Steamboat Springs Rural landowners found strength in numbers Tuesday night.
At a meeting of the Steamboat Springs City Council, eight landowners and ranchers spoke against a proposed watershed protection ordinance that is intended to keep pollutants out of Steamboat's water but, in doing so, would increase regulations on future agricultural activities in rural areas outside of city limits. More than 20 people came to Centennial Hall to hear the discussion of the ordinance, which dominated a meeting that also included council approval of two large-scale, mixed-use developments.
After nearly an hour of public comment and discussion about the ordinance, the City Council resolved to form a committee that, during the next several months, will gather public input about potential impacts of watershed protection and draft an ordinance that is more agreeable to all parties involved.
City Council President Susan Dellinger said the committee likely will include City Manager Alan Lanning, Routt County Cooperative Extension Service Director C.J. Mucklow, Kim Vogel of the U.S. Forest Service, City Attorney Tony Lettunich and members of the ranching community.
Lanning invited residents who want to provide input or serve on the committee to call his office at 871-8228.
"We support the suggestion to step back and work with these groups," said Rod Hanna, president of Sidney Peak Ranch south of Steamboat. "This ordinance is not just a slap in the face for agriculture, it also has the potential to severely impact the ability of ranchers to make a living."
The ordinance in its current form would require landowners in designated rural areas to obtain a permit from the city for activities including excavation and grading; use of any pesticide or herbicide; removal of any vegetation or trees; alteration of any watercourse; and discharging pollutants into any watercourse.
Authors of the ordinance, including Lettunich and water attorney Glenn Porzak, say the ordinance has a "grandfather clause" for current ranching activities and would primarily allow the city to regulate future large-scale construction projects in Steamboat's watershed.
Areas potentially impacted by the ordinance extend five miles from the city's Fish Creek Municipal Water Intake east of city limits; from Steamboat's Municipal Well A, south of city limits along portions of Colorado Highway 131; and from a future water diversion on the Elk River northwest of city limits.
State law allows Colorado municipalities to enact regulations protecting water supplies in areas outside of a city or town's boundaries.
The council tabled the ordinance Dec. 19 and sent notification letters to residents south of Steamboat on Thursday. Several residents criticized the council for the delay in public notice.
"This is not the way to gain the trust of those you seek to regulate," Hanna said.
"I'm glad that we have slowed down this process," council member Paul Strong responded. "This is a city issue that has been handled poorly so far. At this point in time, I don't think it's a legal issue - I think it's a public relations issue."
Council members unanimously agreed to move forward with discussion of how to best protect Steamboat's water quality.
"These are good first steps," council member Ken Brenner said. "It's almost as if we are negligent in our job, as a city, if we don't pursue a watershed ordinance. This discussion is long overdue."
Also Tuesday, the council gave final approval to The Victoria and Sundance North Village, two developments that will significantly add to Steamboat's surging growth.
The Victoria will be built at Lincoln Avenue and 10th Street, currently the site of Rocky Mountain Wine and Liquor Co. The three-story Victoria building will fill nearly all of the large corner lot and will be the tallest structure in the vicinity.
Sundance North Village will include residences, offices and retail in four buildings on the north side of Anglers Drive. The location is across Anglers from the Sundance at Fish Creek shopping center, which includes a U.S. Post Office and the Egg & I restaurant.
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