February 6, 2008

Interest surfaces in Bailey-to-Conifer water pipeline - "Rehosted courtesy of Evergreen Newspapers"
By Pamela Lawson

A local businessman planning to build a water pipeline from Bailey to Conifer has piqued the interest of at least one water district and one developer who might be willing to tap into his line if it gets built.

John McMichael, a former co-founder of Colorado Natural Gas, is spearheading a $10 million plan to pump water from the South Platte River in Bailey to Conifer for commercial and residential use.

He is planning to pre-sell the water, based on a per-acre, one-time charge, and will service metropolitan districts and developments that have water rights and augmentation plans in place.

His mission now, before he breaks ground, is to get enough buy-in from potential clients to ensure funding for the project, which he hopes to build this year.

An attorney for Mountain Valley Water and Sanitation, a special district that provides services for the Kings Valley subdivision, is following McMichael’s progress.

According to that district’s website, Mountain Valley is working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to meet state regulations involving uranium levels in its water supply and ammonia in wastewater — which could be very costly to eliminate.

“If that pipeline would come to fruition, I think we would take a good, hard look at it,” said David Lindholm, general counsel and water attorney for Mountain Valley.

And developer Ron Lewis is interested in the pipeline as well.

“We would like to be a part of it,” Lewis said in a recent interview with the High Timber Times.

In December 2007, Lewis filed a plan with Jefferson County Planning and Zoning to rezone roughly 1,000 acres near Shaffers Crossing for a housing development that he hopes to build out over 10 to 15 years. Tapping the pipeline could change the dynamics of that project, he said.

The size of his development has yet to be determined and is dependent on water. One option, under the current zoning, is to develop 70 to 80, 10-acre home sites. Another option could involve up to 400 homes on the land, which includes the former Krogh Ranch.

Lewis has water rights and an augmentation plan for the smaller project, he said. Tapping into the pipeline would prevent impacts to local aquifers, but it would cost more.

“This changes the entire complexion of our proposal as a developer of the Elk Creek Properties,” said Lewis, noting that he already has “permission” from the state to drill the 70 wells.

“The irony is that if we have to, we will drill 70 wells — if that is what the county requires us to do — which will probably have some effect on the groundwater of that basin. But if they allow us to use a central water system off this (pipeline) program, there will be more water left when we complete our project than when we started.”

Lewis believes growth is inevitable in the 285 Corridor, and a lack of a “fresh water” supply, like some communities have with fresh-water creeks, is a detriment to communities that rely only on aquifers.

“It has to be done; it’s essential that this or something quite similar succeed,” Lewis said, later adding: “The law of supply and demand is much stronger than county ordinance — it prevails.”

McMichael has known Lewis for some time, but the projects are unrelated. Lewis would be a “customer,” not an investor, he said.

McMichael is the primary strategist on the pipeline, though he has hired a water engineer to help with the details, and he is partnering with a mutual fund organization for financing.

One district that does not fit the bill currently is the Will-O-Wisp metropolitan district, though McMichael did contact its representatives.

That district provides water for more than 100 homes in Pine Junction and may be responsible in the future for supplying water to about 450 new homes nearby as part of a planned development there.

“I think it is an interesting idea,” said Rick Angelica, president of WOW. “(But) we do not look at it as a viable option for Will-O-Wisp.”

Cost and water rights are issues for his district, Angelica said. It would cost “many, many” times more to use the pipeline than what is currently being spent on water use at Will-O-Wisp — and even for future use, if more homes were to access the plant, he said. In addition, to access the pipeline, it would likely require a trip back to water court, he said, due to the specifics of its water decree that denotes where water is removed and returned for that district.

The district is, at the moment, involved in two separate legal disputes involving a homeowner association and private landowner. A Park County judge could make a final ruling on one of the cases, between Will-O-Wisp and Magness Landholdings and involving land condemnation, on Feb. 15 at the courthouse in Fairplay.

McMichael, a Morrison resident who left the gas company last year, remains optimistic that his pipeline will get built even if his customer base is limited.

The project would involve two plastic pipelines — potable and effluent lines — that would run about 13 miles between the two communities in the 285 Corridor. McMichael received a state permit in December to build the project. The permit, referred to as a Substitute Water Supply Plan by the Colorado Division of Water Resources, is good for one year and can be renewed for up to five years.

McMichael has met “informally” with planners and engineers at the Jefferson County planning department about his plan, which would require access to some county rights-of-way. But he has not applied for any permits yet, he said.

And he has taken steps to contact Park County regarding a 1041 water application. He will contact CDOT about the necessary steps to access state rights-of-way as the project progresses, he said.

Contact staff writer Pamela Lawson at Pamela@evergreenco.com

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