Minturn rejects water deal
Residents say they want town to retain control of its water supply
MINTURN — Eleven years after Minturn voters overwhelmingly voted to annex a developer’s envisioned 4,300-acre private ski and golf resort, the Town Council rejected a key deal for a scaled-back version of the project.
Now the stage is set for a possible de-annexation of part of the Battle Mountain property.
Minturn turned down a proposal Wednesday that would have provided enough water for substantial growth within the town, including the Battle Mountain developer’s proposal to build up to 712 homes near Maloit Park and Tigiwon Road.
The Minturn Town Council voted 7-0 to deny the proposed deal between Minturn, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Battle Mountain developer.
Most residents who spoke at the meeting opposed the deal.
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“We need to control our water,” said Minturn resident Woody Woodruff. “We can’t turn over that control to somebody else, because water is going to set the future of this town.”
The developer had asked for a decision to approve or deny the deal Wednesday.
Earle Bidez, mayor pro tem, cited continued concerns on the part of Minturn with the agreement — as well as an increasingly “negative” tone from the developer.
“We have not been able to reach a deal with the district,” he said. “We didn’t get far enough with Battle Mountain to know what we would have ended up with. But I don’t think we can get there from listening to (residents) for the last few months. The negotiation would have to change very much to get there.”
Minturn currently provides its own water from Cross Creek, separate from the rest of the valley’s supply. But the water from Cross Creek is limited — more water is needed if the town wants to grow significantly.
Under the proposal, the developer would have paid for a $5.6 million water pipe, or “interconnect,” that would have connected the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District’s water supply to Minturn’s, providing more water for growth and a redundant supply in case of emergency. The developer also offered more than $3 million in other infrastructure improvements for Minturn, whose aging water system is in need of significant repairs.
The deal also would have allowed the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District to build a $48 million reservoir at Bolts Lake, which is now dry.
It would have been contingent upon the developer receiving the approvals it needs to build the 712 homes.
The path forward
The move throws into question the future of the Battle Mountain development. The developer has threatened to pursue de-annexation from Minturn if the town did not approve the deal on Wednesday.
“We heard the community. I think they were pretty clear,” said Tim McGuire, vice president of development for Battle Mountain Resort. “Somewhat of a mixed message, with some people saying there’s a deal to be had; others don’t think there is. We’re going to respect the council and the town’s decision.”
McGuire said his team will sit down with the town and discuss options, which could include de-annexation. The Town Council would have to approve the de-annexation.
“If that’s what they want, that’s where we’ll head,” he said.
In a July 23 letter, an attorney for Battle Mountain requested that the town move forward with de-annexing 543 acres where the homes would be built — an area around Bolts Lake — if the water deal was not approved Wednesday.
Battle Mountain officials have declined to discuss what a de-annexation would mean for the future of the proposed development.
The 3,500-acre mountaintop property, closer to Red Cliff, is not included in the de-annexation application. That property was put on the market in 2017, with an asking price of $19.5 million. It remains for sale at that price. Plans call for about 100 homes on 35-acre lots on that property.
In 2008, residents voted overwhelmingly to annex 4,300 acres of the Battle Mountain property into town. The original plan included 1,700 homes, 36 holes of golf, a private ski area and commercial space, but those plans were scaled back after the economy crashed in 2008.
The town has looked at several alternatives besides the interconnect for its water supply, including supporting the Battle Mountain project by developing wells using the town’s junior conditional water rights on the Eagle River. But that could be costly, and provide a limited amount of water.
And Battle Mountain has indicated that it would not support Eagle River wells as its water source, citing insufficient water supplies, said Meghan Winokur, the town’s water attorney.
Other alternatives include Minturn continuing to use only its senior water rights on Cross Creek, which would allow for modest development in town. Or developing enough wells on the Eagle River to allow for more development, but not Battle Mountain.
The town is still gathering information from its consultants on the various alternatives, including their costs and the resulting water rate increases, saying it will not have complete information until October.
Cross Creek can serve about 1,600 people in the driest drought years, according to the town’s consultants. Minturn now has a population of 1,200.
The approved Eagle County Schools development at Maloit Park would add about 275 residents.
Other future long-term residential development, excluding Battle Mountain, could add another 1,330 residents.
Future long-term commercial and industrial development, again excluding Battle Mountain, could require the equivalent of serving about 800 new residents.