The La Plata County Commissioners gave preliminary plat approval Tuesday to the Cartier subdivision at 3989 County Road 510 in the Southeast Planning District.
The subdivision is eight lots on 43 acres. One lot is 17.15 acres and includes a BP gas well pad. The other lots average 3-plus acres. All will get access via an existing gas well road off CR 510, and all will receive water from the La Plata/ Archuleta Water District.
The preliminary plat was approved by county planning commissioners on Dec. 8.
The big issue Tuesday was a plat note showing maintenance access on the lots to an irrigation ditch that winds through the property. It's a lateral to the King Ditch.
Project representative Cynthia Roebuck noted the King Ditch itself is on the south side of CR 510. The subdivision slopes up from the north side of the road. A 20-foot easement for the lateral was dedicated on a previous plat in 2007 when three acres were split off the larger property, she said.
"The concern when you read (the King Ditch) comments is that the users of the lateral have the right to go in and maintain their ditch," Roebuck said. "We object to the wording as proposed in the condition (of approval), that the King Ditch may require access to the subdivision. ... We'd like the plat note re-worded. We feel those rights are already protected."
County Attorney Sheryl Rogers advised, "We are seeing this language submitted repeatedly by the ditch companies. It presents a policy issue for the board. Our code has a section about irrigation, that if you are developing land that contains a ditch, you will make a dedication of 15 feet from the center line of the ditch. A number of ditch companies have taken exception, that their rights under state law could be more than that 15 feet. There's a statute that any person owning a water right shall have access."
A plat note just puts lot buyers on notice about the easement, Rogers said. "The ditch companies view it as a matter of preserving agricultural interests. I don't think the condition is that substantive, because the right already exists as a matter of state law. But it's something we see repeatedly now."
Roebuck countered, "As written, the access you are trying to protect isn't necessarily for the ditch company but for the individual water owners. We intend to put it in the covenants that there's no building (in the ditch easement). The advice of our attorney was, this appears to grant additional access that we aren't comfortable with."
Rogers reiterated, "The rights either exist or they don't exist by state statute. This (plat note) is to put people on notice. The access may be more than 20 feet.
Neil Justesen, a King Ditch shareholder and board member, said he owns 160 acres just west of the proposed subdivision. He said it's his water being discussed, and it's delivered via a seven mile long lateral to the King Ditch.
"This is one of our worst sections of ditch" he said. "We have to get in every year to clean it so it doesn't back up." The shareholders served by the lateral are responsible to maintain it. "We clean in the spring, and then we spray for noxious weeds."
He asserted that a 20-foot easement isn't enough.
"Our big problem is people who don't have water rights put pumps in the ditch," Justesen said. "The only thing we can do is call the sheriff. Putting things this close to the ditch, there will be conflicts every year. State statute takes precedence always. We aren't saying urban people can't move to the country, but there's a lot of education involved."
Children's safety is another issue, he said. "We've had two drownings. That ditch is so deep." The best thing would be to pipe the ditch, he said.
Rogers offered a revised condition of approval "to recognize the existence of the ditch and the lateral, to re-state the statute. I think it achieves the purpose of informing individuals that there could be the right of access for anyone who owns a water right."
County Commissioner Brad Blake commented, "I sit on a ditch board and clean about two miles of ditch myself." He supported having the notice on the plat that ditch maintenance access supercedes other rights. "The ditches were there just about prior to everything else," he said.
County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt worried about the traffic impact on CR 510. The county has considered but not adopted road impact fees on subdivisions. "For a county with an 8.5 mill property tax levy, growth doesn't pay its own way," she said. "510 carries a lot of traffic."
Planning staffer Daniel Murray said staff determined the road can handle traffic from eight lots.
The county has had two failed attempts to get voter approval of a property tax increase for roads, Lachelt said. "Even though this is just eight lots, it's sort of death by a thousand cuts for our road system. ... With the availability of water through LAPLAWD, we'll likely see additional subdivision projects come our way. It will add further impacts to CR 510. I support this project, but all these new subdivisions add up and will have impacts to our roads.
In February the commissioners approved another preliminary plat for the four-lot 7 Ranch subdivision on 17.26 acres at 7943 and 7921 CR 510. Those lots also will have water from LAPLAWD.