Ignacio, CO: Members of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council and Durango City Councilors discussed the proposed annexation of land along La Posta Road, water issues and the status of the Durango-La Plata County Airport terminal expansion project at the group’s quarterly meeting on Tuesday, held at the Leonard C. Burch Tribal Council Chambers in Ignacio.
Tribal Chairman Melvin Baker told the group, which included city staff from various departments, there are some jurisdictional issues that need to be discussed as the city is on the verge of accepting property owners’ requests along La Posta Road to be annexed within city limits. The land is within the tribe’s boundaries, but also part of La Plata County.
“How can we work together as we look down the road?” said Baker. The tribe may someday want to develop nearby tribal lands, and needs to be at the table during discussions, he said. Of high concern was the impact on development in the area on the area’s water and air quality, and establishing memorandums of understanding that will benefit both sides during the annexation process.
“Our water and air standards surpass the state of Colorado’s,” he said. “As caretakers of the land our (treatment) plants have won numerous awards from the state.”
City Planning Director Scott Shine said the annexation process begins when a petition is filed by La Posta Road property owners, and that air, water and cultural resources are among the top concerns of city staff. “There are ways to align our efforts," he said. "I’m really impressed with the positive relations with the tribe. We’ve taken a posture of really learning and listening regarding tribal and city jurisdictions.”
The area under consideration is just south of Durango and involves approximately 514 acres envisioned initially for commercial and light industrial development, with housing added later. The South Durango Sanitation District would provide sewer service (versus individual septic fields), and city water service would also be extended.
Tribal and city representatives also briefly discussed the city’s desire to potentially tap into the water owned by the city in Lake Nighthorse, as a backup supply. The city’s main source of water is from the Florida River but supplemented from the Animas River.
The 9-mile supply line from the Florida River that ends at the city’s Terminal Reservoir is almost 100 years old, said Public Works Director Allison Baker. “We are looking at lining the pipeline and stabilize it for the next 50 years,” she told the tribal council. Threats to the city’s water supply from both rivers are posed by aridification, fires, reduced snowpack and more, she said. “The only backup any of us can have is storage in case the rivers are not flowing at the anticipated rates.”
Tribal Council Member Marjorie Barry told Baker both Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe opposed the city’s plan for Lake Nighthorse, but wondered what the status was of the plan. The Southern Ute tribe is the majority water owner in Lake Nighthorse.
“It’s all very preliminary,” said Baker. “So much of the discussion with (the Animas-La Plata Project) and the tribe is just opening the door to see if it’s even possible.”
Barry said her overall concern was watching the increasing growth in the area. “We just look at all the development going on and wonder what’s going to happen?” she said.
In other discussion items:
- Interim Parks and Recreation Director Sara Humphrey gave the tribal councilors an update on Lake Nighthorse, and noted there were 89,338 visitors to the lake in 2022. In response to a question on how to prevent trespassers from entering adjoining areas, Humphrey told tribal councilors the city conducts regular patrols and has security cameras installed.
- Airport Director Tony Vicari updated the tribal council on the status of the $39 million terminal expansion, along with the most recent airport passenger numbers. “We are exceeding both our 2019 and 2022 traffic,” said Vicari. Passenger traffic is forecast to break 400,000 for 2023 and be the busiest year ever recorded for the airport. The airport is working with the tribe on future art installations to pay homage to the indigenous residents, and Chairman Baker mentioned the possibility of using tribal water supplies in the future to help augment the airport’s needs. “It would be interesting to have that conversation with the tribe,” said Vicari. In response to a question from Tribal Councilor Barry, Vicari said although ticket prices have recently come down a bit as fuel costs have softened, as has demand, travelers should not expect to see a big decrease in fares any time soon.
- Jeff Engman, chief information officer for the tribe, briefed attendees on the $60 million fiber-optic project the tribe is overseeing. “We are filling in the central part of the reservation” with 300-plus miles of fiber optic cable and targeting to connect 5,000 homes, he said. Tribal Councilor Dr. Stacey Oberly said the tribe has already installed 52 miles of fiber under the first phase of the multi-year project.
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