Residents that live in the area of Harrisville Road, just east of Calhan, have noticed a deterioration in road conditions since work began on the Golden West Wind Farm Project. Harrisville Road is located on the haul route that Blattner Energy, a contractor working for project owner NextEra Energy Resources, routinely uses.
“It (Harrisville Road) has been completely chewed up from the amount of trucks running across it,” said Kris Renick, a member of the El Paso County Property Rights Coalition who lives off Harrisville Road. “I parked next to a part of the road that was really bad to warn people that the damage was there. Blattner Energy told me not to park there, but I told them they needed to fix it because somebody is going to wreck. Their basic response was that they were going to fill in the holes with a concrete mix, but not until the wind farm project was done in nine months.”
Renick said she called the sheriff’s office and a deputy responded, however no crime had been committed.
At that same time, another vehicle drove through the area, and the person driving slid into the dirt on the shoulder because of the road damage. “It bounced me around enough and shook the tailgate open on the trailer I was towing,” said Jack Berman. He said he would have taken another route, but Harrisville Road is the only route he can use to get to Calhan. “That road was fine, but when the trucks started coming through, there were ruts and sand from where they tore up the road,” Berman said.
Andre Brackin, an engineer with El Paso County, said that both Blattner and NextEra must maintain the roads on the wind farm project’s approved haul route during the life of the project’s contract with the county. Additionally, NextEra will have to rehabilitate the roads along that route to be as good as or better than the conditions of the roads prior to construction.
“There’s a development agreement, just like with any other developer, that puts the responsibility on Blattner and NextEra to maintain the haul route,” Brackin said. “They put up millions of dollars in an escrow account to pull from if they don’t follow up, and then we send a contractor out there to fix it and then fine the companies for not doing their jobs.”
In the event the trucks are deviating to roads outside the approved haul route, the county could shut down the wind farm project by pulling the permits on the existing haul routes until the roads are fixed, he said.
“They had to haul a lot of gravel in a short amount of time, but we’re going to get a brand new paved road out of Harrisville once they’re done,” Brackin said.
Injunction filed to halt construction
On March 5, the El Paso County Property Rights Coalition filed a lawsuit against the EPC Board of County Commissioners and NextEra, claiming that the BOCC “erred and abused its discretion and exceeded its jurisdiction when it approved the (wind farm) project as amended at the Feb. 5 BOCC meeting,” according to the April issue of The New Falcon Herald.
On April 8, the EPCPRC also filed an injunction to halt construction on the project, which began in early April.
As of late April, NextEra had not filed a response to the injunction, Wilson said.
Motion to dismiss lawsuit filed
On April 7, the BOCC and NextEra filed a motion to dismiss the entire lawsuit. Dave Rose, EPC chief public information officer, said they filed the motion because the county did not believe the lawsuit met the statutory requirements to reverse the BOCC’s decision.
“Land use decisions of this type are not only within the jurisdiction of the board, they are a statutory responsibility of the board,” Rose said. “And, far from a decision made in an arbitrary manner, there were lengthy public hearings on the wind farm proposal during which time a large amount of competent evidence was submitted and carefully considered by the board. Therefore, the county has requested that the complaint be dismissed.”
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The basin round table organizations that control water resources in each of the major river basin watersheds are now finalizing their implementation plans for the Colorado Water Plan, a comprehensive statewide water sourcing and use plan.
In 2013, Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to establish a plan, and the CWCB held public town hall meetings and met with major stakeholder organizations to create the draft water plan. The board completed the draft plan in December and submitted it to the river basin round table organizations so they could generate implementation plans for their areas.
“We are impressed by the hard work and thoughtful improvements that are coming from the basins,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “The extensive outreach people did was impressive. No one is saying, ‘Yeah, we're done!' but rather asking, ‘Where do we go from here to reach implementation.’”
The Arkansas Basin Round Table, which covers much of southeastern Colorado, including most of El Paso County, submitted the basin implementation plan to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in April. The ABRT has 40 voting members from across the Arkansas basin. Memberships are assigned by county, municipal water systems, conservation districts and at-large positions for industries that include agriculture, recreation and industrial use, according to the membership roster.
Colorado's geographical position as the headwaters for several major rivers that “downstream” states depend on creates challenges for state water use, Eklund said. “If we're going to have a strong position for negotiations on the nine interstate compacts, we need to have our house in order,” he said. “The plan is going to talk also about our challenges on the Colorado River in particular. Each of those compacts has its challenges, but the Colorado is in the spotlight because of the 500-year drought in California. We want to make sure we face those challenges as one state, rather than a balkanized state of basins.”
The eastern half of the state is split between the Arkansas basin to the south and the South Platte River basin to the north. The Arkansas basin, which includes Falcon and Colorado Springs, is the largest geographic basin. Water use in the Arkansas is governed by the Arkansas River Compact of 1948 between Colorado and Kansas. In 1995, when Kansas discovered that Colorado water users were depleting flows at the state line, the state sued Colorado in federal court. “If we violate a compact, it wouldn't be our first rodeo,” Eklund said. “The U.S. Supreme Court said we owed Kansas monetary damages for our overuse of the Arkansas.”
“Compact requirements, existing uses and water rights results in little to no water availability for new uses,” according to the Basin Challenges document. “Growth in the headwaters region will present challenges to securing water for new demands.”
The basin round table meetings have been open to public comment, including water rights holders, to balance the needs of agricultural interests, urban growth and the area's responsibilities to Kansas and other downstream users. “Growth in urban areas, as well as replenishment of existing municipal supplies, will result in an increase in the demand for municipal water supplies,” according to the Arkansas round table's Major Issues findings. “There are already supply gaps in some areas. Conservation is part, but not all, of the solution to meeting future needs.”
Now that the basin implementation plans are complete, the next round of public comment on the statewide water plans begins. The public comment period for the first draft of the plan released in December begins May 1. Once the basin implementation plans are incorporated into the plan, the second draft will be released July 15. “Our intent is to try to make sure we've reflected the refinements accurately in the next draft of the plan and get it on the street in July and receive another round of public comment,” Eklund said. “And then get the final draft whipped into shape in the fall.” The final Colorado Water Plan will be submitted to the governor Dec. 10.
Comments about the water plan can be submitted online at http://coloradowaterplan.com.