by Larry Patrick
WALSENBURG- Several major projects begun by previous Walsenburg city councils are nearing completion by the current city council. The state-mandated waste water treatment plant, the new grocery store and the Martin valve project at Lathrop State Park are all nearing completion.
The waste water treatment plant project planning began several years ago when Edi Sheldon was mayor. That city council got the bond funding for the state-mandated project, after several years of engineering work and waiting for state approval. The current city council got construction underway last summer and testing should begin in March with full operation by late spring. The 5.3 million dollar project will replace the holding ponds north of town and be able to handle raw sewage in a much more efficient manner.
The Martin Lake valve project also began under Mayor Sheldon’s regime. The project began smoothly but engineering problems and necessary additional work by engineers in the past year have caused cost overruns for the City of Walsenburg at a time when the City could ill afford it. Interim City Administrator Don Saling told the Walsenburg Finance Committee this week that progress is being made in getting this project finally completed.
The new grocery store project began with the previous city council and is about to be completed by the current council under Mayor Bruce Quintana. Opening is slated on or around Jan. 26th. City fathers committed to $464,000 in road improvements, retaining wall and sidewalks around the property. So far, it appears the work will come in under budget. Around $266,000 has been spent so far. The City still has work to do in completing their portion of the project. The new store owners approached City Council recently about getting abatement on the sales and use tax fees but so far nothing has been done. Mayor Quintana stated Monday that he believes the City Council has done its part in investing on this project and is reluctant to do more.
Some citizens believe the City has provided funds to the grocery store owners for construction of the facility and their property. Not true, the City has provided funds and manpower for necessary infrastructure around the property on city property. Road improvements on Walsen, Pine and Maple Street allow safer access to the high school and the grocery store, with a turn lane and sidewalks around the property and the retaining wall. The First Choice Market will employ around 40 people.
City Councilwoman Erin Jerant wanted to know if these were the last of the major projects and what does the City need to work on next. Saling said the raw water lines west of the City need to be replaced as mandated by the State of Colorado and that preventative maintenance needs to be done on sewer lines. Just five of eight fire hydrants have been repaired, the water tank on the Capitol Hill in Walsenburg needs work and the Northlands project needs to move forward. The Northlands project is obtaining necessary grants to fund water and sewer lines to connect to the new waste water treatment plant. That will get current and future businesses and residential property on sewer instead of the holding ponds and septic tanks. It will also save the city from having to augment water for those receiving it in the Northlands area, as required by the State of Colorado.
As reported in the World Journal last week, the City will face additional loss of utility revenue with the closing of the Walsenburg Care Center. Speculation had been that the City could lose up to another $50,000 on top of the $300,000 lost with the closing of the CCA prison. But city officials say the loss of the nursing home will result in water-sewer & gas losses of around $25,000. Still, it’s another big hit on the City being able to pay their bond payments for the new waste water treatment plant. The Walsenburg Care Center is slated to close the first week in March resulting in the loss of 30-40 jobs. The possibility of a new nursing home getting built in Walsenburg depends on whether the certificate of need for the 43 beds can be retained while plans for a new facility are being discussed. There is no guarantee right now that enough funding can come together to make that happen or that the certificate of need can be held onto. If not, Walsenburg may not have a new nursing home for many years to come.