Stuart Orzach: Watching out for us
March 17, 2012
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.