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One month extension for Panadero Ski Corp

by E.E.Mullens

WALSENBURG —  While the board of commissioners did vote Tuesday to approve a 30-day extension of the operating contract of the Cuchara Mountain Park (CMP) contract to Panadero Ski Corp (PSC), the future control of the facility remains up in the air.

The current contract between the county and PSC, in the form of a memo of understanding, expires in May, this week’s action extends the MOU until June 1, 2024. The board had initially brought forward a one-year extension agreement, but the motion voted on ended up being for only 30 days. It was explained this would give county officials an extra month to do additional research and potentially come to an agreement with the Cuchara Foundation (CF) on a transfer of ownership back to that group from the county.

Cuchara Mountain Park:

These issues have been discussed for months without any final agreements being signed, although the board has voted twice this year to proceed in the direction of transferring the mountain

park back to the foundation. Some of those speaking during the meeting this week indicated they have been advised, after a review of the current deed, that the park automatically reverts to the foundation if the county indicates a wish to divest itself of the property. Some of those in the CF say votes taken earlier this year indicate the county’s wishes to get out of the park’s ownership were evident in the votes the board made in early 2024.

PSC had taken the position they were seeking a long term MOU for operation of not only the ski lift and ski area but for the entire park. PSC representatives have said they would like to see the ownership transferred to the CF, but they are willing to work with anyone. PSC has taken over the day-to-day operation and maintenance of the facility from grooming trails to operating the popular ski bus to cleaning restrooms, mowing grass and maintaining the Day Lodge and all other duties entailed in keeping the park open for the public.

But, as things stand right now, no formal operational contract or transfer agreement has been signed by either the foundation, county, or PSC. Only the operator MOU is in place.

The board of commissioners’ extension vote was made to give time for potential issues to be ironed out, although all three elected officials voiced opinions that a long-term MOU for operations is supported by the board, but the transfer issue needs to be finalized, one way or the other, quickly before much more time passes.

And the passage of time is what concerns PSC officials the most. Those speaking at the meeting said the short-term MOU does not allow for the non-profit to plan ahead for summer and winter activities, general programming and work on Lift # 4, including any anticipated repairs, testing and hopefully inspection and certification by the Colorado Tramway Safety Board.

Speaking during the morning session this week were Ken Clayton, Jim Littlefield, TR Beasley and Kevin Chapman.

All of those involved, from the non-profits, to unaffiliated volunteers to county officials and staff voiced the importance of the mountain park remaining an outdoor recreation facility for all residents of Huerfano County and visitors alike.

During the coming month, county officials have a lot of work to do if final agreements are to be reached.

GPID Update:

Due to the use of federal grant money in the upcoming Gardner Public Improvement District wastewater project, Dannah Koeniger of GMS, conducted a mandatory public hearing Tuesday morning in front of the board of commissioners.

Koeniger’s presentation contained the three options for upgrading the system, a timeline of the improvements and an update on funding sources.

She said the cost of option 1; the east end of the system is $1.27 M; and the cost of option 1 and 2 combine is estimated at $2.37M. The planned improvements will add an estimated $9.65 to customers’ monthly bill (under the option 1 and 2 plan and 83¢ per month on the option 1 only plan).

State and federal money in the forms of grants are being utilized for the project and Koeniger reminded the board of construction and material cost increases in this time of inflation.

She said the improvement project timeline calls for the process design report to be completed by April 2024; loan application submission in June, with potential approval in August; advertisement of the project for bid in October, potentially followed by a bid award in November. The timeline calls for construction to begin in January 2025 with completion estimated for July 2025.

She also talked about construction and environmental impacts residents of Gardner and travelers will face in the next year as construction begins. Those included short-term impacts including dust generation, construction noise, road closures-disruptions, potential increase in erosion and group surface disruptions. “Construction activities will incorporate the appropriate best management practices to mitigate any potential erosion or sedimentation,” Koeniger said.

She added at the April 9 meeting that there are no other environmental impacts identified at this time and environmental clearance is forthcoming.

The board voted to move into executive session for a personnel discussion concerning Emergency Management Staffing under CRS 24-6-402 (2)(f) and to discuss purchase, acquisition, lease, transfer or sale of real, personal or other property under CRS 24-6-402(4)(a) concerning the Thorne Ranch Sale. Chairman John Galusha said no decisions would be made during or after the closed door session.