OURAY COUNTY BRIEFS
County Responds to Tower Outcry, Water Grab and Energy Plan
by Peter SheltonCounty Responds to Tower Outcry, Water Grab and Energy Plan
Jan 06, 2011 | 1821 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
OURAY – At its first regular Tuesday meeting of 2011, and the last meeting with outgoing Commissioner Keith Meinert, the Ouray County Board of County Commissioners wrestled with the wording of a letter responding to criticism of the Verizon communication tower on Log Hill.

“Foundation work has started, and that sparked letters from the public,” said commission chair Lynn Padgett, “some of them letters to the editor, calling on the BOCC to force a stop.”

That’s not going to happen, said Commissioner Heidi Albritton. “The tower was first approved in 2008, with conditions. That decision has been tested in the courts over the last two years, and been upheld. We want people to know that they do have a voice, including part-time people. And yes, the community is split. But the emergency responder system needs this facility. It’s a matter of the health, safety and welfare of the county.”

Meinert added: “We’re responding to the public perception of the issue as expressed by letters to the editor. It is sufficient for us to communicate to the public that we followed our process. It’s been challenged in the courts, and the courts have backed us up. It’s a done deal.”

There is one lawsuit outstanding, against the Dallas Creek Water Company, on whose land the tower is being built. But that suit does not involve the county. (The full text of the BOCC letter can be found on page 5 in this issue of The Watch.)

GUNNISON BASIN, ‘THE BASIN OF NO’

The Board of County Commissioners heard from Cary Denison on Tuesday about fears voiced by members of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable regarding a potential water grab of Blue Mesa Lake water by Front Range communities.

It’s a ways off, Denison reported, and it’s complex, but the possibility, indeed the likelihood someday of a call on Colorado’s water by downriver compact states makes the prospect a concern now.

Denison is president of Colorado Land and Water Specialists LLC, an environmental services company in Montrose, and a member of the Gunnison Basin Rountable, which is itself one of nine basin rountables established by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Ouray County is a geographic and political member of the Gunnison Basin and its roundtable.

Denison explained that a scenario has been discussed in which Front Range basins – Arkansas River, South Platte, etc. – would purchase Blue Mesa water to offset their diversions. That way, in the event of a call on the Colorado River, they could release Blue Mesa water to the downstream states in lieu of East Slope water supplies.

This got Commissioner Keith Meinert exercised. “This scheme obviously benefits interests on the East Slope,” he said. “We need to know who wins and who loses in the event of a call on the Colorado River.”

Commissioner Lynn Padgett said, “I’m with Keith that this is a ‘hell no.’ But the Front Range can’t just wither up and die [in the event of a call]. I don’t want the state crisis team to make decisions for us in the heat of the moment.”

Denison mentioned a trans-basin study. “If we say hell no to this, if we back out of their study, if we’re not involved enough to guide it, we’re going to lose our seat at the table. The Gunnison Basin is already known as the ‘Basin of No’” due to its repeated refusals to send water under the continental divide to Front Range cities.

Denison went on: “This proposal can’t be accepted as it is now. But the question is how do we stay involved, if we want to stay involved.”

Meinert returned to the need to “spell out potential injuries” should West Slope entities “succumb to easy money from the Front Range for storage rights.” He referenced a meeting with Ridgway’s Andy Mueller of the Colorado River District in which Mueller “briefed us on contingency planning in the event of a call. The agricultural interests will be injured first,” Meinert said, “before municipalities,” and “with the risk that the Uncompahgre Valley would lie fallow so long it would become a Dust Bowl. . . Somebody’s going to get damaged. There’s a finite amount of water. If someone gains, someone is going to get starved.

“Any limiting of our water, including activities that would increase the likelihood of a call, damages the economic engine of the West Slope.”

“I guess I may be more skeptical,” said Padgett. “I think this will eventually happen.” She went on to suggest that developing storage capacity uphill of the municipalities in Ouray County would be one way to deal with a possible call. Neither Ridgway nor Ouray have sufficient capacity now, according to Padgett, to deal with both growing demand and a possibly reduced snowpack.

Denison mentioned an upcoming Roundtable meeting on March 3. “I think there will be some fireworks,” he said.

Lightening the mood, Padgett asked Denison if the Roundtable could “get more water for the Ouray Ice Park?”

ENERGY PLAN TAKES SHAPE FOR COUNTIES

There is Department of Energy federal stimulus money available for communities in Colorado to work on more sustainable energy futures, according to Kim Wheels, who spoke to the Ouray County Board of County Commissioners at their first meeting of the new year Tuesday.

But, Wheels said, “because of our low population, we didn’t automatically qualify” to receive grant money through the Governor’s Energy Office. So, with coordinating guidance from the grant recipient, The New Community Coalition in Telluride, Ouray and San Miguel counties – and the five municipalities within the counties – combined forces and have now produced a 43-page Strategy Draft, which Wheels shared with the commissioners.

The idea, in a nutshell, is for the participants to come up with strategies for quantifying energy use and, eventually, for gaining efficiency, adding renewables and lowering CO2 emissions region wide in the timeframe 2010-2020.

The draft plan has been posted on the bulletin board of Ridgway’s town web site but has not yet been posted by the county.

The volunteer board charged with developing the plan, the Western San Juans Community Energy Board, is looking at each community’s energy use: residential, commercial and governmental, electric and natural gas, diesel and propane; at transportation demands; at water use; and at waste production and disposal. Once a baseline is established – how much and what kinds of energy are we using now – the communities involved can set goals for reducing use.

Outgoing commissioner Keith Meinert has been a member of WSJCEB and said he plans to remain “as long as they’ll have me.” Meinert elaborated on Wheels’ presentation: “This should not be seen as a threatening document in any way,” he said. “This is not a mandatory process. It’s more encouragement. The communities involved have full autonomy.”

He went on to plead for what he called “organizational sustainability. So far, everything’s been done ad hoc. This is an attempt to get rid of the ‘ad hoc-ery.’”

An important element in that sustainability, Wheels reported, will be future funding. The grant funding expires at the end of 2011.

“We need to have that discussion about future funding,” Meinert said.

As the Strategy Draft morphs into an Energy Action Plan, each governmental entity will appoint an Energy Action Coordinator. Meinert took the opportunity to suggest that Ouray County’s EAC should be Will Clapsadl, the county’s facilities manager, who has “done good work auditing energy use by the county and worked on tapping geothermal energy to heat the courthouse.” Clapsadl was in the room and blushed, though the appointment seemed to have been a foregone conclusion.

Finally, Meinert spoke passionately about “public buy-in. We have to cajole, and outreach, and badger the citizens to take this seriously and improve the energy sustainability in their own lives.”
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