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Pagosa Springs Daily News: PAWSD Candidates Speak Out, Part Three
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Pagosa Springs News Summaries
Friday, August 29, 2014
Local News - Opinions & Editorials - Business & Real Estate - Friends & Neighbors - Arts & Entertainment - Sports & Recreation - Humor, Fiction, Poetry - Health & Environment - Religion & Philosophy 
PAWSD Candidates Speak Out, Part Three
Special to the Post | 5/1/12
Back to the News Summaries
Read Part One

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District board election is scheduled for May 8 from 7am to 7pm at the PAWSD offices on Lyn Avenue.

All six candidates for the three vacant PAWSD board seats — Glenn Walsh, Chris Pitcher, Patrick O'Brien, Ray Finney, Mike Church and Burt Adams — have given us their responses to five questions posed by the Daily Post staff.  Voters will have a chance to vote for three of these candidates on May 8.  We hope their answers help you decide which candidates will best serve the PAWSD customers over the next four years.

QUESTION FOUR: The PAWSD board recently approved an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that will require PAWSD to help the independent Town sewer district (PSSGID) build a sewer pipeline from downtown Pagosa to the Vista sewer treatment plant operated by PAWSD. That agreement was approved by PSSGID and PAWSD without allowing any citizen review of the final document.  Recently, some PAWSD customers have been raising questions about the fairness of the IGA to PAWSD ratepayers-taxpayers.  How would you address these citizen concerns, going forward?  Do you feel the “fairness” concerns are valid? Do you feel the IGA ought to be re-negotiated to increase its fairness to PAWSD customers?

GLENN WALSH: The only way forward on this IGA “deal” for the whole community is by addressing these concerns about fairness.  When you open your water bill, that bill must be “fair.” 

“Fairness concerns” are valid even when the project or deal is fair.   Boards have a duty to actively seek public input and criticism and respond to concerns expressed, even about a fair deal.

In this case, the deal, right now, is unfair.  The Town is permitted to use a $14 million facility paid for by PAWSD customers without contributing one dollar for debt service.  The Town, next year, is being loaned almost $3 million dollars of PAWSD reserves for nearly zero interest.  PAWSD customers will lose almost half the value of their reserves over the 20-year term. Many costs are apportioned on an almost ridiculous “marginal cost” basis.  Imagine if your next door neighbor asked to carpool to work in your car... and then offered to only pay the share of the gasoline used by his 175 pound weight, maybe a gallon every three months.  What would your reaction be?

Yet, the project itself is brilliant.  PAWSD’s Vista plant in overbuilt already.  The Town will save $2 million in construction costs and over $1 million in personnel costs.  All of us will get to enjoy a beautiful 26-acre riverside park in a few years.

There is no going back on this deal.  The Town has no financing in place for a $7 million to $9 million treatment facility and three more years of delay, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, would be financial and ecological disgrace for downtown, which will soon be struggling to compete with Walmart.

The only option is to move forward to make this deal a win-win for the entire community. Ironically, the poorly drafted contract is the basis for this cooperation.  We can either cooperate — or spend years and a fortune litigating all the poorly drafted language in the IGA.  This is no surprise, since the same law firm represented both the Town and PAWSD.  I am sure the same firm will be willing to charge us $400 per hour on each side of any future litigation.

Does the Town really want to pay interest rates which can fluctuate from 0 to 7%?  Wouldn’t a fair fixed rate protect both the Town and the value of PAWSD reserves?  That’s a win-win.

If growth returns to Archuleta County, the excess capacity of the Vista plant could be gone in ten years. At that point the Town would have to move all its sewage into a new expansion at the Vista plant.  That might cost $15 million in 2022.  Wouldn’t the Town prefer to pay its proportional share of the debt service at the Vista plant and lock in its use of that facility for its useful life?  Another commonsense win/win.

Communities aren’t created by boards which “know best” or by quick staff maneuvers.  Win-win is never the biggest moneymaker for lawyers.  By working together with fair play and common sense, the agreement between the Town and PAWSD can become a model of local cooperation... or another topic we can fight about unproductively for twenty years.

CHRIS PITCHER: Yes, the fairness concerns are valid and should be worked out, and I believe they will be worked out.  What is more significant about this agreement to me, is it supports the movement of the larger community operating as one.  The more we can consolidate our local governments, the more unified, effective, and efficient we can become in serving the citizens and molding our vision of the future.

PATRICK O'BRIEN: I think the IGA needs to be revisited.  PAWSD and the Town are both responsible for the current situation, and requires Board level discussions to understand how it got to this point, and to determine where we go from here in a fair and equitable manner that is entirely transparent.

Do I feel the “fairness” concerns are valid? I feel very strongly that the concerns are valid and that the current IGA is unfair. 

Do I feel the IGA ought to be re-negotiated to increase its fairness to PAWSD customers?  Yes, it should.

RAY FINNEY: I believe the IGA should be renegotiated to provide service to the town and fairness to the current PAWS rate payers.  The current infrastructure represents a huge investment by current and past ratepayers.

MIKE CHURCH: Speaking to people about the IGA, I hear people expressing feelings that a disconnect took place when the final document that was approved.  I have said it is an imperfect agreement.   Posting the draft agreement on the internet for review and public comment prior to approval is always good policy that I would support.

I am for making the customer base larger, which is a benefit because it spreads unforeseen costs over more customers. PAWSD only has about 3,000 sewer customers.  The Town sewer if added to the PAWSD  customers would account for about a 25% customer base increase.  The problem is that the IGA is a bulk rate agreement and has a watered down effect of expanding the customer base cost sharing.

Because of the past heavy-handedness of PAWSD, I can hardly blame the numerous provisions that the Town has put into the agreement to protect their customers after seeing how Dry Gulch went down. 

I look at the agreement as a limited benefit on long-term cost sharing and a step towards one day expanding the customer pool by fully including the Town sewer customer base into PAWSD in the future.

In my opinion, PAWSD cannot walk from the agreement because the Town at this point has relied on PAWSD and has lost its funding to continue building its own sewer treatment plant. If PAWSD backs out of the IGA, it is possible that PAWSD could be sued because the Town detrimentally relied on the agreement PAWSD approved. So I would not want to open that can of worms by walking away from a valid agreement — and the Town cannot be forced into new terms unilaterally by new board members, because the agreement is done.     

BURT ADAMS: The IGA is a win win for all Archeleta rate payers. The "Town" held 13 publicly noticed meetings and PAWSD held 9 - almost no public showed.  The Town will spend approximately $2.5 million for the pump station and section 1 pipeline; PAWSD will spend approximately $2.5 million for their section 2 portion of system will be repaid by the Town to PAWSD over 20 yrs.  One cannot separate sewer infrastructure from clean drinking water infrastructure.   If the Town built their own new sewer plant @ a cost of $7-8 million and PAWSD relocated San Juan river drinking water intake above the new sewer plant outfall at a cost of $10 million minium (maybe $15-20 million - easements, right of ways, engineering) rate payers would pay 4-5 times the IGA plan.

At the League of Women votes forum on Thursday evening, a woman questioned me, "What state agency would require us to move the drinking water intake above the sewer outfall at a cost $30 million?"   The existing [Town] sewer outfall is above the lower San Juan PAWSD drinking water intake.  It is not going to cost $30 million, more likely $10-20 million.  The IGA makes this a moot point because the rate payers are NOT going to spend $7-8 million plus $10-20 million to move the drinking water intake; we are going to spend $5 million on a brilliant new plan: PAWSD will treat Town sewage.

Effective 1 July 2007, the AWWA Standard G300 is the definitive standard for (drinking) source water protection which would require PAWSD to move the intake above the sewer outfall.  We cannot defeat gravity.  Drinking water intake above sewer outfall is absolute protection. Treated sewage above drinking water intake is safe, until the inevitable unplanned event allows raw sewage into the river — you pick the event: fire at the sewage treatment plant, operator mistake, equipment failure, it will happen. The recent event in Durango where a tree damaged a manhole or pipe allowing raw sewage from the treatment plant to dump into the river for three days before it could be shut off.   How many dollars will that "accident" cost?   It was approximately $500,000 just to get the break shut off; how about the thousands of dollars in EPA fines that are likely to be imposed?

Note also that Durango moved the water intake for the new Lake Nighthorse Reservoir above the sewer plant outfall.  Poor planning originally had the intake downstream of the sewer outfall.

The IGA plan is fair and brilliant.  It should not be revisited.  Move on, get the project done.  Huge savings to all rate payers.

Read Part Four...
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