Stuart Orzach: Watching out for us

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Many questions have been raised in the past several months about the compatibility of large-scale, unconventional oil and gas exploration, a heavy industrial use, in Routt County. Can Routt County accommodate the scope, scale and impacts of these operations and still protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents? Routt County elected officials and staff are responsible for providing this protection. But based on recent events, we have to wonder whether these officials and staff are up to the job. We also have to wonder just whose side they’re on.

The most recent incident was brought to the commissioners’ attention this week. To accommodate the applicant, the county changed the date of the quasi-judicial hearing to consider the Quicksilver Resources application for a special-use permit to drill a second exploratory oil well at Wolf Mountain. The published notice, however, contained the wrong date. This violated the public notice requirements set forth in Routt County zoning regulations. 

If the hearing were held as scheduled, it would have been a serious mistake. Colorado case law (Whatley v. Summit County Board of Commissioners) indicates that, had the Routt County Board of Commissioners held the hearing Monday, it would have failed to comply with one of the mandatory conditions precedent to the proper exercise of power, effectively invalidating the county’s statutory grant of authority and rendering the county powerless to act. Thus, any decision made by the commissioners could have been challenged in a court of law and rendered invalid.

Routt County taxpayers pay the salaries of county staff with the expectation that they are not only competent in what they do but also are looking out for the welfare of its residents. Yet we have witnessed the most basic regulations governing public notice bungled. This provides further evidence that in Routt County, the residents must be the monitors, inspectors and enforcers of the law. 

It is easy to understand why the county’s ability to create and enforce proper regulations to fulfill its legal obligation to residents has been called into question repeatedly during recent meetings. Commissioners have yet to address potential cumulative impacts from full-scale oil and gas drilling operations. When you combine the lack of basic notification procedures and questionable due diligence efforts with the inability to produce regulations to protect residents, it brings into question the credibility of the commissioners, the county staff, as well as the entire process for handing this most important issue.

All concerned residents should attend the hearing at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Commissioners Hearing Room on the top floor of the old courthouse to get answers to questions that affect our quality of life and to make their views known on this watershed decision.

Stuart Orzach

Steamboat Springs

Comments

Steve Lewis 2 years ago

I understand our County staff work hard, and I believe they do their best. They should be congratulated for advancing oil and gas regulations, though I feel not far enough. My complaint there really rests with their attorneys' caution and with Doug Monger's caution. The attorneys need to take a look around the state and see other jurisdictions are doing more than Routt County.

But I did not agree with Stuart's strong wording above.

Today, reading the BOCC packet and seeing acknowledged letters from myself and from my wife are not in that packet, and remembering Stuart's earlier similar problem, I had to wonder what is the meaning of a Routt County packet? Turns out that the deadline stated to Linda and I was really a day too late. I suggested they change the "deadline". Too bad the packet won't show our dissenting voices.

But my discussion crossed Stuart's earlier emails to Chad Phillips re: 5 letters missing from the previous RCPC packet. At County discretion, they are culling some comments as "not pertinent". Today Chad Phillips and Doug Monger described this new County policy to me - comments they consider ill founded will not be in future packets. They will be posted in some corner of their website, i.e. the waste bin.

The City is writing a similar we-know-better attitude into the CDC downtown, with increased administrative approvals that will never hear from Joe Citizen. The city will describe it this way - they do not want to hear arguments not grounded in city law. I describe it another way - the planning director will decide the boundaries of city law without our help.

Both policies are dead wrong. The public's thinking should be heard. If they speak beyond a given law consistently, then the law should be changed. These new government policies preclude that ever happening.

I begin to think Stuart may be right. Just whose side are they on? If the public desires to speak onto the public record of a project that should be their privilege. No you can't?

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