Canon, was executed in 2010, with much of the work executed by the City’s Public Works department. 

Phase II of the project proposed replacing the portion of the pipeline from the vault, all the way along Canyon Creek to its confluence with the Uncompahgre River at Third Avenue in Ouray. Phase III encompassed pipeline replacement for the remainder of the distance from Third Avenue to the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. 

Phases II and III of the plan were originally not thought to be of urgent importance, and were not prioritized until last summer, when heavy rains exposed portions of the existing pipeline in Canyon Creek, and council agreed to bump up Phase II on its list of capital improvements to be completed in 2014.

But on Monday, Councilors Michael Underwood and Richard Kersen took exception to some aspects of the draft engineering plans for Phase II as they currently exist, arguing the plans were “overkill” and championing the idea of seeking a simpler “Design-Build” solution, perhaps again to be executed by the city’s own public works department. “We are on the verge of spending $390,000 we don’t need to spend to accomplish the task at hand,” Underwood said. “We do have expertise to come up with an alternative plan, that is not so invasive on the environment.”

Ferguson argued for the merits of returning to the engineering firm that drew up the original plans, and asking that firm to come back with a downsized plan. 

“I would hate to see an engineering study rejected and go back to square one,” Ferguson said. “This firm has a lot of information [about the project] already; what is the harm of going back to them, instead of throwing it all out the window?”

In the end, council tasked Public Works Director Dennis Erickson with developing new parameters and guidelines for the project, to be presented at the next council meeting.



Ouray Councilor John Ferguson proposed amending the 2014 budget to allow for a full-time Community Development Coordinator. The position was created two years ago, and is held by Ann Morgenthaler. 

The budget as presented does call for Morgenthaler to be a full-time employee of the City of Ouray, but as the budget is presented, 16 hours’ worth of her time would actually be spent working for the Town of Ridgway, which would then reimburse the City of Ouray for her services. 

Ferguson made a strong case for keeping Morgenthaler in Ouray full-time, which would cost the City an additional $24,000 in 2014. “I think we have an example here of the best and the brightest coming out in municipal leadership,” he said. “Putting her on full time would create impetus to make sure we are getting our bang for the buck from other personnel.” 

No one on council questioned Morgenthaler’s value to the City of Ouray, but the remaining councilors concurred that the most important business of the evening was to simply adopt the budget. 

“There is still time and room for adjustment subsequent to tonight’s meeting,” Councilor Underwood stated. “It is much like adopting an errant child; it’s not perfect and there may still be some additions or subtractions.”

Underwood moved to adopt the budget as presented, and his motion passed 4-1, with Ferguson opposed. 

Council also approved an 11.075 mil levy for the coming year. 



After quite a bit of discussion, council approved on first reading an amendment to the City of Ouray’s Ordinance 9, pertaining to setback regulations in the R-1 and R-2 zones. 

The previous version of the ordinance contained an error stemming from the city’s Code revision project in 2013, in which the language was inadvertently changed to require all setbacks to be the average on a block front, or 15 feet, “whichever is greater.” The original intent of the code was to imply “whichever is less.” 

The amended ordinance, presented for council approval on Monday, repaired that error and returned the ordinance to its original intent, stating: “The minimum front setback shall be equal to the average of the existing building front setbacks on the block front, or fifteen (15) feet, whichever is less. In calculating the average of the existing building front setbacks, staff may exclude buildings in which the setback distance was determined erroneously, and staff may exclude buildings if they determine inconsistencies exist.”

Much discussion circled around the semantics of the amended ordinance, and whether the word “may” should be replaced by the word “shall” to ensure consistent enforcement.

Ouray City Attorney Kathryn Sellars, meanwhile, argued against adopting the amended ordinance altogether, stating that it would put an undue burden on staff to determine whether there had been an erroneous calculation, and that the city’s variance process provided a more appropriate means of addressing individual setback issues. 

Councilor Ferguson disagreed. “We have talked this to death, and [Sellars] is being unfair to the staff who came up with the verbiage,”  he said.

Mayor Larson suggested sending the ordinance revision back to the Planning Commission to address Sellars’ concerns, while Councilor Underwood stated that he “was hoping legal [staff] would have waded into this before this evening.” 

The matter was first discussed by council in October.

In the end, Councilor John Ferguson moved to swap the second “may” for a “shall” in the second sentence of the amendment. The motion passed 3-2 with Councilor Boyd and Mayor Larson opposed. 



Ouray resident Margaret Henderson took the opportunity to address council at Monday’s meeting, urging the elected officials to define a collective vision for Ouray as they embark on a new term together. 

“The community has been doing a lot of visioning and planning,” she said. “I ask of you, how do you envision yourselves working together as a council to work through issues? When I look at you I see that you have great potential to work together to solve issues to make Ouray an even better place to live. Working together, we can have a very positive outcome for the future.”

Henderson drafted a document which she had distributed to council members prior to the meeting, referring to a number of issues she said that she and other members of the community hope the council will address during the upcoming term, ranging from the city’s Home Rule Charter to its complaint-driven enforcement system, and the role of community involvement in city governance. 

“My intention is to follow up with you throughout the months ahead to learn how issues are being addressed and to listen to your deliberations and decisions,” she said, promising that she and other residents would be paying attention and asking the question, “Has Ouray followed through on its commitments and plans?”



Councilor Glenn Boyd introduced a proposal for the City of Ouray to honor a different city employee every month. Council and staff applauded the idea in concept, but the idea was tabled for the time being so that Boyd can further refine the proposal based on staff and council input. 


swright@watchnewspapers.com or Tweet @iamsamwright

Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet