Briefs from the San Luis Valley

Brief by Marcia Darnell

San Luis Valley – August 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

Safeway or No Way

Safeway is buying the old Ortega Middle School in Alamosa, across the street from its current store location. The company has announced plans to build a new 43,000-square-foot store on the site of the deteriorating school.

Area residents are divided on the issue. Some see it as a nightmare of traffic and noise pollution, while others welcome a bigger grocery store to the neighborhood. At a community meeting, Safeway officials detailed plans for the new store and, in a gesture of true diplomacy, announced that if their plans fall through, Safeway will leave Alamosa.

New store or no store. Death to status quo!

Polluters Cop Pleas

Samye Buckner, former general manager, and Tom Chisholm, former environmental manager of the Summitville Mine near Del Norte, have pleaded guilty to contributing to the contamination that has made Summitville an EPA Superfund site.

The two, who worked at the mine from 1988 to 1991, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to violations of the Clean Water Act. A sentencing date has not been set. Cyanide leaks from the mine contaminated the Alamosa River and its tributaries in 1992. The owner of the operation fled to Canada. Cleanup of Summitville Mine has run to $120 million so far. Colorado is liable for 10 percent of the cleanup costs.

Taylor 2, Settlers 0

In a second victory for Zachary Taylor, District Judge Gaspar Perricone ruled that residents of San Luis have no historical right to use land known as the Taylor Ranch, or as La Sierra.

The land has been in contention since 1960, when Jack Taylor Jr. bought the area and fenced it, preventing residents from hunting, fishing and logging the land they’d been using since settling the area in 1598.

The first lawsuit, filed in 1981, was also a victory for the defendants. The plaintiffs vow to appeal.


Bowman Farms of Wray is proposing a hog farm in Costilla County. Representatives of the company met with the land use commission to propose a swine facility in the county. The operation would utilize the Bion Environmental Technology method of hog farming, which has been hailed for being clean and environmentally friendly.

The commissioners, mindful of potential jobs and tax revenue, will meet again with Bowman reps and community members before making a decision.

Recall Redux

Petitions to recall all three Conejos County commissioners have been validated by County Clerk Andrew Perea and an election will be scheduled. A previous set of petitions failed, as too many signatures were invalid. The commissioners are accused of improperly firing Public Health Nurse Lois Booth, against the wishes of the community. Booth has filed suit against the county and its commissioners.

So There!

Alamosa asked its county for dirt. The county said no. A century ago, this would have resulted in armed conflict — witness the history of Chaffee County. Instead, the city council chose legal retaliation.

The city needs a borrow pit for its levee project on the Rio Grande this summer. The council asked to take material from a parcel north of town, which the commissioners denied, saying they want to preserve the area as a wetland. The city council reacted by annexing 65 acres of the parcel for the pit.

It’s not as dramatic as a midnight raid on county offices, but it’s a helluva lot quieter.

The Price of Success

There’s a drawback to everything, even money.

A landscape sculpture project for the Old Spanish Trail received a $94,000 grant from Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act funds.

However, the grant paperwork isn’t completed, so the project committee has a lot of work to do before the money can be spent.

Since ISTEA funds are reserved for government projects, Rio Grande County is responsible for the grant application. Arrangements are being made to provide a committee member with time off from work — with compensation from the grant money — to work on the application.

Because of these administrative delays, work on the sculpture may not begin until next year.