Water decisions will map Minturn’s future
Hundreds of new homes are being proposed, but town’s water situation will dictate whether they are possible; meeting is Wednesday
If you go …
- What: The Minturn Town Council will discuss its water situation at its meeting this week.
- When: Wednesday, July 17. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. with a closed-door session. The open meeting is expected to begin at 6:30 p.m.
- Where: Minturn Town Hall.
- How long: The discussion will last for about two hours, according to the agenda.
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part story. Read the first part, which examines the proposed water deal in greater detail, here.
MINTURN — The most common words that Minturnites use to describe why they are proud of their town are “small,” “town” and “community,” according to a community survey conducted this year.
“Minturn is one of the last small towns in our area to march to a little different beat than the rest,” said one unnamed resident in the survey. “It’s eclectic and quirky, which is why I fell in love with it many years ago and why I stay.”
At the same time, the town eyes growth. A 2008 town plan envisioned how Minturn could grow and revitalize, while maintaining its small-town vibe. The plan identified development opportunities across the town, from the north to south end.
Fast-forward to 2019, and some of those possibilities are moving forward. The town approved an agreement that would allow Eagle County Schools to build homes at Maloit Park. The town has partnered with an Eagle company to develop Dowd Junction into stores and apartments. Union Pacific is selling 19 acres north of downtown, fostering the town’s visions of a multi-use development for the buyer. And the Battle Mountain proposal persists, now slated for up to 712 homes and commercial space.
Some residents want smart growth; others are against growth at all.
“(This) is still a small town and hasn’t sold out. I do not want growth,” said one comment in the 2019 survey.
“Some growth is fine, but what’s in the making is out of control,” another resident said.
“Growth is good as long as Minturn can keep its character and have an appropriate amount of growth,” read another comment.
“It is sad to me that some people are so afraid of growth that they go out of their way to try to stifle everything,” said another. “We need to try to incentivize people to do business in Minturn and instead many are trying to scare people away.”
Water deal on table
Development would be one way to help pay for millions in needed infrastructure, through development agreements and/or incremental tax revenue.
However, the town needs more water to support development.
An agreement now being proposed by the Battle Mountain would bring more water to the town. The developer says it represents $9 million in water infrastructure improvements for the town.
The proposal would fund a water pipe, or “interconnect,” from Dowd Junction to Minturn — supplementing the Cross Creek water, the town’s main supply, with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District’s supply.
It would give Battle Mountain and other developments the water they need to be built. It would be contingent upon Minturn approving the Battle Mountain development.
The three-way agreement involves the developer, the town and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.
Alternatively, the town could also look to its junior conditional water rights on the Eagle River to bring more water to the town, but the cost would be significantly more.
Minturn’s water demand is expected to grow 71% over the next decade and 226% over the next 20 years. Even without Battle Mountain, those growth numbers would be 48% and 119%, respectively.
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.
Gregg Larsen, senior manager for real estate at Union Pacific Railroad, wrote a letter to the town last week endorsing the interconnect deal. Union Pacific owns a 18.95-acre parcel, now on the market for $11.5 million, which Minturn has identified as a prime spot for redevelopment. 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,” Larsen said in his letter.
At the 13-acre Dowd Junction parcel, the town’s development partner, Aspect Development Company, envisions 40,000-60,000 square feet of commercial retail space and more than 300 apartments. Development there is contingent upon the completion of a land swap or sale with the Forest Service, which now owns the land.
Memories of Ginnturn
The proposed water plan would allow these developments to proceed, but it ultimately hinges on the approval of just one — the Battle Mountain development, which has taken a long and winding path to its current form.
In December 2004, a Florida developer, the Ginn Companies, bought 5,300 acres between Minturn and Red Cliff for $32.5 million from the owners of the defunct New Jersey Zinc Mine. The original Battle Mountain plan, put forward by developer Bobby Ginn in 2005, included 1,700 homes, 36 holes of golf, a private ski area and commercial space.
Included within those numbers was the original plan for the 500-acre Bolts Lake area, near Maloit Park and Tigiwon Road — a 750-unit, 13-story luxury hotel; a private, 18-hole golf course; as well as commercial space.
In 2008, residents voted overwhelmingly to annex 4,300 acres of the Battle Mountain property into town. About 87 percent of voters favored the plan. Residents were promised $162 million in benefits, including a recreation center, library, new sidewalks, a paved bike path from Dowd Junction to Red Cliff, a new water and wastewater treatment plant and scholarships for Minturn residents.
But just as the original agreements were being signed, the economy tanked.
“In the period that followed, it became apparent that the project as originally proposed was no longer viable in that economy,” the developer said in a 2018 document.
Ginn dropped out of the development in 2009. Crave Real Estate Ventures, part-owned by Lubert Adler, the Philadelphia-based private investment company that financed the Battle Mountain project, took over the project.
Crave later became Battle Mountain Development Co., which now manages the project.
In 2016, the developer proposed exchanging 5,457 acres on Battle Mountain’s upper parcel for Meadow Mountain, a popular site for hiking and biking that is owned by the Forest Service, near the north end of town.
Battle Mountain Development’s idea was to develop 1,274 acres of the 4,700-acre parcel at Meadow Mountain, leaving much of the rest as open space.
But the proposal was met with some opposition by community members who did not want to see development on Meadow Mountain.
Just a few weeks later, the Forest Service said it wasn’t interested in entertaining the idea, citing its complexity and controversial nature.
A scaled-back proposal
The current vision for the Bolts Lake area, submitted last year, is 130 acres of residential, 55 acres of mixed-use development and 376 acres of open space. The 712 homes would be built over four phases, potentially a mix of single-family, multifamily and apartment homes. The plan envisions retail and commercial space, as well.
The area stretches from Tigiwon Road to the Maloit Park area, on the south end of Minturn. The developer calls it “an authentic extension of Minturn.”
The first phase of the project would be 150 to 250 homes located along Maloit Park Road, a mix of single-family homes, multifamily townhomes, duplexes and apartment buildings. The plan also includes a community area with co-working space, daycare or neighborhood retail.
A portion of the site has been designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund site as a result of mining. More remediation will be necessary to allow some of the development to proceed.
The developer says the Bolts Lake development would be a major boon for the town’s coffers. It projects general fund revenues of about $2.2 million per year at buildout.
As a comparison, Minturn’s 2019 budget calls for $4.2 million in general fund revenues.
Real estate transfer tax revenue is expected to be about $1.2 million in the first phase, and $6.9 million when the project is completely built out, according to the developer.
Battle Mountain’s land includes a separate, 4,620-acre upper parcel, closer to Red Cliff, where a private ski resort with as many as 10 lifts and more than 1,000 homes was originally planned.
In 2017, the upper parcel development plan was changed to 35-acre ranch lots, decreasing the density from about 1,000 units to about 100.
The property was put on the market in 2017, with an asking price of $19.5 million. It remains for sale at that price.
In a 2008 agreement, Minturn agreed to provide water to Battle Mountain, assuming the developer did a number of things — including constructing a reservoir at Bolts Lake, building a wastewater treatment plant, and funding updates to Minturn’s water plant.
“Given the changes in the development of Battle Mountain, with lower densities, the cost of financing all those developments is infeasible given densities today vs. back in 2008,” said Mike Sawyer, Minturn’s attorney, last year. “That is one of the ways in which the interconnect became a discussion.”
Minturn’s water needs
As developers circle Minturn, the list of the town’s current water infrastructure needs has only lengthened.
• Water leaks: 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%. Minturn has to divert enough water not only for its use but also to compensate for the losses. A leak detection system, costing $50,000, would help alleviate the issue.
If Minturn could get its system loss down to 20%, Cross Creek could serve upwards of 2,200 people.
• Water tanks: 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.
It’s also leaking — literally spouting out arcs of water, said the town’s water consultant, Ryan Gordon of SGM.
Replacing the 600,000-gallon tank would cost about $1.71 million. Repairs, which would be a Band-Aid solution, would cost $290,000.
The tank at Maloit Park, currently 80,000 gallons, doesn’t currently meet minimum requirements for firefighting. A new, 250,000-gallon tank would cost $930,000.
Once water leaves the treatment plant, Minturn’s system is essentially divided into two separate systems — a town service area and Maloit Park. Connecting the Maloit system with the main system would allow for some additional redundancy. That would cost another $1.3 million.
• 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.
Only four sand filter plants, including Minturn’s, are still operational in Colorado.
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. Experts believe the issue is tied to cold Cross Creek water temperatures affecting the biological processes necessary for the sand filtration to be effective.
And if Minturn ever decides to treat water from the Eagle River, which has additional water quality issues, the sand filters may not be able to treat that water.
Minturn can continue to try to make repairs to the old plant, but at some point, a new plant would be more economically viable, according to town staff.
A new membrane-style water treatment plant would cost $4.3 million.
• Eagle River connection: Drilling new wells in the Eagle River and connecting the water to the treatment plant would add another $4.4 million. With an interconnect, the wells and connections from the Eagle River would not be necessary since water would be coming from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District’s supply.
Add in other costs, and, without the interconnect, Minturn’s water infrastructure needs $13.6 million in improvements in the next 10 years. That’s assuming no interconnect and no Battle Mountain.
With Battle Mountain but no interconnect, the number is even higher, $14.7 million.
With the interconnect, that number drops to $9.2 million.
The town of Minturn had $1.81 million in its water fund as of the end of 2018.
The Austin family has always believed in supporting their community through food education, which is why it was an easy decision for them to begin partnering with The Community Market, a local hunger relief project, to improve access to local produce for low-income individuals in Eagle County.