Lamar Repowering Project Ends with a Crash


“By the end of June, all of this should be completely leveled and cleared.” That’s the estimate from a Jackson Demolition employee this past Monday, June 7th.  The company had been hired late last year to take down the portions of the Lamar Repowering Project that would be parted out for re-purposing or sold as scrap metal.  The company began initial demolition in January with a goal of removal by mid-summer.  The last remaining and tallest structure was the scaffolding which held the boiler unit.  Sections of the project had been cleared away earlier in the spring.  This past Monday the scaffolding was pulled down after the support legs had been cut through, allowing the complex to be toppled over into a cleared area from which it would be dismantled and hauled away.

The Stacks are Gone

Construction on the ill-fated power plant got under way in 2003.  Converting the City of Lamar’s gas powered turbine to a coal-burning unit was based on the premise that the move would save customers in the long run, as future costs of natural gas would rise in relation to the cost of using coal.

Smoke Stack is Next

Over the course of the construction period, delays accounted for cost increases for materials and a push-back on completion dates for crucial segments of the project.  These cost increases also necessitated several trips to the Lamar City Council for approval for the purchase of additional construction bonds, up to the point where then Mayor Roger Stagner and the council basically said, “Enough” to any potential similar requests.

The plant never produced sufficient power in accordance with its air quality permits and several years in, an environmental group, WildEarth Guardians, ran two successful and costly lawsuits against the plant based on air quality concerns and the City of Trinidad also filed a lawsuit to separate itself from the project.  Trinidad was one of several cities that would be obligated to receive power from ARPA, Arkansas River Power Authority.

With no working power plant, customers saw an increase in their utility bills, paying for electricity now being bought off the grid as well as still paying off the cost of the construction bonds.  Lamar Light and Power also had to cut operating costs with the layoff of several employees.  The impact was especially felt at the business level, triggering several meetings that began in 2013 between the Lamar Utility Board and representatives from such operations as the Ports to Plains Truck Plaza, Cow Palace Inn, Colorado Mills, Five Rivers Beef and several private citizens, all asking for some form of action that could help reduce power costs.  During an ARPA board meeting in May of 2013, Rick Robbins, of Colorado Mills, said some businesses are investigating alternatives to ARPA while seeking ways to cut back on power usage, noting Ports to Plains was switching to LED lighting.  Robbins told the group, “We’re at the point where we are exploring our own private power supplies to lower our costs, and when that happens it will be the start of an implosion, as your rates will be on the backs of fewer customers,” he said.  Robbins added that their concerns were not just for their own costs, but for the entire community.  He added, “We can fix our own issues when we bring in our own generators, but it’s not fixing the issues of our employees.”  Robbins warned that he didn’t believe that matters will improve, stating, “We’re just entering the first couple of years of this situation.  What do you think the business community will be like in the next ten or twenty?”

ARPA and the Light Plant held several public hearings and briefed the Lamar City Council on various proposals.  Declaring bankruptcy and defaulting on the bonds was not an option due to legal and financial ramifications, as well as negatively impacting the city’s bond ratings.  The City of Lamar filed lawsuits against ARPA seeking financial redress on its own behalf and at one point, it appeared negotiations with Tri-State G & T as a potential buyer of the bonds would become a possibility, giving customers an estimated 10% reduction on their utility bills once the deal was completed.  However, all the ARPA member cities had to be unanimous in their approval.  The City of La Junta decided against the proposal ending a year of negotiations.  The entire project had been up for sale for some time with no interested parties.  To that end, it was decided to piecemeal what materials could be sold, with the property north of Maple Street including the coal domes being purchased by a local agricultural firm and the structures to the south, sold off as scrap.  While some of the initial construction bonds have been paid down, customers will still bear the economic brunt of the project for years to come.

By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: City of LamarConsumer IssuesEventsFeaturedUtilities

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