EDITORIAL: Old Enough to Change Her Name, Part Five

Read Part One

In response to my Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request, the San Juan Water Conservancy District board this week provided me with a Quick Books printout of their Citizens Bank operating account. According to my reading of Colorado law — in particular, CRS 37-45-115 — the board essentially serves on a volunteer basis, and cannot have a direct or indirect interest in any contracts let by the District.

What the Quick Books printout revealed, however, is that SJWCD President Rod Proffitt has been handsomely paid to travel around, promoting and marketing the proposed Dry Gulch reservoir, which the District now refers to as the ‘San Juan River Headwaters Project.’

The San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) was created back in 1987, purportedly to “ensure the water resources of the San Juan River and its tributaries” and to make sure those resources benefit the residents and businesses within said District. The District’s annual revenue comes from property taxes; their budget for 2017 suggests the District expects to collect about $75,000 in local taxes, and maybe $25,000 in “grants.”

Many of those same residents and businesses are also served by another special district, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD), which also collects property tax revenues, but is funded mostly by customer fees for the water and sewer services it provides.

That is to say, PAWSD provides actual water and sanitation services.

We are not clear what SJWCD provides, exactly… except to say that they’ve spent a lot of our tax revenues promoting and marketing Dry Gulch.

According to the printout I was provided by the SJWCD board, President Rod Proffitt was paid approximately $27,912 for “marketing services” and “travel and training” during 2016 — more than a quarter of the District’s 2016 budget. Nearly all of those payments are listed as related to Dry Gulch.

When I contacted the District last week, I asked for an explanation for Mr. Proffitt’s contract, in light of the Colorado law that seems to prohibit the SJWCD Board from assigning a contract to one of their own board members. I received a response from the SJWCD attorney, Austin Rueschhoff, letting me know that I should not address any legal questions to the SJWCD Board, and that he would be the person responding to my question. He also noted that he’d advised the Board not to talk to me about legal issues.

I am aware of your recent email to the San Juan Water Conservancy District (“SJWCD”) Board of Directors regarding “Potential Conflicts of Interest.” Please be advised that as legal counsel for SJWCD, I will look into your question to the Board and get back to you shortly. I have also advised the SJWCD Members of the Board of Directors to refrain from responding to your questions individually.

I personally find this approach to District governance utterly fascinating. The appointed SJWCD Board — a group of very intelligent, well-intentioned people — is apparently not expected to understand Colorado law, nor to be able to talk with the public about Colorado law?

Fortunately, the Board appears to be willing to discuss the mill levy increase that will appear on the November ballot. That property tax increase, if approved, will basically triple the SJWCD mill levy.

Might we assume that President Rod Proffitt’s income would then triple, as a result?

Mr. Proffitt is, of course, not the only person benefiting from the District’s focus on Dry Gulch. During 2016, three other companies also benefited from their work on the Dry Gulch effort, and various other minor projects.

Holsinger Law LLC, the law firm that employs Mr. Rueschhoff, took in about $16,500.

The Western Land Group, which has been hired to negotiate a “land swap” with the Forest Service that would provide access to federal land for a portion of the proposed 11,000-acre-foot reservoir project, was paid about $6,000 during 2016.

And our friend Steve Harris — the Durango water engineer who has been helping SJWCD promote and market the Dry Gulch fiasco since at least 2003 — got a small payment last year, worth about $770.

By my estimate, over half of the property tax revenues collected by SJWCD in 2016 went to the marketing, promotion and development of the Dry Gulch reservoir project.

Also, by my estimate, the SJWCD has no means to deliver the water from an 11,000-acre-foot reservoir in Dry Gulch, to anyone in Archuleta County. SJWCD does not own a single mile of water pipeline; nearly all of the water pipelines in Archuelta County are owned by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District — and the current PAWSD Board has completely dismissed the need for an 11,000-acre-foot in Dry Gulch.

So who, exactly, wants this reservoir?

Is this still the same boondoggle it was in 2008, when SJWCD President Fred Weber Schmidt disappeared from Pagosa Springs shortly after the sale of the Weber family’s Running Iron Ranch, to our two water districts, for $10 million?

Maybe SJWCD board member Ray Finney can explain who wants the reservoir, and why he believes it’s a good thing for our future. SJWCD recently paid KWUF radio to allow Mr. Finney to make the Dry Gulch case, during an interview with host Nicole DeMarco.

Let’s listen in, to that paid advertisement…

Read Part Six…


Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.