Thornton, Weld County seek to improve communication on farm properties
During the city’s annual farm management report to Weld County, Thornton Mayor Heidi Williams said she would prioritize maintaining positive relationships with Weld County and the towns of Ault and Pierce, which are now landlocked by Thornton properties. Some in those communities believe Thornton’s buy-and-dry program, intended to divert agricultural water for municipal use, has harmed their agricultural economy and the city has not done enough to assist in alternative development projects. Thornton bought its 104 farms 30 years ago, and officials are now planning a pipeline project to pump that water to their municipal system.
“We are willing to do whatever it takes to keep that communication open,” Williams said, in response to concern that such communication had been lacking until now.
Thornton officials said they would be reaching out right away to Ault Mayor Butch White and Pierce Mayor M. Sue Spurgeon-Paris.
Weld County commissioners Mike Freeman and Sean Conway both relayed messages to Thornton on part of the two small town mayors.
“The key to the whole thing is communication,” Freeman said. “Open communication goes further than anything else on mitigating issues.”
Conway pointed to a successful dust abatement plan established after a 2009 visit by Thornton officials as an example of when open communication fostered conflict resolution.
Freeman also brought attention to the economic disadvantage placed on Ault and Pierce by being landlocked by Thornton property.
“Speaking with the mayor of Ault, it has been fairly problematic for the town of Ault by being landlocked and not being able to, like a number of the other communities, annex, not being able to expand,” Freeman said. “There is nothing you can do about it, but it is something I’d like to throw out that is a concern in those communities simply because they are not able to grow.”
Thornton water resources manager Emily Hunt said the city is open to work with developers, as long as development plans do not compromise its water rights.
“If a developer came along in the city of Ault and was looking at one of our properties … that’s a non-irrigated use, which is absolutely allowed by our decree,” Hunt said. “We are absolutely open to those types of transactions if the opportunity arises.”
Weld County Commissioner Julie Cozad asked why further private land sales have not yet been made.
“I personally would much rather see our ground in Weld County, whether it’s dryland farming or irrigated farming, in the hands or private property owners rather than government,” Cozad said.
Hunt explained that due to the long-term nature of the city’s development plans, Thornton will not be prepared to sell much of its acreage for many years.
“We don’t have any intention of converting any additional acreage (to dryland) for another decade or so. This is a very slow transition,” she said.
Thornton’s real estate manager Scott Twombly said the city has begun the process of selling its farm houses to private owners. Of the 83 homes he said are slated for sale or disposal, nine have been sold to date. An additional 12 are being prepared for the market.
Regarding the city’s home renovation program, Brian Foss of the Thornton Farm Management Office in Ault said just under $900,000 has been spent on repairs.
“We do continue to operate and work with the tenants on anything that needs to be done to be fixed or repaired,” Foss said.
Regarding long-term development plans to transport Thornton’s Weld water, Hunt said the city is beginning to meet with county and city officials to plan a pipeline route. The city expects to build an approximately 40-inch pipeline east of Interstate 25, but specific details have yet to be determined. ❖