A Leap Day election about Frantz Lake

Brief by Central Staff

Salida Politics – March 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

Salida will celebrate Leap Day with a special election which results from petitions — “the Frantz Lake Initiative” — circulated last fall.

It’s about the use of city-owned land in an area that has already seen plenty of contention, mostly related to expansion of the golf course.

The land in question has been used as a shooting range by the Salida Gun Club, and it sits between Frantz Lake (owned by the state) and a gravel pit (owned by the city and leased to Kaess Contracting).

If it passes, the initiative would add an ordinance which would prohibit gravel mining on the Gun Club Parcel, and require that it be set aside for recreation and open space. The ordinance could be repealed, but only by public vote.

The Gun Club Parcel and the adjacent gravel pit were part of a proposed land trade with the Colorado Division of Wildlife — that land, plus some water, in exchange for a 51-acre pasture just down the road. The pasture could then become part of an expanded golf course.

That deal fell apart because Wildlife wanted more water — about $750,000 in replacement costs — than the city could afford.

While that was on the table, the city council suggested that the Gun Club Parcel might make a good reservoir site. First, lease it for gravel mining, and in the process, remove the lead contamination from years of skeet and target shooting. Then convert the resulting hole into a water storage reservoir.

But that’s about as far as the reservoir planning has gone — as best we know, it’s just an idea, without any engineering studies.

Apparently, the city council has had at least one, closed “strategy” meeting on the subject according to the Mountain Mail, but public discussion regarding the council’s reasoning on the matter, the city water engineer’s advice, and details about costs have all been extremely abbreviated.

At any rate, passage of the Frantz Lake Initiative would not keep the city from building a reservoir there, providing it was open for public recreation.

According to the proponents, the initiative would only prohibit long-term gravel mining on the Gun Club Parcel, thereby preventing adjacent dust, noise, and heavy traffic from disturbing recreation at Frantz Lake.

One criticism is that the Friends of Frantz Lake are just residents of that area who don’t want gravel mining near their houses — NIMBYs, for Not In My Back Yard. But many of the proponents live nowhere near the site.

Proponents, however, do seem united in regarding Frantz Lake as an already existing scenic and recreational asset that would be adversely impacted by a long-term mining project. Since there’s already gravel mining in the area that this wouldn’t affect, and there could be more on private land in the vicinity, if this is — as some claim — an effort to stop gravel mining altogether along County Road 160, it’s a less than half-hearted effort.

The initiative has also been characterized as an effort to stop golf course expansion, since the city wouldn’t be able to trade the Gun Club Parcel without a public vote if the initiative passes.

But the last we heard, that deal was dead. If it has come back to life, it hasn’t happened in a public meeting. That probably doesn’t mean much, though,given the Salida city government’s penchant for holding secret or “executive” sessions.

If it passes, the city government — which resisted putting the initiative on the November ballot, thereby causing a special election — has threatened to go to court and have it overturned. The reason would be that the use of city property is an administrative decision, not a legislative decision that’s subject to initiated ordinance.

How to vote on it? We’ll vote for it because, in the ensuing legal maneuverings, some answers might emerge to certain questions:

— Has the golf course land-and-water trade somehow been put back on the table?

— Why would the city government even consider building a reservoir in a place that sits lower than the city’s water users?

— Where would the water come from to fill this reservoir, and to compensate for evaporative losses, and how would the water be used?

Granted, this isn’t the best way to get answers from the city authorities. But it may be the only way.