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La Veta’s big trees granted stay of execution

by Reed White
LA VETA — On February 19, La Veta’s Town Board came to order, once again to revisit the “big tree” issue that has been under discussion for nearly a year. Mayor Jerry Fitzgerald initiated the discussion by issuing a brief statement about liability. In the opinion of the town’s attorney, the town could not be held liable if of one of the century-old cottonwood trees on Poplar Street caused harm or damage. This is the case, in part, because the town has done due diligence by verifying that the trees are healthy.
For the better part of a year, the town board has been attempting to decide if the trees should remain on town property at the edge of Popular Street, or if they should be removed. Several board members have objected to the trees, saying that their health was unknown, that the town could be held liable if a falling limb were to cause damage, and that the area’s drainage problems could not be remedied without their removal.
Other trustees, along with prior members of the parks and tree board, have advocated preservation of the trees. This group believes that the trees are a community asset, that the cost of their removal is neither justified nor fully approved, and that the drainage problem can be solved without their removal.
Trustee Ken Sajdak moved to table the Poplar Street tree decision until after the planned engineering study, which is expected to evaluate La Veta’s drainage problems within the next several months. “We should fix numerous other drainage problems before going after the trees.” His motion was passed.
Mary Jean Fowler asked the board for a progress report on the pending Mexican Ditch water source. The board mentioned legal delays, but assured Fowler that the Mexican Ditch was a top priority.
Recycler Greg Wilson had requested that the board issue him a letter of intent, supporting his proposal to increase recycling activities in La Veta and Walsenburg. Wilson’s operation accepts plastic and cardboard, which are not accepted by La Veta’s existing recycling service. He was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting. Following Trustee Dale Davis’ lead, all agreed that they needed to have a meeting with Wilson for “questions and answers” before lending formal support.
In other actions, the board approved the building at 300 S. Main as a “Contributing Structure” within La Veta’s historical district. This enables the structure to be eligible for grants. The board also approved Bob Martin and Janey Waldrep as members of the historic preservation committee.
Davis initiated a discussion about wording in the proposed new park and tree ordinance. After considerable discussion, the board approved the existing language, encouraged by Trustee Nancy Dick’s motion to “move the document along without amendment.” Members expressed interest in appointing new parks and tree committee members under the current ordinance so that a committee would be in place in time for tree-planting season.
Davis pointed put out ambiguities in the current town committee structure. Sajdak further expressed concern that their elimination of the personnel committee may be in violation of state law. The trustees agreed that a workshop should be held to consider alternatives for re-design.
The board ended their session with a discussion about water meters. Fitzgerald, Sajdak, and Trustee Bill Stark had visited the Colorado Rural Water Association Trade Show to find a solution to La Veta’s meter-reading problems. Most of La Veta’s meter problems, they believe, are caused by meters that have been installed less than four feet deep. They expressed concern that the automated solutions at the show would be expensive and possibly unproven in La Veta’s winter climate.