County planning hears an earful

SLO questions ability to enforce conditions


— Routt County Sheriff John Warner and a resident question the county planning department's ability to enforce conditions and restrictions for a county permit issued to Steamboat Lake Outfitters.

Warner and Tom Corbett are frustrated with the planning department's "reactionary approach" to monitor a trail used by the company for unguided and guided snowmobile tours.

"Why does the county have all these rules and not any way to enforce them?" Corbett asked. "They leave it up for the people around SLO to complain and then they do something. There needs to be somebody assigned to be the planning sheriff."

In 1999, Steamboat Lake Outfitters obtained a conditional-use permit from the county, which included 34 conditions and restrictions the company is to abide.

Corbett and other neighboring residents have complained to the county's planning department that the company is not abiding by these conditions and restrictions.

"Nobody is making sure the county's vision for this property is being upheld," Corbett said. "The people at SLO are sweet but they don't do what they are supposed to."

According to the permit, the conditions and restrictions outline when and how the company can operate snowmobile tours and its use of a private trail that meanders through residential property.

County Planning Director Caryn Fox said her department does not have a staff member available to ensure those who hold county permits follow conditions and restrictions.

"We try and go out to the site on an annual basis," Fox said. "We have a lot of permits we issue. We can't be out in the field all the time."

At this time, Fox has assigned one of her planners in the department to handle permit enforcement on a part-time basis.

"We don't have a person out in the field full-time," she said. "We have to rely on the operator to do a good job."

Fox requested last year for the Routt County Board of Commissioners to create a part-time position to handle this issue. The commissioners declined to create the position, Fox said.

"It is difficult," she said of the situation. "I have to alternate planners to do this work."

Commissioner Doug Monger said the county's stance on permit enforcement is it should be "complaint-driven."

"We understand the frustration," Monger said. "We are working on this issue, but to do code enforcement, that requires money. We are trying to do the best we can."

Monger said the county stance is reflective of the public's attitude toward the issue.

"We have always been reactionary instead of going out and finding violations," he said. "We feel that is the level of enforcement the public wants."

Corbett said the county's stance on the issue does not work in this case because he and his neighbors claim Steamboat Lake Outfitters regularly violates the conditions and restrictions of the permit.

Corbett claims the company has violated all 34 conditions imposed by the county since Jan. 19.

He said he relays the violations to county planning officials every Monday.

"I can prove all but one violation," Corbett said. "I have documentation."

The neighbors' biggest concern with Steamboat Lake Outfitters is its use of the half-mile trail that connects Steamboat Lake Outfitters to Forest Service Road 409.

According to the county permit, the company is to limit the number of unguided snowmobilers using the easement to 24 per day.

The neighbors claim because the company can't monitor who uses the easement, the public is using the trail to access the Columbine area. Neighbors are asking commissioners to limit the company's use of the trail to guided tours only.

If the easement were gated off, snowmobilers would have to go an extra 15 miles to access the area popular with snowmobilers.

Chad Bedell, who is a co-owner of Steamboat Lake Outfitters, said his company is working hard to follow the conditions and restrictions of the permit.

"We are doing our best to comply with the conditions the county has imposed on us," Bedell said.

Bedell acknowledges neighbors have been able to document violations but he would not directly answer if he was aware of violations.

"This is an unfortunate situation," he said. "Recreational activity in North Routt will increase, and we need to find some middle ground."

Because of the neighbors' concern of public use of the trail, Warner is having county attorney John Merrill and Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James determine if he can issue citations to snowmobilers caught on the trail who are not Steamboat Lake Outfitters customers.

"I am trying to find out if this is a civil or criminal matter," Warner said.

Warner said he is frustrated he has had to get involved in the issue.

"Why is this a law enforcement issue?" he asked. "I am not trying to be critical of the county's planning department, but there is a lack of proactive enforcement. Why haven't they regulated this better? Now, all of a sudden, law enforcement has to get involved.

"If the conditions were enforced and followed, this wouldn't be a problem."

Corbett said he is hopeful the county will take measures to address the residents' concern of Steamboat Lake Outtfitters' operations.

"I'm sick of getting hosed, and I am tired of them (SLO) getting away with it," he said.


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