Townsend H. Anderson: Three wrongs, no right

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Three wrongs: one, a decision against a Community Plan, two, destruction of a wetlands, and three, draining the economic vitality from downtown -- do not make a right. We have at least two opportunities to reverse this course and place our investment in our government facilities where we specifically directed it to be.

First, the County has applied for a U.S. Army Corp of Engineers permit to fill about 1.4 acres of the 2.5 acre wetland meadow and marsh. By law, we have an opportunity to comment on the merits of the application by the county. The application is posted on the Internet for public comment at www.spk.usace.army.mil.

The county has alternatives to destroying a wetland. The wetland is serving a useful function filtering the increasing amounts of surface runoff caused by increasing amounts of impermeable surfaces associated with west end development before it reaches the Yampa River. The single greatest source of river pollution is runoff, and it's only going to get worse. The proposed mitigation does nothing to replace the loss to the immediate area. According to the Corp of Engineers guidelines, "the decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impact, including cumulative impacts of the proposed activity on the public interest." The comment period ends December 20.

Second, we can write or call our City Council members and request that they hold the county commissioners accountable to the 1995 Community Plan. This is the single most important action that the City Council can take for the future of planning in Steamboat Springs.

The decision of the county commissioners is tantamount to a "breach of trust." What is the value of this plan and all future plans, and the considerable hours and hard work that community members have put into them, if our elected officials refuse to defend and abide by them?

This issue of accountability, of predictability and trust, is the common ground for all of us, no matter our political views. It is not unreasonable to expect and direct our City Council to do whatever it can lawfully do to hold county commissioners to the 1995 Plan, even if this means taking them to court. After all, the City Council is preparing to go to court to secure recreation water rights for Steamboat Springs residents, and recreation water rights are not even mentioned in the 1995 plan.

Just as recreation water rights will have a profound positive impact on the Yampa River -- a public resource -- for generations to come, the location of the new justice center will have a profound impact on development patterns and public investments for the next 100 years and beyond. Shouldn't the City Council give it the same weight and consideration, and fight equally hard for it?

The esteemed economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, once remarked that "historic preservationists are a curious group. They never regret the consequences of their actions." I would amend this to include those citizens who support the continued investment and reinvestment in our downtowns and main streets.

After hearing the common sense advice of Kent Burnes, and believing the citizens of Steamboat Springs know common sense when they see it, I am convinced this is a battle worth fighting. This Courthouse location decision is one that will have enormous influence and impact on the social, economic, and civic patterns of our town for another century. We have a history of knowing the right thing to do. Witness the citizen leadership that followed the debacle of proposing to relocate our high school outside of town; that leadership came up with the best solution, and none of us regret the consequences of that action. We can achieve the same consequences with the Justice Center. Indeed, we must.

Editor's Note:

This is the third in a three-part commentary examining Routt County's decision to build a new justice center west of the city. Parts 1 and 2 appeared Saturday and Sunday.

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