COUNTY BEAT: August 17 meeting

RBC I It was another busy Tuesday for Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners this week, starting early in the morning with work sessions. The board also held a regular meeting and hosted an Interagency Meeting in the afternoon.

Rangely Town Manager Lisa Piering and Engineer Jocelyn Mueller updated the board on a planned partnership with Cogency Power to develop major “geothermal solar” energy projects moving forward. Following multiple discussions, presentations from Cogency technicians and a tour of the existing energy sites, the Town of Rangely is actively seeking $5.8 million in federal funding. If successful, they intend to implement the new technology for use by the recreation center and wastewater treatment plant. These implementations could work as proof of concept for further development of the technology. Piering and Rangely trustees emphasized that they believed the new technology, a combination of high efficiency solar panels and geothermal storage, could become a major economic driver for Rangely, Rio Blanco County and Northwest Colorado. You can read more about how the new energy technology works from the May 6 edition of the HT at theheraldtimes.com/new-solar-tech-could-bring-jobs-to-rangely/rangely/

Facilities manager Eric Jaquez spoke about plans to upgrade water capacity at the Meeker Airport for the installation of a new hangar that would include a bathroom and fire suppression system. Initially the thought was to expand the existing supply line coming from Highway 13, but according to a water engineer, that option could require installing a new pump house which could cost as much as $500K. With board approval, Jaquez plans to move forward on contracting the water engineer to assess feasibility of alternative options, such as tapping into nearby water tanks like the one constructed at Pioneers Medical Center. 

IT and Communications Director Trevor Nielsen shared the latest on upgrading power capacity at county broadband towers. A company called Thin Air Communications bid on the project, proposing higher wattage panels and the replacement of batteries they said were not intended for outdoor use. Earlier this year Nielsen reported the issue had eaten up a lot of staff time making emergency trips to tower sites to keep broadband online by recharging batteries with portable generators. The board agreed the upgrades are necessary to maintain stability and access to customers, and directed Nielsen to move forward on the project. Due to a shortage of required equipment, Thin Air Communications will upgrade three tower sites during winter, with the remaining nine slotted for future upgrades as well.

Neilsen also said a request for proposal to establish engineering costs for fiber expansion is ready for review. He explained the project hopes to “over engineer” the project to allow for as much expansion as needed moving forward.

Longtime Rangely resident Kelly Christian has applied for the Rangely library board, a position she stated she’s always wanted to have and feels she can serve well in. The board will finalize her appointment at next week’s regular meeting.

With the backdrop of what he described as “the worst drought we’ve had since 1922,” RBC Water Conservancy District Director Alden Vanden Brink shared the latest on the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir. He stressed urgency, noting that “the table is set” for initiating what is currently estimated to be an eight year, $135 million project. Following the acquisition and submission of permits from BLM and the Army Corps of Engineers, the two year NEPA process would begin. Final dam design would occur sometime in 2025-2026, and construction would last until 2028 when upon completion, “filling the bucket” would begin. This best case scenario timeline is dependent on the NEPA process not changing, construction going as planned and other factors. The proposed reservoir would hold 66,270 acre feet of water, which Vanden Brink said is “desperately needed” to mitigate water shortage threats to the county. He noted that he and others involved would be holding federal officials’ feet to the fire to keep things on track. The district is currently seeking funding form various entities, expecting to spend $250,000 a year of its own funding on the project, and seeking additional commitments from the Town of Rangely. They’re also asking for a commitment of $5 million from the county following this year’s budget process. The conservancy district hopes to offer a 1-1 funding match when they approach the Colorado River Conservancy District for money.

Vanden Brink shared estimates on ways the project would benefit the area. During construction the project could employ 300 people and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for local and state governments. Post construction economic benefits would be additional new jobs, increased water for new and existing agriculture, mitigating low flow impacts to fish, improving overall water quality and others.

During their regular meeting, the commissioners:

• Approved agreement for $13K security grant funds to the Colorado Judicial Department, an annual agreement that funds court security. 

• Approved agreement for $8,500 for Ducey’s Electric to replace a generator at the Cathedral Tower site.

• Approved a letter of agreement with South Routt School District for the scheduling of a coordinated election. 

• Approved a lease agreement for $10,000 for Flintstone LLC to remove existing gravel from the Haliburton Gravel Pit. Haliburton sold a property where the county had a stockpile of gravel that now needs to be moved.


By LUCAS TURNER | lucas@ht1885.com