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Planned whitewater park a hot issue for Springs

Greg Masse

Hot Springs Lodge & Pool officials have threatened legal action against the city of Glenwood Springs if it moves forward with its plans to build a whitewater park in the Colorado River. The pool’s attorney, Scott Balcomb, wrote Glenwood Springs city attorney Karl Hanlon a letter on Oct. 27 citing concern that if the bed of the Colorado River is disrupted from park construction, the mineral hot springs that supply the pool with its water could be damaged. Balcomb also wrote letters to Great Outdoors Colorado, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Division of Water Resources expressing concern about the proposed project. The most recent plans for the park call for a series of river features to be placed in the Colorado River starting near the Two Rivers Park pedestrian bridge and ending just downstream of the Two Rivers Park boat take-out. In all, the park is expected to cost about $1.2 million. Construction was slated to start as early as December. Park supporters say the steady, year-round water flows from the Shoshone Hydroelectric Plant could make Glenwood one of the world’s premier locations for a whitewater park and it has the potential of bringing millions of dollars a year into the city from whitewater events held on the water. Glenwood Springs community development director Andrew McGregor wrote a letter of response to GOCO. In it, McGregor calls Balcomb’s letter “an attempt to damage the city’s pending application for funding which is the first step in a grassroots effort to bring a world-class whitewater park to Glenwood.”The GOCO grant could be worth up to $200,000. In Balcomb’s letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Balcomb cited pool officials’ concerns and wrote, “(The Hot Springs Lodge & Pool) believes this project has been fast-tracked by the city of Glenwood Springs planning staff and that the concerns of HSL&P, as well as more general environmental concerns, have been given minimal consideration.”The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would have to issue permits before the park could be built.Balcomb’s letter to the state’s water engineer, Harold Simpson, states that, “The pool will use every legal and political tool to avoid the construction of in-channel diversionary structures in the area that would impact the aquifer and destroy its geothermal source and business.”In his letter to Hanlon, Balcomb explained the possible repercussions of building a whitewater park near its spring.”As you are aware, the Mammoth Yampa Hot Spring is literally (the pool’s) life-blood. A loss or significant damage to this resource would adversely impact (the pool) and the fair market value of the properties that we estimate at upwards of $50,000,000,” he wrote. Balcomb did not return a phone call Thursday seeking comment on the matter, nor did Hot Springs Lodge & Pool general manager Kjell Mitchell. Hanlon declined to comment directly on the matter, but he wrote Balcomb a letter in response to the pool’s stance. “At this point, I am unable to respond to your letter, as we have yet to receive the engineering reports from the GHSL&P regarding this matter. … Unfortunately, it appears that you have made a decision to make this an adversarial proceeding even though your own engineering consultants have not provided a report on this matter,” he wrote.Whitewater Park Committee reactionMembers of the Whitewater Park Committee first heard about the pool’s threats of legal action on Wednesday. Two of its members spoke to the Glenwood Springs City Council on Thursday. Committee member Scott Butler called the timing of Balcomb’s letter “curious,” because the committee is awaiting word on whether GOCO will award a grant for the park. “If we lose this grant, there is the possibility that Glenwood Springs will get the reputation that we don’t want the money anymore,” he said. Bob Guska, father of professional kayaker Ben Guska and marketing director for the committee, said he was surprised when he found out about the pool’s position. “We’ve always been straightforward that we would not do anything without doing the proper studies,” he said. “If they had this issue, how come it came up a month before the grant?”Guska also was surprised to hear that Balcomb had sent letters to GOCO, the Army Corps of Engineers and the state water engineer, calling the letters “a stab in the back.””If that’s happened, it’s sad because they mentioned anything like that to us,” he said. “If we had known, by all means we could have looked for another site. It’s sad because we were willing to work with them.”Guska said regardless of the pool’s position, he’s confident a whitewater park will be built somewhere in Glenwood Springs. Council members said they couldn’t comment on the matter because of the possible litigation, but Dan Richardson suggested that members of the committee set up a meeting with pool officials to see if they could come up with a compromise. Contact Greg Massé: 945-8515, ext. 511gmasse@postindependent.com


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