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Local leaders discuss railroad quiet zones, proposed reservoir

by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — For the first time since the summer of 2011, local elected officials from Huerfano County, the City of Walsenburg and the Town of La Veta met in a joint work session Tuesday night to discus topics of mutual interest.
The group heard two in depth presentations: one regarding a proposed railroad quiet zone for the five crossings in Walsenburg and another concerning a long-time plan of establishment of the White Creek reservoir southeast of Cuchara near Cordova Pass.
Bob Northup of the Cuchara Sanitation and Water District, presented information on the reservoir proposal, highlighting information from a 1990 feasibility study. He said the 1,225 acre-foot reservoir would contain 900 acre-feet of usable water and a 325 acre-foot permanent pool. The reservoir, if ever built, would most likely be a 110-foot earthen dam structure with a feeder pipeline from the Cucharas River.
The land in question is owned by the USFS and Otto Goemmer.
When the original feasibility study was done the estimated price of the project was $4.343 million. Today it is estimated at $7 to $10 million, not including land purchases or leases and construction of the pipeline.
Northup and fellow CS&WD member Jim Howard said the water kept in the reservoir would be for municipal use only. “We need to sit down and write a contract that everyone agrees with that includes keeping the water for use for the municipalities and the county,” Howard said.
“If the water conservation district, Cuchara, La Veta, the county and Walsenburg got together on this, we might be able to secure grant funds to make this happen, Northrup said.
In other water discussions, Erin Jerant, a member of the Huerfano Water Conservation District said the district is considering the placement of a four mill tax levy question before voters in November. Jerant said she wasn’t prepared to make a full presentation on the issue but water expert Kent Mace was committed to making presentations at the local library and could not attend the joint work session.
She did say that formal presentations would be made at public meetings to educate the electorate regarding the issue. She said she felt voters would support a tax increase, when fully informed, about the need to purchase water and water rights to ensure the precious commodity stays in Huerfano County. Huerfano County Commissioner Scott King said the same kind of need was supported by voters the second time around concerning the mill levy that was approved in the past to fund and enhance the county’s emergency services dispatch system.
A four mill increase, if approved, could see an influx of approximately $500,000 per year to the water conservation district.
Karen Wilson, owner of La Plaza Inn in downtown Walsenburg and her friend and research partner, Carol Roesch, presented information they have gathered on their own regarding establishment of a railroad quiet zone in the city.
A quiet zone would see an upgrade of the five crossings located within a half-mile area of downtown Walsenburg and prohibit railroad engineers from blowing train horns except in an emergency or to warn anyone working in the track area of approaching trains.
Wilson and Roesch’s presentation showed what kind of preliminary work would be necessary for the proposal and explained some of the mandated steps that would need to be met.
Wilson said the train horns cause governmental entities like county offices and courts to stop what they are doing as trains pass and has caused loss of business to downtown merchants. She said she has heard complaints from other business owners, residents and her own customers about the noise. Wilson said there are even health risks associated with the noise such as increased blood pressure and sleep deprivation.
She said the next step is finding $15,000 to $20,000 to hire a consultant to help the process move forward.
King, who facilitated the meeting, suggested Wilson and Roesch set up a work session with Walsenburg City Council and staff, “because only the city can close city streets.”

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