July 2005

County needs to come together, quit squabbling

By Galen Larson

Montezuma County is a jewel, located at the place where four states converge, boasting of a unique mix of desert and mountains, and a rich diversity of peoples. But instead of being a land where most of the inhabitants are prosperous and happy, we suffer from many woes: rampant alcoholism and meth use, domestic violence, child abuse, and poverty.

What has gone wrong? Two of our main industries are the traditional ones of agriculture and tourism. Both are hit-or-miss operations. The success of agriculture depends on the weather, prices, and other things we can’t control, like mad-cow disease. Tourism also depends on many factors that are beyond our control. Nearly every year we hear the cry, “Well, it would have been a good year except for the hantavirus (or wildfires, or fugitives, or gas prices – you fill in the blank).”

But when it comes to economic development, we can’t seem to look beyond the obvious. We waste time trying to attract some big company to come here when no major industry is going to locate away from an interstate or a railroad. We fall for flim-flam men that offer to build big gun-manufacturing and guarddog training facilities here and turn out to be phonies. We shout, “Hurray, Wal-Mart!” when we should have given them the door the first chance we got.

I spoke to a woman who works at Wal-Mart and asked her why she was headed there on her day off. “With the wages they pay me, I can’t afford to shop anywhere else,” she replied. So we are no better off now than we were in the days of the company store, when the wages paid were designed to just allow one to buy one’s daily needs and no more.

Wal-Mart is a cancer supported by shoppers with a smoker’s mentality: I know it’s killing me, but I just can’t quit. Yet we rush to support Wal-Mart instead of trying to help our local businesses out and keep them going. And what are we seeing? Several businesses leaving downtown Cortez, and a new strip mall going in near Wal-Mart. Something is wrong with this picture.

Then we come to the LIZ debacle, Landowner-Initiated Zoning, the zoning system in Montezuma County. Newcomers should be aware that when one purchases a piece of land, there is no guarantee that the property next to yours won’t become a pig farm, tire dump or gravel pit, not to mention a destination for old junk automobiles. Private property rights are much mentioned, but the question arises: Whose – mine or yours?

Under LIZ there are no definite and clear guidelines. We need a system designed for the 21st century instead of something drafted by a group who still live in the 18th century, a system that supposedly gives power to the landowner but in reality delegates the final decision to a small minority of elected officials.

No business wants to relocate to a county where the guidelines aren’t clear. So LIZ is hampering our economic development as well as our personal rights to have some protection when we buy our land.

Then we have the constant argument between ranchers and environmentalists. Let’s tell the truth. Camping, hiking, biking, cattle and sheep-grazing all, if done to excess, can create problems on our public lands. Lack of understanding on all sides is what truly causes the controversy.

Wars were fought over sheep and cattle grazing in the same area. We now know that both can graze the same area and it can be good for the soil. We need to learn how to talk together and get along instead of arguing over foolish things. This is a lesson that needs to be learned not only by ranchers and environmentalists, but by our city, county and town leaders. Don’t get me wrong. This is only my interpretation of this area and I take full responsibility for everything said. No, I am not going to leave. I have lived here longer than anywhere else in my life. I chose Montezuma County for its beauty and unique qualities and I still believe in those.

But I think we could do better. Let’s support our small locally owned businesses instead of bringing more giant corporate outlets. Let’s be creative in finding solutions to our problems. And our economic-development efforts have to focus on growing our own businesses using the strengths of our local area instead of trying to bring in some big new business to operate here.

Galen Larson is a landowner in rural Montezuma County.