A-LP keeps tight lid on records

As the Citizens' Progressive Alliance (CPA), a group opposing the Animas-La Plata project, pushes for an investigation of the project's cost overruns, it also is struggling to have documents disclosed. The CPA filed Freedom of Information Act requests for 14 separate documents in late August. It was told that six of those would be withheld and that $718.50 would be charged to view the remaining eight documents.

In a July 31 letter to its partners, the Bureau of Reclamation explained that the water project's original cost estimates of $337.9 million were dramatically low. New estimates had risen to $500 million, a jump of nearly $163 million, or 50 percent. The CPA has charged that this radical underestimation was a deliberate attempt to squeeze the controversial A-LP project into existence. Steve Cone, the CPA's A-LP project coordinator, remarked: "Our view is that the initial cost estimates were purposely and monstrously low-balled simply to rally public opinion and get the shovels in the ground. The Bureau of Reclamation never came clean and has still not come clean on the real costs of this project."

Cone said that the deception is now continuing with the bureau's reluctance to open its records. "They're claiming there are certain documents that they will not make available," he said. "And it's interesting because the response has been that they will charge some pretty stiff fees to pull some stuff off the shelf."

Cone said that the bureau's fee amounts to a $46.80 per hour charge, a sum beyond the CPA's means. Consequently, the original request for 14 documents has now been narrowed to two. These are correspondence and records on Harza Engineering's role in the formulation of the cost estimate and a copy of the Cost Estimate Notebook.

"We don't have that kind of funding available at this time," Cone said. "That's one of the reasons we've had to narrow the request."

Smiley gains city council's nod

After a 4`BD hour meeting that was described as a "knock-down, drag-out," the Durango City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to grant three requests made by the owners of the Smiley Building. The requests by the arts center had drawn opposition from the East Third Avenue Neighborhood Boulevard Association and been rejected by the Durango Planning Commission.

Smiley Building owners John and Charles Shaw and Lisa Bodwalk had requested amendments to their operating agreement to allow a caf`E9, specific new commercial tenants and more flexibility for the building's five residential units. The requests drew determined opposition from the Neighborhood Boulevard Association. After the Planning Commission's rejection, and prior to Tuesday's vote, Carol Withers, Boulevard Association president, commented, "We love the Smiley Building and the Neighborhood Association was a part of figuring out the original operating plan. We would like to see the original intent remain."

John Shaw took a different view of the Neighborhood Boulevard Association. "At the meeting between 30 and 40 talked on our behalf," Shaw said. "I think five or six people spoke against it. They were the same five or six people who spoke against the project at the beginning, and the same five or six people that have been against everything we've done."

Shaw said that while the Smiley Building had a difficult time getting to last Tuesday's vote, the support has been astonishing. "It was a drag to have to go through this process, but it was also really galvanizing to have all these people come together around the building," he said. "I am humbled and proud of this project and what everyone had to say at that meeting."

Thousand units coming to Edgemont

While all eyes have been on River Trails Ranch, Grandview and Ewing Mesa, the La Plata County commissioners approved a significant change to the Edgemont Ranch conceptual development plan last month. With the change, Edgemont Ranch, located roughly five miles east of Durango, now has the go-ahead to build an additional 1,033 units. However, the development gained preliminary approval 20 years ago for 1,295 units and a golf course.

La Plata County Planner Nancy Lauro noted, "Basically, they've had a big development approved out there since the early 1980s."

Juanita Sauvage, La Plata County planner II, said that in addition to a reduction of 262 units, Edgemont Ranch also eliminated the proposed golf course and dedicated 500 acres as permanent open space.

"He's transferred the golf course property to open space and reduced the number of units," she said. "Because there are fewer units now, there will either be larger lot sizes or more open space."

Road and trails reopened at Vallecito

On-going salvage work to remove hazard trees at Vallecito Reservoir was completed early this week, and as a result, Forest Road 603, the East Vallecito Road, on the east side of Vallecito Reservoir, has been reopened. The North Canyon (No. 656) and Graham Creek trails also were reopened. Forest Service officials did caution users to be alert for logging trucks and stormy weather conditions.

"While we've removed a lot of hazardous trees in the area, visitors should remain alert and watch weather conditions," said Dave Baker, Long-Term Restoration Team Leader. "There are still lots of trees in the burn area that could come down on a stormy or windy day, and there are plenty of areas that could experience debris flows or mudflows during a storm."

The Forest Service still has plans for a fuels-reduction project for the area along the east side of Vallecito Reservoir, including the campgrounds and along the road.

- compiled by Will Sands





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