Minturn eyes water-rate hikes
Growth would also be key component in plan for $17.6 million in improvements
MINTURN — Facing millions of dollars in water infrastructure needs, Minturn is forging ahead with a plan to significantly increase water rates over the next 10 years while relying on growth to make the numbers work.
The Minturn Town Council last week told the town’s staff to pursue a plan that is projected to raise Minturn’s water users’ rates to as much as $169 a month by 2029, up from $88 now.
However, Minturn Mayor John Widerman called that projection conservative, and said the actual number may be a bit lower.
Included in the proposal are $17.6 million in improvements to the water system over the next decade — everything from a new water plant to new water pipes.
The plan would create enough capacity for the town to add about 690 single-family equivalents to the town’s current total of 730. Growth is a key part of the plan — without it, the rates could spike even higher.
While Minturn hopes to maintain its unique, small-town character, it also aims to achieve long-term viability. Its failing infrastructure challenges its long-term viability. Growth could provide benefits, such as more users to shoulder the burden of the water system costs. It could also generate sales tax to help fund services and projects in the perpetually cash-strapped town.
But the water from Cross Creek, Minturn’s sole current water source, is limited. More water is needed if the town wants to grow significantly. If developments, such as the anticipated Dowd Junction development or a redevelopment of the Union Pacific railroad property happen, Minturn will need more water.
Widerman said that a deal to sell the Union Pacific property went under contract a day after the Minturn Town Council’s water decision was made last week. A development there could extend the downtown north and expand the Taylor Park neighborhood.
“Without a water supply for the development of our land, any future sale is on hold,” a Union Pacific representative said in a letter to the town received in July.
Eagle River water
The plan that the council endorsed does indeed provide more water. It includes $5.2 million for the development of wells on the Eagle River.
The wells would also create a redundant water source. Minturn currently provides its own water from Cross Creek, separate from the rest of the valley’s supply. A catastrophic event in the Cross Creek watershed, such as a forest fire, has the potential to take Minturn’s water source completely offline.
“Going with (the selected option) gives more flexibility to the system and does give a reasonable growth scenario — not anything overly presumptive,” Widerman said this week.
The Town Council chose the plan over another alternative that didn’t include the Eagle River wells. That plan would have allowed for more modest growth — 430 single-family equivalents — and only included $12.2 million in capital improvements.
But because there would be fewer rate payers to carry the cost, the less-growth alternative would mean even higher water rates — about $180 a month.
“Do I understand it right — we could spend $18 million and have a lower bill with growth in the railyard and infill in town than it would be to spend $12 million and not have the growth?” said councilman George Brodin.
“That is correct. But the caveat to that is, the growth has to occur,” said town water-rate consultant Jim Mann of Ehlers.
Long list of projects
Other improvements include:
- $4.3 million for a new membrane water plant. The town’s current sand filtration plant, installed in the late ’40s, has limited production capacity. And sand filter systems are finicky — when repairs are made, the repairs sometimes don’t work. Plus, the plant has struggled to keep up with tightening state regulations. A recent report showed unacceptable levels of turbidity — or cloudiness — in Minturn’s water during 2018. And the Eagle River has additional water quality issues, which the sand filters may not be able to treat.
- $1.67 million for a new water tank serving the main part of Minturn. The town’s main water tank — not the decommissioned, historic one with the Western lettering spelling “Minturn” that sits above town, but a bigger one tucked away on a hillside — is reaching the end of its lifespan.
- $900,000 for a new water tank at Maloit Park. The tank at Maloit Park doesn’t currently meet minimum requirements for firefighting.
- $2.5 million for the replacement of the town’s water lines, plus $50,000 for a leak-detection system. Minturn has been seeing water loss of between 30% and 60% due to leaks and possibly unauthorized use. Municipalities generally see losses of around 20%. The growth projections under the plan assume that Minturn can get its losses down to 20%.
- $1.3 million to connect the Maloit Park service area to the rest of the town. Connecting the Maloit system with the main system would allow for some additional redundancy.
While the selected plan contemplates development, it does not include the Battle Mountain project.
On Aug. 7, the town rejected a deal that would have provided Battle Mountain enough water to build 712 homes in the Bolts Lake area. The deal proposed an “interconnect” that would have piped water from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District’s supply into Minturn, with the town able to buy water at a bulk rate.
With that denial, Battle Mountain moved to disconnect, or de-annex, from the town. That process is now being negotiated.
The decade-old annexation agreement with Battle Mountain has, for years, promised to solve Minturn’s water issues, including providing a new water plant and a reservoir. But the viability of those promises evolved along with the project over the last 10 years. And with Minturn’s recent rejection of the water deal and a key funding agreement, Battle Mountain is seeking to leave the town, and Minturn is left to solve its own water issues.
“We really just needed to make decisions for Minturn, and this is the best way to secure that for us,” Widerman said.
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