As a developer, he sees too many hurdles to new business and industry
If Montezuma County wants economic development, people need to get past the “not in my backyard” attitude and embrace different types of industry.
That’s the belief of Casey McClellan, a Republican candidate for county commissioner in District 3 (the Mancos area). He is facing Dewayne Findley in the June 26 primary.
“The last three years have been the toughest years economically for me ever, and I’m sure it’s no different for millions of other people,” he said. “It’s just tough to make it right now. What is frustrating for me is, I feel our rules and regulations and interpretation of the land-use code and our not-in-my-backyard attitude – they all contribute to the lack of economic growth in Montezuma County.”
As examples, McClellan – a developer who owns the real-estate company Timberline Properties and the sand and gravel company McStone Aggregates – cited two of his projects. In 2008, he sought a high-impact permit for a gravel pit, concrete batch plant and asphalt plant on the north side of Highway 160 just west of Mancos.
“The gravel pit would have had the greatest impact [on neighbors], but it was approved and the other two were denied [by the county commissioners], and right over the fence, another company got an asphalt plant approved,” he said. “I’m still scratching my head.”
The other example is a storage, treatment and recycling facility for energy exploration and production (E&P) wastes he had proposed on 83 acres of a larger tract he owns near Hovenweep National Monument. The proposal created a furor among neighbors who worried about health and environmental impacts, and in 2009 the commissioners rejected it 2-1. Mc- Clellan sued the county over the rejection, but courts upheld the board’s decision.
“That was a tough one to lose,” McClellan said. “There weren’t going to be [environmental] problems. It was a good clean green project and a lot of people came out in opposition because they didn’t want it around them.”
After the denial, McClellan got approval to build the facility in Dolores County. “We had overwhelming support. There weren’t four people in Dolores County that weren’t for it. But it wasn’t a better location, it was just that Dolores County is open to anything and didn’t feel there would be problems.”
He emphasized that he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder because of the denials. “I just want to make the point that I know firsthand how difficult it is to make something happen in Montezuma County. As a commissioner I would take a more progressive and open-minded approach to growth and business development.”
McClellan believes many locals oppose development because they don’t want residential growth. “When I was working on permitting that pit in Mancos, a guy told me that growth should have stopped 20 years ago when he couldn’t see another house from his home.”
McClellan doesn’t share that view. “I wouldn’t try to prevent anybody from coming into the county.”
At a recent meeting of the local 9-12 Project, he was asked if he would have a “proactive open-minded approach to progress.” He said he would be open to any proposal. “If somebody wanted to build a hydrochloric-acid-manufacturing plant and put it on a barge in McPhee, I’d say, ‘Let’s see it’.”
McClellan served a year on the board of the Montezuma County Economic Development Association, a private group, but found it frustrating, particularly when he learned some members opposed his E&P waste-recycling facility. “Not one of those people had asked me to explain my project, and when I tried to talk about it, one guy got up and walked out of the board meeting. An economic development board like that is a roadblock to economic development.”
McClellan said he would particularly like to see oil and gas production expand locally. “If there was one thing that could turn our local economy around faster, that would be it.”
Low natural-gas prices have been a major factor in slowing gas exploration in the area, but McClellan also blames Colorado’s strict energy regulations and the BLM’s process for scrutinizing drilling permits on Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
“It’s not been easy for [carbon-dioxide producer] Kinder Morgan to obtain drilling permits in the monument,” he said. “Before it was a national monument it might have taken three to six months.” The process now can take years, although BLM officials say most of the monument is leased for drilling and new permits are regularly approved.
McClellan describes himself as a conservative Republican and a strong believer in personal property rights. He regularly attends meetings of the local 9-12 Project/Tea Party and says “they’ve got great principles and values.” He is the nephew of the only female commissioner the county has had so far, Helen McClellan, a Democrat. “Political views don’t always run in the family,” he said with a laugh.
A former member of the county planning commission, he is a member of the Southwest Public Lands Commission, an alternate on the countyappointed Public Lands Coordination Commission, and a founding member of Timberline Trail Riders (a recreation-access advocacy group).
“After being on all these boards, I recognize that you can accomplish more for the county as a commissioner,” he said. “A lot of other groups exist out of being frustrated with county commissioners.”
McClellan came late to the commission race, though he has considered a run for years. Last year he ruled out a bid because his businesses were struggling and he was going through a divorce. However, his former wife gave him her endorsement and said she’d campaign for him, so he agreed to let himself be nominated at the Republican county assembly. He received enough votes to make it onto the ballot, along with Findley.
He said he likes the current commissioners but believes they should take a “stronger position against road closures on public lands.” The 9-12 Project has been vocal in opposing the closing of roads to motorized access, although Forest Service officials say most road closures involve old logging routes or user-created trails that weren’t supposed to be permanent roads.
McClellan praised the current commissioners for moving to amend the land-use code to encourage landowners to zone their property, and to change the category called “unzoned” to “historic zoning” to clarify that no tracts are without zoning entirely. “I like the direction it appears the commissioners are going with that,” he said.
If elected, McClellan plans to continue running his businesses and said he doesn’t believe that will cause problems. If he has a development proposal before the county, he said he would recuse himself from any votes on it, and if the other two commissioners split on his proposal, it wouldn’t move forward. “Whatever I need to do [about getting permits], I’d like to do this year, so it doesn’t become an issue anyway,” he said.
McClellan said he doesn’t see the need for full-time commissioners, something that a possible unaffiliated rival in the general election, Greg Kemp, has called for. “I am busy, and I do get myself involved in an awful lot of things. That’s just me. I can’t stop myself if it’s something I’m passionate about.
“I don’t see the necessity of a commissioner devoting 100 percent of his time to that. They only meet on Monday. I guess I disagree with Greg’s statement.”
He recently hired a friend to help with his businesses, and said he was always able to find time to be well-prepared during his 3 1/2 years on the planning commission.
If elected, he said, he will work to make sure people’s rights to develop their property as they see fit are upheld, within modest limits. The county has every right to step in if something is creating noise or smells that are above thresholds, he said, but such instances are rare. “Rules are in place to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community, but I don’t believe there are many instances where that is even required.”
He said he supports the U.S. and state constitutions. “Their purpose is to protect our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, and a significant piece of that is personal property rights.”