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Owners of illegal Cuchara ponds have short window of opportunity

by Carol Dunn

CUCHARA- At the Cucharas Sanitation and Water District Board meeting on September 3, Bruce Cantrell presented the details of a proposal to provide augmentation water to owners of 80 illegal ponds in the Cuchara valley.  “Bob and I have really been working closely,” Cantrell said, referring to CSWD General Manager Bob Northup.  “I think we have a solid plan.”  Cantrell said letters will be mailed to determine interest in the proposal, which will require at least 30 participants to move forward.  As part of the plan, Snowy Range Reservoir Holding Company will use its reservoir to augmsent evaporation losses from ponds that have no adjudicated water or storage rights.  The cost to “buy in” to the plan will be $4,500 per participant, plus a monthly fee of $15 per 0.1 acre-foot of water in the pond, plus a $5 per month maintenance fee on SRRHC augmentation structures.  Cantrell said the plan needs to move forward in one month.  He added that any ponds that are not covered by the SRRHC plan will receive a cease and desist order from Water Commissioner Doug Brgoch.

    In his monthly report, Northup told the Board that two pumps went down at the Spanish Peaks water plant, but nobody ran out of water.  “We’ve been babysitting the water plant,” he said.  The GMS Engineering studies that the District authorized in January and had been hoping to use to obtain funding will be finished in two to three weeks, beyond the stimulus funding application deadline.  “We may not be able to fund any of the projects, but at least we’ll have the engineering studies done,” Northup said.

    Regarding the Cuchara mountain resort project, Cantrell told the Board that he hoped to be closing on the 225-acre property soon, and he and his wife will be the sole owners.  A public hearing about the plans of the Cuchara Valley Recreational Metropolitan District will be held by the Huerfano County Commissioners on September 22 at 10:00 am.  Cantrell said only the unsubdivided area will be included in the Metropolitan District; therefore the only persons affected by any tax increase would be Mr. & Mrs. Cantrell.  “This is a community effort,” he said, “for the benefit of our community and our County.”  Plans are for a restaurant to open by Memorial Day 2011 and the resort to open by July 4, 2011, including a zipline and a mountain coaster.

    The Board discussed proposed Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, which will come before the Colorado voters on November 2.  Sandy Hackbarth told the Board, if 101 passes it will cost CSWD $36,000 next year; amendment 60 would cost the District another $30,000.  To put it in perspective, she said the offset would be to “quit paying the electric bill or let two employees go.”  Another result would be that CSWD would need to pay property taxes on the water plants.  Director Cal Sandbeck said, “It’s going to bankrupt all the small municipalities.  Nobody benefits from this.” Hackbarth said she will be preparing four 2011 budgets for the District to cover the possibility of voters approving all, some or none of the bills.  If rates must be raised to cover a resulting shortfall, that decision will need to be made in December.

    Director Jim Howard brought to the Board’s attention that 15-20 health insurance carriers in various states are planning rate hikes, and the rates CSWD pays are likely to increase as much as nine percent because of extra benefits accorded under the new healthcare law.  “We don’t know the minimum coverage required by law – it hasn’t been published yet,” he said.  Howard suggested the budget item for employee healthcare be increased accordingly in the 2011 budget.

    Referring to himself as only the lien holder, Joe Hunter spoke to the Board about the Cuchara Inn, which has not kept current on its water bills.  Earlier in the year, the Board reduced the number of EQRs for the Inn, contingent upon the water bills being paid on time.  Hunter said he had been assured by the owner that a payment would be made on September 4 or 5 and asked the Board not to add the EQRs back onto the account of the Inn.  “It would be crippling to us to have that rate double,” he said.  Hunter said the property has been listed with a realtor and a new owner is being sought.

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