Glenwood whitewater park decision looms amid confusion over state funding
November 15, 2007
GLENWOOD SPRINGS Construction could begin next month on a whitewater park in Glenwood Springs, amid confusion over the terms under which state lottery funds could have been sought to help pay for it.The Glenwood Springs City Council on Thursday plans to consider whether to authorize an $888,000 contract to begin work on the park, absent any assistance from Great Outdoors Colorado, or GOCO.Mayor Bruce Christensen said council earlier had decided against applying for $200,000 in GOCO funds because the city was told its chances of receiving the grant would be much higher if it promised not to apply for recreational water rights for the park.”We decided we’ll try to do our best to build a park without GOCO funds,” Joe Mollica, chairman of the committee that is trying to get the park built, told Garfield County commissioners Tuesday.Trsi Houpt, a commissioner for the county, which has committed $100,000 to the project, called the GOCO condition “outrageous.” But in an interview Wednesday, GOCO executive director John Swartout said no such condition exists.”We’re on the public record saying that we don’t require that,” he said.Garfield Commissioner Larry McCown noted that the issue of claiming water rights for recreational, in-stream uses has resulted in a “tremendous level of dissension” in Colorado at a time when agricultural lands are being dried up.”I think that is what GOCO was trying to avoid, was being a party to those kind of diversions,” he said.But Swartout said GOCO specifically refused a request by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that it not fund projects that could involve filings for recreational water rights.Where the issue could become a factor would be if there was disagreement between local governments about whether such rights should be sought in connection with a park, Swartout said. He said the level of local governmental support is taken into consideration by GOCO in evaluating grant proposals, and there have been cases where local governments have agreed not to pursue recreational water rights.The GOCO grant process is highly competitive, and whitewater park proposals tend to have a better chance of getting funding if the parks will offer multiple uses, aren’t expected to encounter delays in getting permitting from governmental agencies, and can operate at both low and high river flows, Swartout said.Glenwood’s park is planned for West Glenwood on the Colorado River, which has far more reliable, season-long flows than many Colorado rivers. However, Mollica said that with population growth potentially placing increasing demands on the river’s water, Glenwood doesn’t want to rule out seeking a recreational water right in the future for the park.GOCO previously had turned down a grant request for the project, but Swartout said that was when the city hadn’t even decided where to build the park. Council eventually settled on the West Glenwood location after the Hot Springs Lodge & Pool objected to a spot closer to the pool, saying construction of the park might harm the shallow aquifer feeding the pool.Christensen said he thought GOCO had made it clear that the city would be well-advised to agree not to seek a recreational water right. After being told of Swartout’s comments, he said, “Obviously GOCO doesn’t feel that was accurate so I would assume that we misunderstood.”The council is being asked Thursday whether to contribute another $275,000 in funding to allow construction to begin in December. The city wants to build the park in the winter when the river level is lowest. Christensen said the city can save money by doing it this winter when there will be even less water because the upstream Shoshone hydroelectric plant is still being repaired and isn’t exercising its right to river water.After building wave features in the river, the city will pursue construction of public amenities along the riverbank. Christensen said that while it’s too late to revisit the question of seeking GOCO funds for the first phase of the park, the city will ask for the agency’s funding for the bank work, which wouldn’t involve any water rights.Mollica also is asking the county to contribute another $100,000 to the project next year.