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Briefs from the San Luis Valley

Brief by Marcia Darnell

San Luis Valley – February 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Baca Buy?

The federal government is actively negotiating to buy the Baca Ranch as part of the Great Sand Dunes monument-to-park deal.

Steve Chaney, superintendent of the monument, said Bruce Babbit’s staff is in active negotiation with Farallon Corp., which owns the ranch, for a multi-year purchase deal. The target date for a deal was Inauguration Day.

Chaney believes that The Nature Conservancy is involved in the talks, and will be a part of the transfer of property.

Officially, the monument won’t become a national park until the purchase is made. For now, it’s the Great Sand Dunes Monument and Preserve.

Mine Money

Ken Salazar is going after the Summitville associates. The state attorney general filed suit against four previous operators of the mine site, as well as the company that built it.

The suit was filed less than two weeks after Colorado settled with Robert Friedland, the financier behind the mining company, for $27.5 million. That money will reimburse the state for cleanup at the Superfund site, and continue reclamation for several years. Of that amount, $5 million is earmarked for cleanup of the Alamosa River, which was poisoned after a cyanide leak at Summitville.

What Recession?

Public service can be very rewarding. The state statute governing pay for county commissioners was revised and newly elected commissioners got a big raise. The Mineral County commissioners voted to abide by the new rules and gave themselves a raise from $20,376 to $32,613. The raise doesn’t apply to those already in office, and there was no provision made for other county officials.

Mineral County received no extra funds to cover the increase. The money will have to come from the existing county budget.

Home At Last

Baby Olivia has parents. The infant, who was abandoned on a church doorstep last summer (yes, really) was formally adopted last month.

Local publicity about the baby failed to bring her birth parents forward.

Spud Skirmish

A fungicide has been developed to combat powdery scab in potatoes, but it won’t be available in this region until 2002, at the earliest.

Fortunately the fungus hasn’t been much of a threat here — so far.

Whiskey, No Water

The proposed distillery almost went dry. Colorado Distilling Co. was denied a temporary change in well use from irrigation to commercial.

The decision was reversed a few days later. The owners plan to file for a permanent change.


Kavley’s, a mainstay of downtown Alamosa for five decades, closed its doors for good.

Alamosa schools, with the help of federal funds, will have a cop on site.

Sunshine Potato Flakes closed after only two years in business. The owners hope to reopen if spud prices rise, and flour and natural gas prices fall.

The Conejos County Library faces severe cutbacks after the county commissioners reduced the library budget by 25 percent to help finance a new jail.

RiGHT Action

The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust passed two landmarks in 2000.

First, the hiring of its first executive director, Julie Gallegos, on Nov. 1. She comes from Santa Fé, having worked with ag concerns in northern New Mexico.

Just before the end of the year, RiGHT acquired its first conservation easement, a move that wasn’t anticipated for several years.

Since there’s a two-year waiting period to hold easements, Colorado Open Lands is holding the easement until RiGHT is legally allowed to do so.

Whether RiGHT will do more soon is unclear.

“We have talked with another landowner,” says Gallegos, adding, “At this point, we’re ready to regroup and get a feel for how many of these we’re ready to do, how many we’re capable of doing.”

In the meantime the trust will continue to act as a broker between landowners and other conservation groups.


In New Mexico, computers have finally taken over water. The Upper Rio Grande Working Operations Model is a program geared toward better water management. The program simulates the river’s in- and outflows to suggest better storage and conservation tools. The basis for the model, a program called RiverWare, was developed at CU Boulder.