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Cantrell to district: “We have no money”

by Carol Dunn
CUCHARA — Bruce Cantrell met with the Cucharas Sanitation and Water District Board of Directors on November 9 and explained why he is in arrears on water payments.
“We have no money,” Cantrell told the Board. “We have exhausted our cash supply.” Cantrell explained that, at one point, his resort venture had promises of funding from several sources, but those have fallen through. “All the funding was lined up – millions of dollars. We lost every one of those grants and commitments,” he said. Cantrell said he and his wife have both emptied their retirement accounts, to the tune of two million dollars, into the resort property, and, “It’s going to take a lot of additional money to get it up and running.” The resort is currently listed for sale. “My intent,” Cantrell said, “is that this property will be owned by the citizens of this county, run by the citizens of this county, for the benefit of the citizens of this county.”
Cantrell’s attendance at the meeting was prompted after the CSWD board voted to discontinue giving the reduced water/sewer rates it originally granted for the resort property because, as Director Henry Harnly put it, “Nothing physically is happening.” In order to get those rates lowered again, Cantrell tried to leverage an agreement he has with the district for two-tenths of water right #2. He told the board that CSWD is using water it has not paid for.
Cantrell and the district had a three-phase agreement which involved dividing #2 water rights previously belonging to Lowell Goemmer. Phase one is completed. In phase two, a reservoir was to be built on resort property at the ski area, and the district was going to store its portion of those water rights in that reservoir. In return, Cantrell would receive 2,000 EQRs (Equivalent Residential Usage, or the amount of water and sewer used by a standard residential unit of 1,875 square feet). Cantrell said he is in the “very early stages” of building that reservoir, with completion at least two years away. General manager Bob Northup told the board, “We don’t owe anything out of phase two or three until the reservoir is built.”
Board chairman Art Pierce told Cantrell that the board understands the intent. “It’s hard for us to deal with intents,” Pierce said. “We’re dealing with services we’re providing. If we provide the service, then you pay the rate.” Toward the end of the discussion, Cantrell said he would be willing to abandon about half the water taps at the resort because the buildings are not in use anyway. The EQR water fees are based on “seats” a building will accommodate, and Cantrell said, “There are no seats.” The Catch 22 is if the lines are abandoned, they need to be removed before water/sewer charges cease. And that can turn out to be more expensive than the water charges.
As the board discussed the what-ifs of the situation, Henry Harnly said, “I think we’ve got to go with what it is right now.” The board recommended that Cantrell meet with Northup to clarify agreements, contracts and obligations. They took no further action on the Cantrell/Resort account at this time.
In the general manager’s report, Northup reported the biosolids (aka. sludge) were land applied the week of November 5. They have been applied at the same ranch, Jamesons, for 17 years, and Northup described how the property is monitored. Since the biosolids application permit has to be renewed every five years through EPA, the district regularly tests the soil and reports the data upon permit renewal. “It is well tested and well regulated,” he said.
The Britton Reservoirs project is finished except for seeding and straw mulch. Regarding the $20,000 grant for the project, Northup said, “We’re waiting for them to cut a check.”
The district is gearing up for its next big project, the water tank at the Cucharas Water Plant. The total project amount is $337,000, which will be funded by a $250,000 grant and a 2% 20-year loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority in the amount of $87,000.
As one of the requirements of the loan, the district opened a money market account for water debt at First National Bank in Trinidad, Walsenburg Branch.
Barb Williams will be leaving the district at the end of December, and the board discussed options for replacing her. One option is to move Jennette Coe, who is currently part-time, into the position. Chairman Pierce said, “Jennette has the ability to know how to streamline an office and how to make things work better.” The board decided to add eight more hours to Coe’s work week so she can train on Williams’ position. She was also asked to come up with a couple alternatives for staffing so the board can consider them at its next meeting.
Director Jim Howard mentioned to the board there is a vacancy on the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District. “Cuchara should be represented on that board,” he said. Letters of interest for the HCWCD vacancy should be directed to District Judge Appel by November 30.
The board received a request from the Cuchara Inn for a reduced rate for six rooms being remodeled. The board tabled the request for one month so they could get additional information on the specific type of rooms.