Townsend H. Anderson: Question the county

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In the course of 12 months' participation in the County Commissioners' application to the U.S. Corps of Engineers to disturb a wetlands, several facts have come to light that might contribute to the public discussion.

The City Council expressed in writing its hope that the County Commissioners would build the new court facility downtown, in accordance with the 1995 Area Community Plan. The letter was dated March 5, 2003.

The overwhelming reasons that county residents voted down the 2002 bond were cost and size and a dislike for tax increases. The County Commissioners acknowledged publicly that a vote on the west site likely would be defeated, too. Thus, they opted to use Certificates of Participation to finance the court facility.

I spoke with Commissioners Nancy Stahoviak and Dan Ellison in the summer and fall of 2003, respectively, expressing my disappointment with their decision and my intent to disagree publicly. Subsequently, I wrote a series of articles about the Justice Center that were published in the Pilot & Today, and Friends of the Justice Center soon thereafter encouraged residents to submit comments to the Corps of Engineers within the specified 30 day comment period. The corps is required by law to solicit public comment and to consider those comments in its review of an application. We could not comment any sooner than the public notice was published -- Nov. 21, 2003. To suggest that our objection came at the eleventh hour demonstrates a woeful ignorance of federal law.

The corps' district representative advised the county not to purchase the land until it had received its wetlands permit. The county purchased the land anyway.

The 404 guidelines that the corps uses for its review of wetlands applications are quite clear: where an activity is not water dependent, a practicable alternative is presumed to be available.

Commissioner Monger exclaimed that the corps was unprofessional and had no business meddling in local land-use decisions. Commissioner Monger told Lafarge that it must get a wetlands permit from the Corps of Engineers before the commissioners would give any further consideration to their request for a county development permit.

Commissioner Doug Monger said that building in the downtown would be a "disservice" to County residents. Does this mean that during 10 years of citizen planning for the downtown site and Commissioner Stahoviak's endorsement of the 1995 Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan on behalf of the Routt County Board of Commissioners were a disservice?

The county is now in the middle of a 30 day period in which it must either provide additional information to the corps to substantiate its concerns, or the corps will proceed with denial. Of utmost importance is the opportunity during this period for the county to withdraw its application. If the corps denies the permit application, neither the county nor any subsequent land owner can submit an application that looks anything like the application that was denied. The value of the land would decrease accordingly. On the other hand, if the county withdraws its application, it would "retain the right to submit a revised application at a later date." By not withdrawing its application, the county is gambling with our public assets. The value of the land could become less than what the county (we) paid for it.

Developers in this community never would take such a foolish risk with their own money.

Furthermore, no developer would have commissioned architectural and engineering work other than that which was absolutely necessary to secure the permit in question.

Who and what are causing a "disservice" to county residents and, in particular, those county residents who live in the city in which the county judicial facilities, by law, must be located? We have a right and a responsibility to question the commissioners and to hold them accountable. It's worth thinking about.

Townsend H. Anderson

Friends of the Justice Center

Steamboat Springs

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