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Huerfano’s Winds a boon to market

by Guy Blasi

WALSENBURG- Huerfano County real estate markets are in direct correlation to the national economy — down but hopeful.  The local economy has remained stagnant the past 40 years, and real estate values have remained relatively flat along with the population.  The potential answer for a better economy may be blowing in Huerfano County’s direction.  Real estate could improve with potential generation of electricity through wind farming.  Wind farms may be to Huerfano County’s economy what coal mines were in the 20th century.   The result could be improved real estate values and local economic growth, but that will depend on how local government officials and entities react to the opportunities.  The County Commissioners have gone on record as endorsing at least one group to begin wind farming.

    Wind has always been plentiful due to Huerfano County’s relationship with its  western neighbor, the San Luis Valley.  The high valley is the source of local winds due to air spilling over the Sangre de Cristo mountain range and accelerating eastward, producing wind in abundance.

    Currently, much of America is in a similar economic situation as Huerfano County and the competition for wind farms could be fierce.  In the new proposed federal budget, there are 439 local federal earmarks related to wind farming according to online Federal Register documents from the Government Accounting Office.  There are no federal earmarks proposed for wind farming specifically in Huerfano County, but wind farming may receive some secondary benefits here in the areas of finance and tax credits.

    Since the 1880s, Walsenburg has hitched its economy to agriculture and coal mining.  When coal mines began shutting down in the 1950s and 60s because the high sulfur content from local coal was deemed unusable for making steel at Colorado Fuel and Iron in Pueblo, the local economy tapered off.  Prior to the closing of the coal mines, Walsenburg had a thriving business district with three drug stores, two jewelry stores, two furniture stores, a J.C. Penney and auto dealers for every major American make and model, all on Main Street.  Local business and real estate values declined as a result of the end of coal mining.  Also, the completion of Interstate 25 caused local dollars and commerce to flow north and smaller local stores to languish and eventually close.

    However, local real estate values may be in for better times.  “We had our very best year in 2008,” said Sandi Dotter of Dotter Abstract Co.   “Sales of residential and commercial properties have remained flat the past few years,” Dotter said.  But there has been an uptake in land sales in Huerfano County along with an increase in mineral, natural gas and oil leases in 2008.  “Business this (new) year has started off very slow.  I expect it will pick up again later this spring.  What I would be interested in is if the number of filings at the Huerfano County Clerk and Recorder’s office has been growing,” Dotter said.

    To answer Dotter’s question, Huerfano County Clerk and Recorder, Judy Benine noted a definite increase in overall filings.  “In 2007, there was a total of 2,940 filings and in 2008 it jumped to 4,375,” Benine said.  “We are hopeful”.

    Huerfano County real estate remains very affordable compared to other communities along I-25.   In 2008, the median sale price of a home in Huerfano County was $134,900 with an average of $199,900 according to Wynelle Turner of United Realty Butte Valley Real Estate quoting the multiple listing service of the local Board of Realtors.  There’s lots of friendly optimism in the Huerfano real estate community and only time will tell if future prosperity may be blowing in the wind.

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