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GID members hear business owners’ plans

by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — A large group of Northlands property and business owners as well as interested citizens met Monday night to share information with city council members, who were meeting in their capacity as the General Improvement District (GID) committee.
Business owners in the improvement district told the GID committee about the business improvements and new opportunities that could arise with the completion of the area’s sewer line project.
An important deadline for the project is quickly approaching. The DOLA (Department of Local Affairs) and the state Office of Economic Development have been holding approximately $700,000 in grant funds for the Northlands sewer project for the past three years. Although the funds have been approved, if the project does not move forward by the end of March, the money cannot be held any longer by the state agencies for Northlands.
In order to show forward progress on the project is being made, city administration is applying to the USDA for a grant/loan package to supply the rest of the funding needed for the approximately 6.2 millions dollar project. The final draft of the preliminary engineering report (PER), a key component in the USDA grant and loan application for the project, is nearly completed, with just a few final statistics being compiled for inclusion. The city is hoping to receive the maximum proportion of grants funding, 45% of the total cost of the project. The remaining 55% in loan funds would be repaid by the 19 property owners in Northlands.
City finance director Dave Johnston said Monday night the PER includes three alternatives for the sewer line project. Alternative three, which would see the line snake around the hilly terrain as opposed to going over the elevation, appearing to be the best alternative. He said the estimated price tag for this alternative is about $6.2 million.
The GID auxillary members, made up of property and business owners in the Northlands were well represented at the meeting with Charles Oaks of Acorn Travel Plaza, Raj Patel, owner of the Best Western Motel and KFC / Taco Bell, property owners Sharon Mitchell and Bill Shepard, and Dakota campground owner George Birrer all present.
Oaks said while not looking at any new projects, the Acorn company supports and recognizes the need for the sewer line and continues to work to renovate and expand their travelers’ services. He said the company is expanding their businesses in Walsenburg, Brush and Grand Junction. He said the firm supports the project and wants to improve the parking areas which will bring more people off of the interstate and keep them in the area longer.
Parking lot problems, due to the water table and old sewer ponds are an issue for Patel as well. During the meeting he said if the sewer project is a go, he is looking at construction of one or two additional restaurants and possibly another franchise motel in Northlands. That kind of expansion could produce up to 70 new jobs for residents.
Both Shepard, a major landowner in Northlands, and Birrer both said they feel improvements to the area will benefit downtown businesses as well. Both mentioned the importance of signage that could help direct travelers to other businesses and tourist sites in Walsenburg and Huerfano County in general.
Shepard said he felt as soon as construction gets underway on the project, there will be renewed interest from investors and developers who have said over the years that full utilities in the Northlands is necessary for any new commercial ventures.
Of course, besides economic expansion, the other major reason for the project is to settle the Ackerman Decree which calls for the city of Walsenburg to augment two gallons of water back to the Cucharas River for every one gallon used in Northlands. This issue, along with the odor problem from the sewer holding ponds would be eliminated with construction of the sewer line.
Mayor Larry Patrick said staff and administration plan to meet with the USDA representative this week to ensure the PER contains all the details necessary to keep the loan application on track.