ALAMOSA — The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council is wrapping up one of its major projects with the waste reduction study and has decreased its budget for 2017/2018, but continues to focus on land and resource protection in the San Luis Valley.
The council held its annual meeting on Thursday in Alamosa to review projects and plans. Ecosystem Director Christine Canaly told the board that while the waste reduction efforts are wrapping up with no immediate funding to continue them, the staff continues to work on data and responses to the Forest Service’s proposed plan.
The council has already accumulated extensive data for the Forest Service to review and is currently encouraging public comment on the draft plan through the deadline the end of this month.
“I want to see a letter from everybody in this room on the forest plan,” Canaly said. “Our goal is to get 150 letters.”
She said she understood the Forest Service had received easily a few dozen already. The letters are separate from the many pages of technical comments and analysis that the ecosystem has provided to the Forest Service.
Canaly added that although the plan will not be based on a “popularity contest,” it is important for the Forest Service to hear from the public on the plan that will guide the Forest Service for many years.
Ecosystem Council Board President Dave Miller said he appreciated that at the Forest Service’s public meeting in Saguache regarding the plan, Forest Service Supervisor Dan Dallas (who will make the decision about what plan or combination of plans will go forward) was present and listening to the residents’ input.
Canaly said she and Ecosystem staff member John Stump will be working on socioeconomic data to augment the technical comments the ecosystem has already submitted to the Forest Service.
To see the ecosystem’s data on the plan, go to http://www.slvec.org/
To view the Forest Service’s draft plan and alternatives, go to https://www.fs.usda.gov/riogrande
The ecosystem council is also monitoring what is happening with national parks and monuments around the nation. In that regard, Canaly reminded the group that the San Luis Valley is a great example of how groups could work together on public lands issues, with the expansion of the Great Sand Dunes into a national park as a result of a bipartisan effort.
“I want to see this bipartisan effort come back together again,” she said. “We did it with the national park. Scott McInnis was a champion for us. I want to remind everybody in the Valley we actually did that together, and everyone benefited from that … I want to get us back to that.”
She said, “This Valley has really set the tone for the benefit of conservation. You think everybody’s doing that everywhere, but they’re not. We really had a great run of bipartisan effort that was wonderful. We need to get back to that.”
She added that the approach of attacking rather than working together “goes nowhere.”
She said Colorado has been a strong protector of public lands and must continue to be “and remind people what could be lost.”
Staff Kristina Crowder and John Stump have been heavily involved in the waste reduction project, which has concluded the study and recommendation phase and awaits funding for implementation. A recent request for funding for materials to move forward was denied, Canaly reported, partially because there was so much competition for it. She said in some ways that was a positive thing, however, because staff can focus on other projects right now.
“I see it as an opportunity to step back and really rethink … We would like to step back a little bit and really plan how we are going to approach solid waste management.”
She added that the annual budget is greatly reduced for the new fiscal year, from about $165,000 to $128,500. Efforts will continue on the forest plan as well as increased marketing and social media, headed by Crowder.
Stump shared his frustrations with not receiving a grant to move forward on implementing waste reduction strategies. He said the report that came out of this project had recommended a regional system with drop off sites with the Rickey Recycling Center in Alamosa serving as a hub for those sites. That would have required an expansion of the Alamosa recycling facility.
“We don’t have any commitments at this point,” he said. “We don’t have any staff support at this time to try to put this in place.”
The funding request that was recently denied would have paid for an educational program, which Crowder and Stump planned to develop.
“We don’t want to just drop this,” Stump said. “We have to be patient at this point and hope some other things come through.”
Canaly said when funding is available to implement the recommendations, they are “shovel ready.”
She said, “That’s the beauty of what we did. It’s a pretty solid approach. If things work out, maybe we can move that forward.”
Mark Wright, the new public works director for the City of Alamosa, clarified the city’s role in the waste reduction proposed strategy, specifically in reference to the Rickey center. He said the recycling center operates at about a $30,000 annual loss already, so he did not think city officials would be willing to expand the center to generate an even greater loss.
Wright added that if the city went to curbside recycling — something that is in the preliminary discussion stage only — “the Rickey Center has to go away because there’s no way we could fund both.”
If the city went with curbside recycling, the city would have to take funding from the recycling center, he explained.
“I want to be clear the city’s not making any changes but they are considering curbside pick up,” Wright said. “The curbside pick up would change the Rickey Recycling Center.”
The city loses money on its recycling efforts, he said.
“It operates at a loss,” he said.
He said there is a benefit to taking recyclable materials out of the landfill, “but it has a cost associated with it.”
Caption: Discussing projects and plans during the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council’s annual meeting are from left Board President Dave Miller, Director Christine Canaly and Volunteer Office Manager Claire Barker./Courier photo by Ruth Heide