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Cotarco – what happened?

(continued from last week)

HUERFANO — Exactly why Cotarco, the carbonization company, and Umbaugh Chemical Laboratories, the fertilizer company, chose not to build multi-million dollar plants in Huerfano County may remain a mystery. If only we could peek into the corporation board meetings to find out what decisions were made out of sight of the public. There are a few clues, however, about what happened in 1956. Was it because Umbaugh discovered that Colorado farmers did not use nearly as much fertilizer as farmers in the mid-West? The company acknowledged also that soils here had a definite sodium problem. Undoubtedly the main problem crept up when challenges were made to Colorado Senate Bill 313, which allowed a city to issue anticipation warrants to build and equip industrial buildings “for the public good.” The warrants would be paid off through payments from the industries once they got going. Assurances came from all sides that the new law was legal. Twenty-one million dollars worth of warrants were to be issued. Then a similar law was challenged before the New Mexico Supreme Court. That is when Ray Umbaugh, president of Umbaugh Chemical, decided his firm should test the Colorado law here in District Court before proceeding with his building plans. Now the History Detective needs help. The court

results could not be located. But the Cotarco-Umbaugh office was closed and the officials left town. These were two well-established firms with headquarters in mid-Western states. Why did they flee? Some 3,000 persons had attended the groundbreaking in May of 1955 at the new industrial site, donated by the City of Walsenburg. (Today Ludvik propane tanks sit there where the Valley Road and Moore Avenue meet just east of La Veta). At that groundbreaking, Colorado Governor Ed Johnson was too prophetic, saying, “Most surveys of this area were favorable but something always seems to happen at the last minute.” And, as it turned out, something happened once again. Ever since, when big plans for Huerfano County are announced, someone says, “Remember Cotarco.” Information from the Pueblo Chieftain of June 19, 1955, and Feb. 26, 1956, and various World-Independent newspapers of May 1956 and Nov. 16, 1956. The History Detective is a service of the Huerfano County Historical Society or Carolyn Newman 719-738-2840.