Proposed reservoir making waves

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A proposal to build a reservoir on a 1,200-acre site outside of Sedalia has raised the ire of neighbors concerned about property values.

The Penley Dam project is on the table at the Douglas County planning commission with plans to build a dam and reservoir on Penley Ranch.

The county planning staff recommends the county approve two options for the developer to choose from, one of which could result in construction of a 22,500 acre-foot water storage reservoir on nearly 430 acres.

Neighbors decry the proposal, with concerns the dam poses a potential safety hazard and will destroy mountain views, natural habitat and property values.

“When we first heard about it our first reaction was ‘you’ve got to be kidding,’” resident Carol Williams said. “The builder has not been able to give us any assurance of what this will do to our home values. One of the homes in this neighborhood is 500 feet from the base of the dam. For several others, their view will no longer be rolling mountains and plains, it will be a dam. If you had a choice between a house with a view of the dam and one across the highway with a view of the rolling hills, what would you do?”

Williams lives in the Indian Creek Ranch subdivision, adjacent to the Penley Dam reservoir site. The dam is the brainchild of developers Darwin Horan and Chris Fellows, principals of Ventana Capital. Working under the umbrella of the Penley Water Co., the two propose Penley Dam as a solution to one of the state’s greatest challenges – water supply and storage.

Ventana Capital proposes Penley Ranch as a development of more than 35 five-acre lots surrounding a non-recreational reservoir, which can provide a water storage solution for area water authorities. They came to the county with two options, a smaller, 14,000 acre-foot reservoir covering 292 acres, or the larger reservoir covering about 430 acres.

In 2004, the county attempted to purchase Penley Ranch through the open space and natural resources division. The county was awarded a grant of $2.1 million to purchase the ranch and made two firm, but unsuccessful offers on the property, according to a July 2009 letter in the Penley Dam referral documents. The grant money was eventually relinquished.

The planning staff recommends approval of both options, allowing the developer to decide which of the two will move forward. Among the conditions of approval are recommendations to perform detailed geotechnical and geologic investigations, provide the appropriate federal and state permits and comply with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requirements for the Preble’s Jumping Mouse.

The dam site is identified as a potential habitat for the endangered mouse, according to a referral response from the fish and wildlife service. Another referral agency, the Colorado Geological Survey (CGS), responded with concerns that the dam is proposed on a site underlain by a complex series of faults.

Karen Barry, geological engineer with the CGS, says while the existing geotechnical report addresses whether the site soil can support embankments, further investigation can address potential hazards.

“It is likely that geologic hazards and soil constraints can be mitigated,” Berry writes in her June 16 referral agency response. “Currently, the application does not adequately identify or provide plans to mitigate such hazards.”

In deference to the active land use application process with the county, developer Chris Fellows declined comment until after the application has run its course.

“We’re trying to bring this case to the proper venue in the county and I want to respect that quasijudicial process,” Fellows said. “The essence of the issue is that Douglas County has a drastic need for developing a renewable and sustainable water supply. Penley offers a great opportunity to provide for a part of that solution.”

The planning commission public hearing for the Penley Dam application continues at 7 p.m., Jan. 10 in the commissioner’s hearing room at 100 Third St. in Castle Rock.

“The essence of the issue is that Douglas County has a drastic need for developing a renewable and sustainable water supply.”

Chris Fellows, Penley Water Co., on the proposed Penley Dam outside of Sedalia.

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