PUEBLO COUNTY — The troubled Pinon Rest Area on Interstate 25 between Fountain and Pueblo remains closed indefinitely due to water supply and sewage issues, with no decision set in stone on whether to repair problems.
The rest areas located on the north and southbound lanes of the interstate are the only Colorado Department of Transportation operated facilities south of Fort Collins and north of Colorado City.
Both have remained closed since March 2020 "due to a public health and safety concern" as neither location has running water to allow people to wash their hands. There was an earlier attempt to keep hand sanitizer at the locations, however, it was repeatedly stolen by visitors, according to Michelle Peulen, spokesperson for the CDOT.
Originally built in 1960 and rebuilt in 2004 at a cost of $4.7 million to taxpayers, the location features ample parking for semis, accessibility parking, restrooms, a picnic area, and vending.
In 2013, CDOT spent roughly $500,000 to install a waterless sewage system utilizing a process using mulch to naturally evaporate waste.
Fast forward to March 2017 when the system failed completely. CDOT spokesperson Michelle Peulen told News5 the state would not be able to hold the installation company liable as it was not longer in business.
At the time, CDOT estimated the cost to replace the entire sewage system at $2.5 million. Instead, the septic system was purged and cleaned, allowing a reopening in December 2017. CDOT knew at the time this was a temporary solution.
The problems with the water supply started soon after. The original design relied on well water as a supply, but in February 2018 there was a water line break and in June 2018 the water well malfunction. Clean water has not flowed from the system since.
As mentioned previously, CDOT decided to keep the facilities functioning with regular septic system cleanings and by providing travelers with hand sanitizer.
That came to an end in March 2020 as the state enacted COVID-19 protocols due to the lack of water supply.
Discussions were already underway on that point between CDOT, the Pueblo Area Council of Governments, Pueblo County Commissioners, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on a complete replacement for the sewage system, coming to an estimated cost of $2.9 million to taxpayers. While the plan was approved in May, no action has been taken on the proposal.
On Monday, Peulen said CDOT officials are in discussions about whether to spend approximately $8 million to connect the southbound rest area to Pueblo city water and another $8 million to connect the northbound area to fountain city water. She said they are also discussing whether there is still a need for the rest area, and if they should be permanently closed.
“We have to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars, so is this the way we want to spend those funds," Peulen said.
Taxpayers say they would like to be part of the discussions.
"I also question the lack of due process," said Chriss Nicoll, a regular user of the rest area. "Did they have any kind of community outreach meetings?”
For Nicoll, the issue runs much deeper than what is being presented at face value.
“Using COVID as the excuse doesn’t wash with me," he said. “CDOT needs to get off the dime and get it fixed.”