The final straw.
That was how several local citizens described their reaction to a proposal by Kinder Morgan, the giant carbon-dioxide company, to build a 70-foot communications tower near their Pleasant View residences.
“Everything Kinder Morgan and its contractors do changes our view and changes our beautiful and quiet neighborhood long-term,” Katrina Baumgartner told the Montezuma County commissioners June 15 at a public hearing about the tower proposal.
Ultimately, however, the commissioners approved an amendment to a high-impact permit to allow Kinder Morgan to erect the tower on private property east of Road 9 and north of BB, next to an existing company facility called the CC Cluster. The vote was divided, with Commissioner James Lambert voting against the tower, Keenan Ertel and Larry Don Suckla in favor.
Following that hearing, however, the board chose to delay approval of a second Kinder Morgan communications tower in a different location, on Goodman Point.
Approximately 18 people attended the first hearing, with several speaking in opposition to the tower and none in favor.
The towers are used to relay data, such as pressure and temperature, to the nearest cluster facility.
“If there is an alarm condition we want to get someone out there immediately,” said Matt Ammerman of Kinder Morgan.
Baumgartner cited a number of objections to the tower she said would ruin her family’s view of the skyline. In addition, she said, she was concerned about radio waves and frequencies and interference with crop-spraying aircraft.
She said the company should have known in advance that it would need to be build the tower, rather than having to come back to the commissioners to amend the original high-impact permit.
“There seems to be a complete lack of engineering and planning on your parts,” Baumgartner said. “You come back and come back and come back.
“As large a company as this is, you would think there would be more foresight.”
She said trash has proliferated in the Cow Canyon area west of Pleasant View where a great deal of CO2 activity is occurring, and that local residents “constantly wonder what’s coming next.”
“The tower is another footprint. . . for our lifetimes,” she said. “How many more are you guys going to need?”
The pace of development in what Kinder Morgan calls the Cow Canyon Field has been intense in the past two years. According to company documents, its plans for the field include 18 CO2 production wells, as many as four cluster facilities (where CO2 from different sources is dehydrated and combined into a larger pipeline), one central processing plant and, of course, pipelines connecting all the components.
The company’s various proposals have come before the county Planning and Zoning Commission and the commissioners one by one, leading to complaints from citizens that it’s difficult to see the big picture. Kinder Morgan’s recent rush to develop the Cow Canyon Field has led to the formation of a grassroots group called REAP (Resource and Environmental Advocacy and Protection) of Southwest Colorado, as well as many far-ranging discussions between the commissioners and citizens from the formerly quiet rural area.
“We’ve worked our whole lives to have the peace and quiet and serenity and beauty we have there, and it’s gone,” Baumgartner said.
Janet Condreay, who owns a tract on Road 9 directly east of the cluster facility, said instead of her window looking out on a beautiful pastoral scene, it will frame the 70-foot tower.
Sue Dusenberry, who lives a half-mile from the site, said she was away for the winter when she received a notice about the company’s plans. “I understood there would be one building and. . . I could put up with it,” she said. “It would look like a barn. Now there are two storage tanks, two buildings built and one under construction, two poles. It can’t pass as a barn any more.”
Dusenberry continued, “Machinery is beeping all day long. The deer in the area are no longer around.”
She also complained of damage to Road BB, saying the company has been sending gravel trucks along that road instead of routes it is supposed to be using.
“I’m just concerned about all the industrialization of my community,” she said.
Choked with emotion, she said she had put her home up for sale and then lowered the price by $30,000, to no avail. “I’m way below assessed value and no one’s even looking at it,” she said.
She said Kinder Morgan could afford to put up a more aesthetically pleasing colored or camouflaged communications tower. “If this were a big city, they would put in a pine tree,” she said.
Suckla responded that there is a local farmer hauling gravel that must be whom Dusenberry sees on BB. The county has never caught a Kinder Morgan/contractor truck going down BB, he said.
The board then discussed the idea of camouflaging the tower, but Kinder Morgan representatives said the notion of a 70-foot-tall pine tree seemed more jarring than the tower itself, which is triangular and 18 inches on each side.
County Planning Director LeeAnn Milligan said the Planning and Zoning Commission had had the same sentiment. “P and Z thought a tree that tall would be ridiculous,” she said.
Ellen Foster told the board it has a responsibility to protect property values, “not to just throw up your hands and say, ‘We can’t do anything about this – they’re here and we have to deal with it’.”
The county land-use code calls for protecting rural character and visual aesthetics, she noted.
Suckla questioned Dusenberry about the value of her house. She said it is offered now for just $9,000 over its value when she bought it 12 years ago.
Baumgartner interjected, “It’s not just the value of our land. It’s our life. I don’t plan on selling my land unless I can’t stand to live there any more. I plan on dying there. It’s our home.”
M.B. McAfee told the commissioners, “You sitting in power did not try to hold [Kinder Morgan] accountable” for explaining in advance the extent of the development they were envisioning in Cow Canyon. “Had you done so, the people in general would have been far more allayed of concerns about the industrialization happening around Pleasant View.”
But Kinder Morgan’s Ammerman said three cluster facilities built in the area – called CB, CD and CC – are exactly as they were first presented to the county and were not expanded beyond original plans. “We’re not adding any facilities to these clusters,” he said. The CB and CD clusters have been reclaimed already and the same will be done at CC, he said.
“I think the wave of traffic is going to go way down by the end of July,” he said.
Ertel asked Baumgartner about the trash she sees. She said it includes beer cans and bottles, cigarette packs, water bottles, and industrial materials in bar ditches and along roadsides. “Mostly it’s workers throwing their waste out instead of taking it home,” she said. “In the past it was cleaned up and now here it is again.”
Ertel voiced skepticism about the tower ruining the landscape. “You’re talking about aesthetics and views of nature and seeing the countryside,” he said. “Center pivots are the most ugly piece of equipment I’ve seen in my life. . .
“Sixty feet from your house is a gigantic aluminum center-pivot sprinkler and now you’re saying that a 50-foot tower [it will be in a depression] a half-mile away is going to destroy your ability to enjoy your views.”
Baumgartner said the problem was the accumulation of impacts. “They add this and then they add this. . . What we have is gone.”
“These people have a right – they bought the land and bought the rights to minerals from willing sellers,” Ertel replied. “As far as that tower generating a gigantic eyesore. . . I don’t see how this little 18-inch tower is going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“That’s it,” responded Dusenberry. “It was the last straw, after the cluster facility and wastewater lines through our front yards. It’s just one thing after another. It’s not the tower – I know what you’re saying. It’s the last straw. What is next?”
Suckla then weighed in, commenting, “First, commissioners don’t have power, they have privilege. We’re supposed to be the voice of the majority of the people in the county. Power – I hate that word.”
He said that, far from being passive in the face of Kinder Morgan’s activities, the commission had fought with the company over proposed electric lines and road maintenance.
In addition, the current board continued to pursue a previously filed lawsuit against Kinder Morgan over how it figures its revenues, and recently – after years of litigation – won a victory from the Colorado Court of Appeals that means more tax monies locally.
The problem, Suckla said, is that “we have the largest CO2 field in the world out there, and that has screwed everything up for the people who live out there, but it’s not going away.”
The tower, he added, doesn’t emit odors or make noise. “I have yet to see that one tower would lower property values. . . value is what somebody will pay.”
The board then voted to amend the high-impact permit, with Lambert dissenting because he wanted other communications options explored first.
Following that, the commissioners took up a second application for an amended high-impact permit to build another Kinder Morgan communications tower on private property west of Road 16 and north of Road N, on Goodman Point.
Local resident Bryan Black told the board that a week ago he had sold his grandmother’s place to his son and daughter-in-law. “The tower will be just across the hay shed,” he said. “They will have a tower in their front window. I have no huge objections to towers or the industry, but the towers are tall.”
He asked, “Does it have to be right there?”, adding, “If it was out in the field far away, there would be no issue really.”
He said to place such a structure right next to somebody’s home is “just unneighborly.”
His daughter-in-law, Kelsie Black, suggested alternatives such as using other beacon towers.
The board seemed sympathetic. Ertel asked the Kinder Morgan representatives if they had known all along they would need communications and whether the towers were in their original plans.
Ammerman said they had known but the towers weren’t in the plans.
Suckla then asked if they could build a shorter tower and bounce that signal to a nearby tower and on to the larger facility.
Ammerman said that might be possible because the layout of the land meant there were more communications options at the Goodman Point location than in Cow Canyon. The board then decided to continue that hearing to June 29.
However, Kinder Morgan subsequently withdrew its application for that tower.
But the discussions and debate have continued.
At the June 22 commission meeting, Ellen Foster addressed the board during the public-comment period, telling them, “It’s time for the county commissioners to take a comprehensive look at the effects of energy development. I’d like to know what your vision for the future is.
“If you allow unrestrained oil and gas exploration and production, it won’t be long before we look just like Farmington and Ignacio. . . Lots of people who own small rural properties will have a drilling rig, a compressor station, communications tower, or pipelines on their land.”
She said the Pleasant View area “has been sacrificed to provide benefits for the good of the whole county. We should all be embarrassed that we’ve profited from their misfortune.”
Foster added, “Your ultimate responsibility is to the residents of the county, not to Kinder Morgan.”
The board moved on with its scheduled agenda, but later in the day, Ertel told Foster that Kinder Morgan’s footprint is fairly modest for the amount of extraction the company is doing. He said the company probably has no bigger impact on the natural environment than farmers and ranchers with their hay barns and sprinkling systems.
Foster said people wanted to preserve the area’s rural character, not a completely natural environment.
Gala Pock, a Pleasant View resident, said the commissioners were not acting in accordance with existing zoning.
Although the Pleasant View area is largely zoned agricultural, she said, it is becoming industrial and residential. “The whole character of the countryside is changing and the land-use code isn’t addressing that,” Pock said.
“Compressor plants are big and they have a lot of traffic,” she continued, “and yet people say, ‘That’s only temporary.’ . . .Well, I’m not going to live to see the end of them and probably not even John [Baxter, the county attorney] – you’re probably the youngest person in the room – will live to see the end of them.”