La Plata County proposes Grandview moratorium

Fearing property speculation and ramshackle development, La Plata County staffers have proposed a six-month moratorium on development in the Grandview area. The county is also looking into transferable development rights, which would encourage protection of open space by shifting density into the Grandview area.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Crader family have forwarded a plan for as many as 2,000 new units on a 920-acre site roughly two miles east of Durango. In addition, the team has agreed to donate 35 acres to Mercy Medical Center, which plans to leave its undersized building in town and relocate. Mercy’s plan is on somewhat of a fast-track with the hospital’s board expecting to have a contractor selected within the next 30 days. Joe Crain, county planning services director, said that the county has no intention of holding up hospital construction.

However, he added that the hospital is driving some of the development pressure at Grandview and hence the need for a moratorium.

“With the announcement of the hospital going out there, it’s going to spur immediate development, and speculation is probably happening as we speak,” Crain said.

The Grandview area would eventually be annexed by the city of Durango, and Crain said both the city and county are concerned about sprawl. In particular, he mentioned the potential for sloppy development on U.S. Highway 160, State Highway 172 and County Road 234.

“We do not want to see the kind of planning for Highway 160 east of Elmore’s that happened with Grandview in the 1950s,” said Crain.

A moratorium also would allow the Colorado Department of Transportation to complete its plans for rerouting Highway 160, and the county and city would be able put an intergovernmental agreement in place to jointly handle planning for Grandview. The county would also use a moratorium to put a structure for transferring development rights in place. Such a structure would enable property owners to sell their development rights on land the county would prefer to remain as open space. These rights could then be transferred into the Grandview area, which both the county and city have envisioned as densely developed. Apparently, transferable development rights have been successful in Boulder County.

“This is an excellent opportunity for the county and city to set up transferable development rights,” Crain said. “We figure that Grandview is going to be a fairly dense area anyway.”

The Grandview area would serve as a test-case for such a system. “If it works we would want to see that happen in other areas as well,” Crain said.

With all of these goals wrapped inside the proposed moratorium, Crain said he hopes that six months will be sufficient. “We hope it will be enough time,” he said. “We’re still going to have to bust butt to get there.”

La Plata County commissioners will make a decision on whether or not to enact a moratorium at their Oct. 21 meeting.

A-LP construction on schedule

Though it’s been quiet on the headline front of late, construction on the Animas-La Plata project is proceeding apace. Funding for the controversial project, which would divert water from the Animas and La Plata rivers to a reservoir behind Smelter Mountain, has been the only hold-up.

The current work on A-LP includes the construction of a pipeline from the pumping plant to the reservoir. In addition, the groundwork for the excavation of the dam outlet-works tunnel, a concrete lined tunnel 1,400 feet long, has nearly been laid. Pat Schumacher, projects manager for A-LP, said that this work should be completed by the end of the month and “next year, we’ll come in with a tunneling contract.”

Schumacher also noted that substantial archaeological work is underway in the construction site. Four field groups are currently investigating numerous sites in the basin.

“They know there are over 300 sites that could be disturbed by construction,” said Schumacher. “From what I’m hearing, they haven’t found anything extremely exotic. They’re finding pretty standard stuff.”

Schumacher said that the biggest, current blockade for the project is funding. Specifically, the project’s finances are tied to an appropriations bill in Congress. Until that bill is approved, construction relies on a week-to-week extension.

“We’re on a continuing resolution right now that keeps us in business through the end of the week,” Schumacher said.

Schumacher added that while construction is full-steam ahead, A-LP is a giant project and that its completion is anticipated in 2008. Only at that point would water be diverted from the Animas and La Plata Rivers.

City drilling comes up empty

The near water crisis of late summer sent the city of Durango scrambling for alternative water sources. However, last week, the results of test drilling for back-up wells were disappointing.

Run-off tainted by the Missionary Ridge burn areas combined with historic low flows sent the city close to mandatory water restrictions and in search of drinking-water alternatives. One alternative was potential wells off County Road 250.
Test holes were drilled to 140 feet to determine if the aquifer would support municipal use. The results were disappointing, but the overall situation has improved.

“The situation has changed a little bit,” said Jack Rogers, Durango public works director. “Rainfall in September was up, and flows in the Animas River have recovered. The emergency we felt we had a month ago is no longer an emergency.”

Rogers noted that the city will continue looking for potential well sites but in different locations. “We will still continue to do exploration.”

Task force nets more meth busts

Late last week, the Southwest Drug Task Force seized more than one ounce of methamphetamine along with quantities of MDMA powder, hashish and marijuana in a Durango motel room. Auralee Moselely and Douglas Moran were arrested on charges of possession with intent to distribute. More arrests are anticipated.

This recent bust comes on the heals of a substantial Aug. 17 methamphetamine bust in Ignacio and several resulting arrests.

With this in mind, Cpl. Dick Mullen, of the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, said: “They’re doing an outstanding job but it’s a never-ending job. Will you ever see the light at the end of the tunnel? I doubt it.”

The Southwest Drug Task Force, a multi-jurisdictional task force comprised of investigators from the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Durango Police Department and the Ignacio Police Department, made the arrests.

McInnis claims forest consensus

Last week, Congressman Scott McInnis announced that he had achieved a bipartisan breakthrough on legislation he has introduced to reduce wildfire threat with logging.

According to a release from McInnis’ office, he gathered support for a modified version of the bill from Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-Or.) and George Miller (D-Ca.), in belief that a bipartisan consensus on the legislation could be reached before the bill continued through the legislative process. The consensus, according to McInnis, will generate support for the bill as it is considered in a Resources Committee mark-up Friday. “Over the last month, congressmen Miller and DeFazio, who both have a long history on environmental issues, stepped up and refused to let the status quo of conflict-ridden inaction continue,” said McInnis.

“In that light, I challenge Coloradans, environmental organizations and all those concerned about the threat of wildfire to look closely at the Healthy Forests Reform Act and choose whether to support consensus action to responsibly address the wildfire threat around our communities and in our forests,” he concluded.

The bill must now make its way through both the House of Representatives and the Senate.





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