Posted by: Howell | January 27, 2010

Grandview connection a blunder for recreationalists, taxpayers

As drafted, the current letter of intent between La Plata County and Oakridge Energy is a subjective, biased statement of how the County and Oakridge Energy wish to see development proceed from this point forward. While it will create public discussion, it will also speed up the process of developing a Grandview Connection and properties on Ewing Mesa, as it is a dedication of rights of way/easement to put in the road.

Commissioner Hotter propelled the idea of putting in a road through Horse Gulch, connecting to CR 237, and also of putting in a Grandview connection to Ewing Mesa, in a letter to Oakridge Energy on Sept. 22, 2008. The letter of intent followed this private proposition to Oakridge Energy to take part in this action. Will a distant, official contract between La Plata County and Oakridge Energy take heed of the public’s concerns on this issue? Is creating the first draft of that contract, before public comments are taken, considered an open and transparent public process?

County Manager Shawn Nau also says that the 35-acre parcels will create a hodgepodge sprawl of buildings with substandard roadways that will destroy the existing trail systems. In reality, the parcels around Telegraph Pass will not sell anytime soon, because of their remote access, rugged terrain, high development costs, lack of utilities, locations on the Fruitland Outcrop, and our current economic state. Putting a road up in there would be very costly.

Observing the current economic state, much of the already built cookie-cutter homes in the adjacent Three Springs area remain vacant and of little interest to homebuyers in the currently improving real estate market.

Furthermore, the Three Springs Development is a dense housing development failure as my source in real estate can see by the lack of closings taking place there. Visit the neighborhood and you’ll see noxious weeds are prevalent and the large amount of open space is swamp with paved paths for joggers. No room for mountain biking or horses. Trees and landscaping are almost nonexistent.

Just because the county and state want Grandview to be the center of the county, it does not mean that people are going to buy into it and start moving there. It has to be desirable to people first, and then they will come.

Dirt trails, on the other hand, are highly desirable to the demographic that lives in or wants to live in our area. A separated trail proposed to run adjacent to the proposed Grandview connection would resemble the Animas River Trail, and would detract from the rural wildness, dynamics, character and feel of the trails that currently exist around Grandview Ridge.

A Grandview Connection road will also be an economic blunder for La Plata County and its bicycle related businesses.

How many people live in Durango or visit Durango specifically because of places like the Grandview Ridge and Horse Gulch trail systems? A lot. In comparison, how many people live in or visit Durango specifically to drive on its roads? Not many would admit to such a desire.

Bikers, hikers and equestrians use the Grandview Ridge trail system because of its solitude and true nature as a world-class trail made of dirt—not asphalt, not cement.

Commissioner Hotter and County Manager Nau say that putting the road in would encourage Oakridge Energy to seek out higher-density parcels along the road, allowing for more open space in the Telegraph Trail area to be locked in. However, there is no written contract that says that once the road goes in, Oakridge Energy will seek out smaller, higher-density parcel designation and abandon the idea for developing it as 35-acre parcels.

Alas, I think that this Grandview connection wouldn’t create any incentive for smaller parcels, as Oakridge Energy’s former President, Sandra Pautsky, has already tried that.

After Pautsky worked with the city to obtain permission for small parcels, she gave up in 2005, citing the ineptness of city officials. She instead decided to get her property platted with the 35-acre parcels, and therefore wouldn’t have to work with either the City or the County to build on them. Some of her parcels include parts of the Crites Connection, Old Car Loop and the top of the Telegraph and Anasazi trails.

If trails are eliminated in the 35-acre area, there is plenty of room to the east for additional mountain bike and horse trails. Plus, who are we to tell a private land owner what they can do with their own property?

Agriculture could also be implemented on 35-acre parcels. People could have cattle, chickens, and horses or even raise crops and have big gardens.

An argument for the Grandview connection was made stating that the road would provide lower travel times in between Grandview and Durango. This is another smokescreen and mirrors statement made to bolster the idea of putting a road in there.  It’s a statement that denies the natural topography of the Grandview Ridge and how this geography deters the construction of a fast route by any measure of allowable traffic speed or flow. Laws of physics would disallow a fast flowing road through the area based on the slopes and features of Big Canyon and Grandview Ridge. Anyone who’s been on the trails out there can see this for themselves.

Lastly I’d like to address the claim that an alternative route to the hospital is needed in the event of a bad accident on 160 shutting the entire highway down. Emergency responders can still use the shoulder of the highway in the event of an accident; that’s why they run code with lights and sirens. Plus you can’t tell me that emergency responders couldn’t just as easily backtrack north, go right up Florida Rd., go south down County Road 234, and back west down highway 160 to the hospital within the Golden Hour of emergency medical treatment. Helicopters are also used for the hospital to transport patients in the event of prohibitive travel times when medical treatment is crucial in that first hour.

The safety argument, trumpeted by Nau and Emergency Services Director Butch Knowlton, also ignores the fact that we have an Urgent Care Center in downtown Durango and the Animas Surgical Hospital on Rivergate Lane (Highway 3) where injured people can obtain emergency medical services. And that’s why saying that the road as a safety measure is more smokescreens and political posturing for the purpose of aiding the developers, not the taxpayers, and certainly not the economy.

Better projects exist for the use of this 21 and a half million dollars in the long run. Taxpayer funded projects should benefit and be supported by the majority in the community, and not just county officials backed by an energy company.

Many of us would like to see the Oakridge property bought for open space, but in this current economic climate the reality is that there aren’t a whole lot of people, organizations or governmental entities that have the 40 plus million dollars to throw down on this piece of paradise.

Please reject this idea for a road between Grandview and Ewing Mesa and continue to preserve our open space that we’ve already invested in.

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