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Activists Want Controversial Reservoir's Public Meetings Postponed

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) - Plans for creating a new reservoir northwest of Fort Collins advanced another step. But those who oppose the project claim they will have little opportunity to voice their complaints due to COVID-19 constraints.

Larimer County on Wednesday acknowledged completion of the proposed project's permit application and made plans for obtaining feedback from the public.

To neither side's apparent satisfaction, two hearings for collecting public input have been tentatively scheduled for early May and early June.

Colorado is presently under a Stay At Home order put in place Wednesday by Governor Jared Polis. The order mandates that citizens maintain six feet of separation from one another in public.

Glade Reservoir
(credit: CBS)

"The Larimer County Commissioners," wrote the director of Save The Poudre, Gary Wockner, "created a 42-day permitting process for the biggest, most environmentally destructive, most controversial project in Larimer County history, all amidst the global coronavirus pandemic that has paralyzed Colorado's government and economy."

Wockner demanded the commissioners suspend the permitting process indefinitely.

"The public participation window of 42 days is insanely short for this massive technical project," Wockner continued, "and creating this public process for this extremely controversial project during the coronavirus pandemic violates all standards of government ethics and transparency, and likely violates Larimer County land use regulations requiring public participation."

Larimer County Commissioner Steve Johnson told CBS4 that the county is obligated to abide by state protocol -- for the time being.

"State statutes contains no exceptions," Johnson stated. "The first hearing (in 42 days) is before the Planning Commission, the second hearing before the board of County Commissioners is a month later. The statute gives us no flexibility in postponing a hearing. We are pursuing any possible means we have to deal with this deadline. I personally would like to delay the with hearings for three months."

"Unfortunately," he added, "Save the Poudre only cares about making the county look bad."

NISP general map with logo (Feb. 2019)
(credit: Northern Water)

The project, called the Northern Integrated Water Supply (NISP), would ultimately create two reservoirs, miles of new pipeline, five pump plants, and a new seven-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 287. Once completed in 2050 at an estimated cost of $1.1 billion, the project aims to provide the area with 40,000 acre-feet of water.

A 2019 study by the state suggests Colorado in total needs 400,000 acre-feet more water storage to meet the needs of projected growth by 2060.

NISP's 1041 permit that was acknowledged by the county Wednesday is a part of the process that was adopted by the county less than a decade ago. It allows the county control over the placement of the pipeline and the range of recreation activities on the reservoir, Johnson said.

Northern Water, the agency behind the NISP project, plans to use an existing irrigation ditch to siphon off water from the Poudre River and pump it north of Ted's Place to form Glade Reservoir. No new dam will be constructed there, according to Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla.

"We're going to work with the county to make sure the public is included in this process," Stahla said.

The public hearings are, for now, scheduled for May 6th (in front of the Larimer County Planning Commission) and June 8th (before the Larimer County Commissioners).

Final approval for the project must come, Johnson said, from the Army Corps of Engineers.



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