Rifle seeking funding for its infrastructure

City looks for outside help to pay for new $44 million water system

RIFLE — City officials on Wednesday shared with U.S. Sen. Mark Udall their vision for a new energy economy in Rifle, while also seeking his help in finding money for infrastructure costs resulting from the traditional energy economy.

Udall, D-Colo., met with city representatives where old energy meets new: a uranium mill tailings reclamation site on the west side of town where a solar panel array was put in place to help power the city’s new wastewater treatment facility.

The treatment plant is costing the city more than $20 million and forced it to raise sewer rates by 105 percent, and now it’s staring at an estimated $44 million price tag for a new water plant. Without outside financial help, that could require raising water rates to $75 a month, city utilities director Charles Stevens said.

Both projects were made necessary by city growth that’s been driven largely by natural gas development in the Rifle area. Mayor Keith Lambert said he expects the current drilling slowdown to be temporary. Meanwhile, the city worries about the growth implications if commercial oil shale development fires up on federal land in Rifle’s backyard.

“We feel like we’re trying to plan for something we have no control over,” said the city’s attorney, James Neu.

The city had hoped it might tap some federal stimulus bill funding for its water plant. But the bill provides only $32 million statewide for water projects, and with 35 other projects ahead of Rifle’s in line, city officials aren’t optimistic.

Udall encouraged the city not to give up on finding funding, particularly after seeing how it is working to intertwine its alternative energy efforts with its infrastructure expansion.

Another solar array helps supply energy to the city’s raw-water pump station on the city’s east end. The two arrays give Rifle the largest municipal solar installation in the state and the state’s second-largest system overall.

The west-side solar array represents the beginnings of an energy innovation center where the city hopes to showcase biofuel, geothermal and other alternative energy projects.

“This turns my crank,” Udall said. “It really is exciting stuff.”

He expressed optimism that Rifle’s alternative-energy efforts could win support at a time when the Obama administration is focusing on energy along with health care and education as budgetary priorities for helping rebuild the economy.

“My sense is that this would be a very appealing concept,” Udall said.


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