City and county officials fear operations at a landscaping business next to the Yampa River and the city's water supply could be an environmental hazard.
City and county planning staffs have concerns about potential pollutants from gasoline and pesticide storage and vehicle maintenance at Mountain West Environments, which is about 200 feet upstream from a city water storage area.
The business, which sits just outside the city's southeast limits, off U.S. Highway 40, has been operating for more than a decade. Concerns about its impact on the water supply and to the Yampa River surfaced in the last month, after city and county staff toured the site.
For about two years, the county has been working on a business development application submitted by landowner Butch Dougherty. The tour was part of the application process.
In a letter to the county planning department, the City Council listed concerns about the environmental impacts of current operations and said the proposed future uses -- which include the landscaping business, as well as miscellaneous businesses, storage use and two additional building sites -- were far outside what is allowed.
"We would question if what is happening out there now should even be happening out there because of all the apparent violations," city planner Tim McHarg said.
The site is within the contribution zone of the city and Mount Werner Water and Sanitation Districts' three infiltration galleries, which are like horizontal wells.
Currently, two, 200-gallon above ground gasoline tanks are on the site, and the business does not have any mitigation system in case of a fuel leak or spill.
"The gasoline would simply infiltrate into the ground, migrate toward the infiltration galleries through the subsurface hydrology and contaminate the public drinking water supply," a letter from the city to the county states.
Mountain West Environments owner John Sherrill said the company is careful in its operations and would take any steps necessary to protect the nearby public water supply.
The tanks have been on the property for more than 20 years, Sherrill said, and if the application is approved, the business would upgrade to current regulations.
The city also was concerned that pesticides and herbicides are stored on the site and that some are applied to plants at the site.
"We are concerned about the impact to our infiltration gallery -- that is our drinking water, for God's sake," McHarg said.
The county has conducted two water tests at the site, with the most recent being from 1995, and neither has detected pollutants.
The pesticides are stored and applied in compliance with Colorado law, Sherrill said.
Another concern for the city is the maintenance of the fleet of vehicles and to small engine machinery. The maintenance involves significant volumes of petrochemicals, lubricants, solvents and other potential chemical contaminants, the city's letter states.
Sherrill said most of the oil changes happen at commercial garages and that work done on other machinery follows regulations, with discarded oil stored in 55-gallon drums until it is picked up.
The county also is investigating illegal filling of wetlands on land that is part of the planning application but not part of Mountain West Environments. Dougherty, who lives in Hawaii, owns both parcels.
Filling and grading work have been done on wetland areas without a permit, county planner John Eastman said. The work is occurring within a 100-year floodway, which Eastman said would have the potential to affect neighbors and wash away material stored there during a flood.
The county has issued a stop-work order for the filling.
The Routt County Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the application Thursday.
Dougherty is requesting to change the property's zoning from agriculture/forestry to a planned unit development. He also is seeking a conceptual plan for a landscaping business, miscellaneous businesses and storage use and two additional building sites.
In 1992, a planned-unit development was approved for the site, but it never was given final approval. In 1994, Mountain West Environments was given a special-use permit that expired in 1996.
Since then, Dougherty has been looking at annexing the land into the city limits, Eastman said.
Eastman said the application for the PUD has been at the planning department for two years and is not quite complete.
Technically, the business could be shut down now, Eastman said, because it is operating without final PUD approval, but the county wants to work with the owner.