Minturnites skeptical of water deal

Town considers how to pay for millions in needed water infrastructure

A developer's proposal would have funded a $5.6 million water pipe between Dowd Junction and Minturn, providing more water to the town as well as a redundant source. The "interconnect" is shown at left with a purple dotted line.
Special to the Daily
What’s next
The Minturn Town Council will take up the water discussion again at its Aug. 7 meeting.

MINTURN — Minturn residents’ water rates will rise significantly over the next decade, no matter if they take the Battle Mountain developer’s “interconnect” offer or choose another path to fix the town’s water infrastructure, according to a consultant’s analysis.

Minturnites packed Town Council chambers Wednesday night to consider Minturn’s water future, including the developer’s deal, which was proposed with now-or-never urgency.

The town needs millions in water infrastructure improvements, but doesn’t have the money to pay for them. Plus, Minturn can’t grow significantly without more water.

After hours of public comment, the council said it would take up the issue again at its next meeting.

The proposed deal would be a three-way agreement between the town, the developer and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. The developer would pay for a $5.6 million pipe that would connect Minturn’s water system with the district’s, allowing the town to buy extra water and have a secondary source. The developer could then build 712 homes. The district would be able to build a reservoir at Bolts Lake.

Support Local Journalism

Other scenarios were presented, including Minturn continuing to use only its senior water rights on Cross Creek. Or 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.

Residents were largely opposed to the interconnect deal, saying it was a bad deal for the town.

“This is not a good idea,” said former Minturn mayor Hawkeye Flaherty. “The only people that win here are Battle Mountain and Eagle River (Water and Sanitation District). Minturn is losing their shorts in this poker game.”

‘Our soul’s up for sale’

Some attendees chafed at the developer’s demand for action; others voiced indifference toward the town having to solve the developer’s water needs.

“As a water professional, the overall plan of interconnect is sound and would be very presentable under different circumstances,” said Rod Cordova, a 61-year Minturn resident. “But being approached as a take or leave it? Sorry, not in my mind. This town needs time to study. Totally wrong way of doing business.”

Tim McGuire, vice president of development for Battle Mountain Resort, said the company never intended to frame the deal in that way; they simply wanted the community to come give their opinions to the council.

But some residents said Minturn should focus on fixing the water infrastructure issues itself instead of becoming further entangled with a developer.

Several advocated for Minturn to explore grant opportunities — even after a town consultant said most of the applicable grant sources have dried up.

“I think we can fix our own stuff,” said Minturn resident Darin Tucholke. “It just seems like we’re at the point where our soul’s up for sale. It’s been up for sale before, and we’re lucky we got it back.”

‘Not our friend’

Many did not want the town to give up water rights, including its interest in Bolts Lake. Under the plan, Minturn would give up its storage rights in Bolts Lake and its interest in Bolts Ditch, and subordinate its junior conditional water rights on the Eagle River to the district when the district would need to fill the reservoir. However, the town has historically not used those junior water rights.

The deal would allow the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District to build a reservoir at Bolts Lake. Battle Mountain would give the land, as well as its own water storage rights there, to the water district.

But several residents cited bad blood with the district, stemming from 1990s-era litigation between the town and a consortium that included the district and Vail Resorts. Minturn ended up losing water rights in the settlement.

“Eagle River Water and Sanitation District is not our friend,” said former councilwoman Shelley Bellm.

Others saw benefits of the interconnect agreement, or at least some type of compromise. Some defended the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District Board, noting that it now does provide sewer service to the town.

Brian Sipes, a board member of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and Minturn resident, acknowledged that the town is subordinating some junior water rights as well as giving up storage rights — but in a reservoir that doesn’t exist and that someone else owns, “in exchange for a pipe that would deliver water on the day it was built. You’re getting something concrete vs. something that is a might-have in the future.”

Four scenarios

Minturn provides its own water — separate from the water district, which provides water from East Vail to Wolcott.

Under the proposed deal, the town could buy water from the district for $11.11 per thousand gallons. The district would waive all the tap fees to serve Minturn’s existing users. The town would own the interconnect, and need to maintain it. The developer says it would provide $9 million in total water upgrades for the town.

But even if the new water deal is signed, the agreement would later become null and void if Battle Mountain doesn’t get its desired approvals for its scaled-back project.

Alternatively, the town could use its junior water rights on the Eagle River to develop new wells to draw more water. However, the town would also be on the hook to augment water downstream, depending on calls from more senior rights holders. Water for augmentation can be expensive and hard to find.

Four scenarios were presented:

• Continuing to use Cross Creek for water, and making infrastructure fixes. This would allow for some modest develop within town, but no more. Construction cost: Just over $8 million.

• Continuing to use Cross Creek for water, developing Eagle River wells, and making infrastructure fixes. This would allow for more development within town, but not Battle Mountain. Construction cost: $14 million

• Continuing to use Cross Creek for water, developing Eagle River wells and making infrastructure fixes, but at a level that would allow Battle Mountain, too. Construction cost: $15 million

• Continuing to use Cross Creek for water, building the interconnect and making infrastructure fixes. Construction cost: $2.8 million — but the town would have to buy pricey water from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

Rate hikes envisioned

Under all four scenarios, a typical home would pay somewhere between $150 and $164 per month after 10 years, compared to less than $90 per month now, according to the analysis, presented by town consultant Jim Mann of Ehlers.

If the town chooses the interconnect option, it would have to borrow less money, but it would have to buy water from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District at a higher price than what Minturn is paying now to produce water. And the interconnect option would push back a water plant replacement that will be needed down the road.

“Battle Mountain isn’t building us a water plant,” said former councilman Tom Sullivan. “We need to improve the plant or get a new plant — we still have to do that.”

Given a chance to speak, the council members offered little comment.

“It’s just water, but, my, it’s complicated sometimes,” said Councilman George Brodin.

Support Local Journalism