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Northlands pulled back from the brink

by Bill Knowles
WALSENBURG- After nearly two and a half hours of discussion, the General Improvement District (GID) for the Northlands, decided to ask Northland voters to increase their debt limit for the project. The increase will defray the costs associated with building a sewer line from the Northlands to the new wastewater treatment plant.
Business leaders from Northlands attended the Sept. 1 meeting and indicated that if the sewer project is completed, business will grow and new businesses will come in. Some of the businesses named were a new motel, a McDonald’s, and an IHOP. Those new businesses would bring jobs, increase sales tax revenues and help drive up property values in the area.
The driving issue for the sewer line is water and the city’s sales of its water to the Northlands under agreements going back decades. The water sales have been taking the resource from the Cucharas River drainage basin and moving it north out of the drainage basin. This has been viewed as a depletion needing to be augmented according to a 2006 Colorado State Supreme Court ruling.
The ruling required the city to augment with two acre feet of water for every one acre foot sold to the Northlands. A public health issue was also a concern with district businesses and residents having only an open lagoon as a sewer.
The supreme court mandated a sewer line that would move the sewage from the Northlands over the hogback and to a wastewater treatment plant, thus returning the water to the Cucharas River drainage basin.
When the Northlands was annexed into the city, the estimated cost of the project was about $2.3 million. Time was needed to find funding sources, and needed money was spent on other projects.
Over time these delays have increased project costs, but Northlands leaders most affected by the increases say it’s worth moving ahead. These costs are based on three different routes for the sewer line studied by Tetratech, an engineering firm that is doing the Professional Engineering Report (PER) for the city on the project. The PER is needed for the city to secure funding for the sewer line.
So far, funding that has been committed to the project has come from the Department of Local Affairs in the form of two grants totaling about $700,000, a far cry from the $5.4 million to the $7.5 million now needed. Much of the rest of the funding will come as a loan-grant combination from the USDA.