Durango City Council met with the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council last week, keeping to its word to hold quarterly meetings with the tribal neighbor to communicate developments on impactful projects both communities have stakes in.
The cordial meeting featured discussions about several city projects, including a proposed water pipeline from Lake Nighthorse to the city’s Terminal Reservoir and tribal access to the pipeline, along with development plans for Three Springs and La Posta Road.
Three Springs developments are likely to be the first of several projects to get underway, with La Posta Road work and a Lake Nighthorse pipeline being further out.
The meeting is a result of a previous joint meeting between both councils in March -- the first such meeting in three years -- where tribal councilors chided the city for its lack of communication with the tribe.
During introductions, Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council Chairman Melvin Baker said collaboration and communication are “cornerstones of progress” and necessary for forging a positive path forward for both the tribe and the city.
Durango Mayor Melissa Youssef read a proclamation reiterating the city’s commitment to building a “trusting, respectful and mutually beneficial relationship” with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
She said the city recognizes the tribe’s numerous and positive contributions to the Durango area, including business ventures and private investments that created jobs, aiding infrastructure development, providing housing opportunities and contributing to technological and health care advancements.
“It is the City Council’s intent to engage in meaningful, open and productive consultation with tribal officials and to encourage city staff to (do) the same,” Youssef said. “We’re committed to listening and working together with tribal officials, members and staff in the pursuit of prosperity for all members of the community.”
Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council member Marvin Pinnecoose said the tribe has made significant contributions to infrastructure development in Three Springs. The tribe donated the land Mercy Hospital was built on to the city and helped fund the nephrology clinic there – and is dedicated to the area’s future.
“I think that’s kind of a great illustration of the commitment that we have placed into Three Springs,” he said. “And it’s only natural to have concern on what the direction is going forward because we clearly thought that was an important direction to take and we’d like to see that continue as a priority for both the city of Durango and the tribe.”
He said housing developments in Three Springs serve as an example of how to address the greater area’s need for affordable housing.
Durango community development director Scott Shine said the city identified a grocery store, park development and a school as necessary services in the Three Springs area.
He said the city is still in talks with Durango School District 9-R about developing a school in Three Springs. A community park is partially designed for a 75-acre piece of land donated to the city, and funding for construction is about two years out.
Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council member Margaret Barry said infrastructure costs always concern the tribe and asked for more information about a proposed pipeline project linking the city’s Terminal Reservoir to Link Nighthorse.
Justin Elkins, utilities manager for the city, said Lake Nighthorse has a 36-inch valve that the city owns. That is where a pipeline would be installed. An operating agreement between the city and the tribe outlining how water is to be used and metered will be needed when the pipeline is connected.
He said the plan is for a master meter to be installed at the dam, and more meters for individual users will be placed downstream to ensure no miscalculations of water use occur. City and tribal staff members will hammer out an operating agreement. The City Council and the Tribal Council will then work out how capital costs are paid for.
Barry said she’s glad to hear of the plans and that the tribe needs to be guaranteed it will have a seat at the table.
“The project doesn’t have a future without the (involvement) of the Southern Ute,” Elkins said.
Elkins said the tribe will have the chance to review design plans, which are expected in October, before they’re released to the public.
City Council members said they felt the meeting was productive. Councilor Olivier Bosmans said he is skeptical about the pipeline proposal, but it would benefit the city to have access to Lake Nighthorse as an emergency source of water.
Councilor Dave Woodruff said he sees an opportunity to stand alongside the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council at the forefront of landmark projects, and it is clear to him both councils are committed to the greater area.
Councilor Jessika Buell said consulting with the tribe is an invaluable opportunity for collaboration, and she looks forward to continuing quarterly meetings.
Councilor Gilda Yazzie, who comes from a Navajo background, said she is glad for accommodations of the Indigenous community and pointed to Fort Lewis College as one example. However, she said those accommodations were only realized because people pushed hard for them and people must keep pushing to move forward.
Pinnecoose, of the Tribal Council, said Southern Ute Indian Tribe members have always been patrons and customers of Durango. The tribe loves to see the city flourish because its members are invested in the community.
Baker, the tribal chairman, said the quarterly meeting is an example of how tribes and communities can work together toward the same cause. He said other municipalities and tribes don’t consult at all with each other. Although the Southern Ute Indian Tribe has a good relationship with the state government, the same cannot be said for other tribes, he added.
Youssef said projects like Three Springs developments and water access to Lake Nighthorse can impact all of the area, and she cherishes the chance to learn more about the tribe.