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Water threats murky in Red Cliff

Tamara Miller
Vail Daily/Melinda Kruse The Colorado Department of Transportation has plans to fix up the Red Cliff bridge in order to make it safer for drivers and cyclists.
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Mayor Ramon Montoya was assured last month his presence at a meeting with state officials in Grand Junction would stave off sanctions against Red Cliff for its water problems.

Town Administrator Guy Patterson attended a similar meeting with state officials in Denver, but instead of assurances he got a warning. Red Cliff would be ordered to fix its ailing water plant soon, and he was told the state would fine the town $32,000 a day if it failed to comply.

In the end, neither message was completely right. On April 30, the town did receive sanctions, but the fine threatened for noncompliance was only $1,000 a day. And that’s just one of the many contradictions and confusing statements Patterson said Red Cliff has received from the state in regards to its beleaguered water and sewer treatment plants.

“We’re frustrated,” he said.

State officials have been checking on Red Cliff’s sewer and drinking water plants for several years. Red Cliff has attempted to follow the state’s demands all along, Patterson said, but money and changing demands have prevented the town from being compliant.

For example, Red Cliff was ordered to come up with a short-term repair plan for its failing sewer plant last summer. The plant sends less than fully-treated water back into the river below town. With the help of ECO-Resources, the licensed contractor the town uses to monitor the plant, the town planned to make some mechanical repairs to get the plant in working order.

The Board of Trustees also decided to refinance the town’s outstanding loans to free up funds for various projects, including $50,000 for the sewer plant. But Montoya said he was told last month the town should use that money to come up with a long-term solution for the plant – build a new one, in other words.

“That isn’t even enough to break ground,” Patterson said.

That same finance package would also provide about $7,000 to fix the water plant – another requirement under the state’s order.

There’s one problem, though. The state is demanding Red Cliff get the plant fixed by the end of this month or be fined. That finance package won’t be ready for the Board of Trustees’ review until June 7, the earliest they could vote on the plan, Patterson said.

Trustee Jim Bradford said the town may be able to extend the state’s deadline.

Officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are scheduled to attend a meeting in Red Cliff Monday to discuss the town’s water and sewer plant problems. The department will respond at that time to the town’s belief they have received mixed messages, said Christopher Dann, spokesman for the agency.

Funding will also be the topic of discussion. But Red Cliff resident Caroline Bradford fears the town may not appear as an ideal candidate for grant money. Red Cliff already received $460,000 in grants two years ago to build the water plant that continues to give the town problems.

Red Cliff has formed a subcommittee to figure out why the plant isn’t working. Shoddy construction, untrained employees, poor maintenance and overuse have all be thrown out as possible reasons.

The town’s trustees, who had argued the plant was unfinished, were withholding a final payment to the plant’s contractor. However, after reviewing the construction agreement, town staff discovered that the project is indeed finished and the contractor should be paid in full, according to a memo to the board.

Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at: tmiller@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 607.


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