By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — If people travel to Colfax for an event, such as a wedding or a class reunion, or to enjoy the bike routes or canoeing on the Red Cedar River, where are they are going to stay?
Right now, people would have to stay in Menomonie or Eau Claire, and a motel in Colfax would be a welcome addition to the village was the conclusion of the Colfax Plan Commission at the February 4 meeting.
For the past six months, the Colfax Plan Commission has been working on updating the village’s Smart Growth comprehensive land use plan with the help of Patrick Beilfuss of Cedar Corporation.
The topic for discussion at the February 4 meeting was economic development.
Colfax should encourage and support recreation and tourism, Beilfuss said, noting that bike routes would be one example.
The Red Cedar State Trail near Menomonie attracts quite a number of people to the area. The trail is a destination, which means that people seek out the destination, travel specifically to Menomonie for it and then stay in Menomonie to take advantage of it, he said.
The Red Cedar trail generates about a million dollars per year in economic activity for the Menomonie area, Beilfuss said.
Biking, birding and canoeing bring in more money in the state than hunting and fishing, he said.
Plan commission member Gary Stene pointed out that the Red Cedar River would be an excellent resource for Colfax to promote for tubing and canoeing.
Although plan commission members did not mention it, the Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area is not far from Colfax either.
Community events that draw people to Colfax also should be supported and encouraged, Beilfuss said, adding that community events tend to generate economic activity for retail stores, restaurants, taverns and gas stations.
The Colfax Free Fair and the Colfax Firefighters’ Ball are two annual events that have been held in Colfax for many years, Stene noted.
Colfax also will be celebrating its sesquicentennial in July.
The village should support and encourage events and celebrations as a way to bring people into Colfax, Beilfuss said.
Many times when people come for event, they look around and see what else there is to do and will come back another time, he said.
What if Colfax could partner with the two large dairies to the north and the south of the village to use methane or digester manure to generate electricity?
Scott Gunnufson, village president and chair of the plan commission, suggested that several renewable energy opportunities might be available for Colfax.
Would it be possible to use the Red Cedar River to generate electricity for the industrial park? Gunnufson wondered.
Solar panels also would be a possibility, and so would wind energy, Beilfuss said.
Jason Johnson, plan commission member, reported that some municipalities are using methane to generate steam power to turn a turbine and are selling the electricity generated and noted that two large dairies are located close to Colfax.
The village could look into a partnership with those dairies for generating electricity, Beilfuss said.
Large dairies are using manure digesters because of land constraints. If the manure is spread on land, the dairies are required to have 1.5 acres available for each cow, he said.
“If all levels of government were in service to their people the way they should be, the government would be investigating this,” Stene said.
“Aren’t we here to do what’s good for the people? Common sense would dictate that we do this,” he said.
“Let’s look into it and see if it’s feasible to generate electricity with digester manure,” he said.
The plan commission identified a number of strengths for Colfax that would be beneficial for economic development.
For example, Colfax has quite a lot of open land around the perimeter of the village.
Unfortunately, the village does not own any of the land, but there is open land, Stene pointed out.
Another strength is that the village has additional wastewater treatment capacity for more residential units and more industry.
Colfax also has two major highways running through the village — state Highways 40 and 170 — and is only eight miles from Interstate 94.
The village has a good educational system as well, is close to the university system with the campuses in Eau Claire and Menomonie, is 110 miles from the University of Minnesota, and people in the area have a strong work ethic, Stene said.
A weakness for Colfax is the availability of a work force for a larger industry, combined with the fact that there are no available residential or industrial lots in the village.
If a larger industry wanted to locate in Colfax, there would not be enough people to work at the industry and there would be no place for people to live who might want to move to Colfax to work for the industry.
The cost of dealing with phosphorus discharge could be a weakness for the village, too, along with older sewer and water infrastructure that will need to be replaced.
A lack of fiber optics and high-speed Internet service is another weakness.
If the infrastructure for high-speed Internet were available, people could telecommute to jobs from Colfax, Beilfuss said.
The infrastructure for telecommuting would help attract new residents to Colfax, he said.
In other business, the Colfax Plan Commission:
• Approved recommending the annexation of Evergreen Cemetery to the Colfax Village Board.
• Scheduled the April meeting for the second Tuesday instead of the first Tuesday. The first Tuesday on April 1 is election day.
The Colfax Plan Commission meets next on March 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the village hall. All members of the community are welcome to attend the meetings.