The public could have a chance to bring their concerns about the planned water pipeline from Bellvue to Greeley before the Larimer County Commissioners — if Greeley officials agree to submit the project to another land-use review.
The commissioners sent a letter to Greeley Water and Sewer Department director Jon Monson in mid-December, asking the city to voluntarily take the northern segment of the 60-inch pipeline through the county’s 1041 approval process.
“We know that you are not required to do so, having already completed the County’s Location and Extent process through the Planning Commission, but we think doing so would be a demonstration of goodwill on the part of Greeley,” the commissioners wrote. “Such action would allow Larimer County citizens who have serious concerns about this route to have a chance to have their views aired before their elected officials.”
At press time, the commissioners had not received a response to the letter. Both Monson and Greeley Mayor Tom Norton told North Forty News that a formal reply had been drafted, but declined to discuss its content before the commissioners had a chance to review it. They planned to deliver it before the end of the year.
Greeley began building the 30-mile pipeline in 2003, and the county planning commission approved the 6-mile portion running from the Bellvue Treatment Plant through Larimer County in 2007. The county expanded its 1041 powers, previously used to review power plants and electric and gas transmission lines, to include new water and sewer lines in December 2009.
However, the commissioners cannot apply the 1041-review powers retroactively, which is why they are asking for Greeley’s voluntary cooperation.
“Frankly, we should have done this a lot earlier, but we didn’t have the ability before,” said Commissioner Steve Johnson. “Residents raised some very valid issues back in June about the impact of some of the changes to the project (since it was approved by the planning commission), and the 1041 process will let their elected officials better represent their constituents.”
At a public informational meeting with the commissioners and the Bellvue Historic Foundation on June 13, 2011, Greeley officials presented three alternative routes that had been considered for the northern segment of the pipeline.
The approved alternative parallels the existing 1907 easement for 65 percent of its route and requires easements through the fewest number of parcels of land, Monson pointed out. It also runs near a historic railroad track and Point of Rocks, where the railroad bed passes through a rock outcropping.
Of the 28 properties along this route, Greeley has yet to gain easements from 10 landowners, although the original project timeline called for construction to have started this past fall.
The city has so far acquired 82 easements along the entire pipeline route, mostly by paying fair market value to willing sellers. Five of the easements have been secured from unwilling sellers through eminent domain.
Since 2007, the route of the northern segment has been adjusted to address concerns of local landowners and the historic foundation. These changes site the route closer to the south bank of the Poudre River, which the county commissioners said could be significant enough to justify the 1041 review.
So-called 1041 powers date to 1974, when state lawmakers gave local governments the power to regulate some activities defined by the law as of “state interest,” such as the construction or expansion of major water and sewage treatment systems.
Approval under the location and extent process is advisory, while commissioners’ rulings under 1041 powers are mandatory. Johnson said that in theory the commissioners could deny the pipeline project, but he didn’t think that would be “prudent. I do think residents should have more input on the location. They may be more supportive of another option.”
The commissioners’ December letter alludes to one of those options.
“The possibility of the City of Greeley and the County of Larimer cooperating on the costs of reconstructing Larimer County Road 54G should that route be utilized has been proposed, provided that timing coincide with scheduled county reconstruction of that road,” it reads.
At the June 13 meeting, Monson said that taking the pipeline through LaPorte would affect 152 properties, including the LaPorte business district and two schools. It would also disrupt traffic for 7,500 car trips per day, and would require mechanical pumping of water from the treatment plant. The approved route allows gravity to do the work.
Should Greeley agree to the 1041 review, Johnson said he didn’t expect any significant delays to the pipeline project.
“It might take two or three months to go back before the planning commission and then come to the board of commissioners,” he said. “But county staff has already done most of the research for the location and extent review.”