by Gail Binkly | February 1, 2015 5:55 pm
Tim Hunter did not go quietly.
During his final meeting as a member of the Montezuma County Planning and Zoning Commission on Dec. 18, the Mancos-area builder and vice chair of Planning and Zoning was a vocal participant.
Hunter, who joined P&Z as an alternate in September 2006, has been one of its most active and outspoken members since becoming a full member in January 2009. He had hoped to reapply for the board after his second term ended in December 2014. However, the county commissioners decided not to fill his seat but instead to have a smaller board.
Bylaws allow the P&Z board to have anywhere from five to seven members. Typically it has had seven, although it had six at the end of 2012. In January 2014, the commissioners appointed two new members, Michael Gaddy and Mike Rosso, after one person left, bringing it up to seven again.
P&Z is strictly an advisory board, screening land-use changes and permit applications before they go the commissioners. The board also raises issues for consideration by the commission and considers possible changes to the land-use code.
P&Z had seven members as recently as last September, but then Gala Pock was dismissed after she told a Kinder Morgan employee to “go to hell” during a break in a meeting, a remark she conceded had been over the top.
On Dec. 15, the commissioners said they believed the board – now at five – has a sufficiently diverse representation of interests, and specifically cited the construction and energy industries. Current members are Chairman Dennis Atwater, a retired attorney; Kelly Belt of Belt Salvage; Gaddy, a constitutionalist; Rosso, a builder; and Bob Clayton, a former employee of Kinder Morgan who is currently working as a consultant for Empire Electric in its negotiations with KM over supplying power to its massive Cow Canyon expansion.
The commissioners said a smaller board would be more efficient.
P&Z was at odds with the county commissioners during the last couple of years, as the commissioners sought to make changes to the Dolores River Valley Plan, a special section in the land-use code. The commissioners asked P&Z four times to recommend changes to the river-valley plan, only to have P&Z come back with the answer that they didn’t believe changes were needed.
Hunter got into hot water in the summer of 2013 when, in a letter to the editor in local papers, he criticized the commissioners for granting a variance for a gazebo built on the Dolores River in violation of the 100- foot setback contained in the river-valley plan. At that time, the commissioners voted 2-1 against a motion to throw Hunter off P&Z.
On Dec. 18, after the P&Z board discussed and approved permits for two Kinder Morgan projects, they heard from Atwater, the chairman, regarding some draft language he has been working on at the county commissioners’ request for possible adoption into the county land-use code.
The language concerns private vs. public land ownership, water rights, and access to federal public lands.
Hunter, who serves on the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Southwest Basin Roundtable, took issue with one statement in Atwater’s draft language about water rights that said, “Because Colorado is a prior- appropriation State, case law has asserted that there are no navigable rivers in Colorado, Stockman v. Leddy, 55 Colo. 24 129 P, 220 (1912).”
Hunter said the matter was not nearly so simple, and this one case does not necessarily make it clear that the issue of “navigable rivers” has been decided for the state.
Then, when Atwater handed out a multipage document containing rough-draft language regarding access, roads, and rightsof- way on public lands, Hunter again took issue with some of it.
Atwater said the county commissioners have “plenary [absolute] authority over county roads and RS 2477 roads” (historic routes created under an 1866 mining law). Hunter disagreed with some of Atwater’s interpretations regarding access, and said some of the case law Atwater was citing concerned only private inholdings on public lands.
“The mere passage of a vehicle is not sufficient to make RS 2477 claims,” Hunter said. He said unless an RS 2477 claim has been recorded or a public lawsuit was filed by a public entity to make such a claim, a road is not considered an RS 2477 route.
Atwater, continuing through the draft language, read a statement that it is against the law for any federal employee to close an RS 2477 road.
“If it has been deemed an RS 2477 road,” Hunter interjected. “The local commissioners have to go through the paperwork.”
The group also briefly discussed federal ownership of public lands and the Property Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which states, “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the Unit.”
Hunter read a dictionary definition of “dispose” and noted that nothing in the definition said “dispose” meant “sell.” Some constitutionalists have asserted that that federal government should sell or give away its public lands.
Atwater, reading further, said a road is a road unless and until it’s vacated through a county process. He explained that all of this draft language about access is to constitute a new chapter in the land-use code.
Other material in the draft language discusses “unconstitutionally held property” and refusal to recognize federal authority.
Atwater said a new proposed travel-management plan for the Rico-West Dolores area of the San Juan National Forest is restricting use by all-terrain and off-highway vehicles to just a small portion of the year.
“I had a conversation with the DA [district attorney] about that last night,” Gaddy said.
Atwater said the issue should be put in front of the county commissioners. “This isn’t a riproaring recreational issue” but an issue of utility access and safety, he said.
Hunter disagreed. “There’s a lot of confusion over access vs. motorized access and there’s a big difference,” he said. “We have access to all our public lands. We don’t necessarily have motorized access and there’s a big difference.”
“A lot of handicapped people would disagree with you,” Gaddy said.
“There are times in life when you have to recognize your abilities or disabilities,” Hunter said. “I can’t go everywhere I would like to go. That doesn’t mean I should grab a helicopter and land on top of Sharkstooth [Peak] because I want to go there and disturb everything.”
He said many senior citizens make an effort to go places on public lands via horseback or on foot.
Gaddy asked what would happen to someone who had had a heart transplant. “Are we going to say he can’t access our trails and roads?”
“That doesn’t mean everybody should be able to take their motorcycle to the top of Sharkstooth,” Hunter said.
“I’m not talking about Sharkstooth,” Gaddy responded. “What about the person who wants to go sit beside a stream?”
“There’s an awful lot of that access already available,” Hunter said. “It doesn’t have to be everywhere. We’re loving our public lands to death to the point where they’re not going to be worth going to see.”
Atwater said nobody had suggested opening everything up. He asked the members of the group to read the draft language for future discussion.
Hunter, noting that this was his last meeting, then asked to read a statement. [For his complete comments, see below.]
“I’m wary of the latest directives that the county commissioners have set for this board regarding issues with public lands,” he said. “Proximity does not equal ownership.”
He said federal lands are owned “by ALL of the citizens of the U.S.” and that “cooperation and coordination,” which the county commissioners have called for in their dealings with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, “takes both sides coming to the table.”
In closing, Hunter asked his fellow board members, “Try not to be swayed by vocal minorities from either side of an issue. Please use good science, good stewardship, ethics and good judgment in the decisions that you make while a part of this board.”
Hunter added that he was disappointed that the commissioners have decided to reduce the size of P&Z because “having more people involved, with a variety of opinions and education, is a valuable thing.”
“I can’t disagree with that,” Gaddy said as the meeting was adjourned.
Hunter’s remarks to P&Z
“I’m wary of the latest directives that the county commissioners have set for this board regarding issues with public lands.
“Proximity does not equal ownership.
“The large amount of federal lands in this county means that we have a greater responsibility to the rest of this great nation to act in good faith and stewardship towards those lands. Federal lands are owned by ALL of the citizens of the U.S.
“Federal agencies were set in place by Congress to manage those lands with a vision of what’s best for ALL Americans by using science, economics, and local experience.
“Cooperation and coordination takes Both sides coming to the table and I think our county commissioners have historically shirked their responsibilities’ in that respect, which has led to some of the current confrontational attitudes.
“Planning is in my opinion the most important local governmental responsibility.
“Shortsightedness in land-use planning cheats the citizens of this county.
“Try not to be swayed by vocal minorities from either side of an issue.
“Please use good science, good stewardship, ethics and good judgment in the decisions that you make while a part of this board.”
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