August 2014
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My July 7 civics lesson

By Galen Larson

On July 7, I received a lesson in civics – a hard one. Everyone has heard the statement, “So-and-so has left the building.” Well, on that day, 120 taxpayers learned that democracy has left Montezuma County.

The large group at a public hearing on a portion of the Dolores River Valley Plan expected to be part of the democratic process, but instead the commissioners with their own agenda over-ruled the majority.

There is a bright spot in this charade, however. We learned that our commissioners, with no scientific knowledge, can somehow make clean water.

There were persons present with a background in hydrology, water-borne diseases, pollution, and floodplains whose statements were ignored.

We here that live in this high desert area know that our only real source of water is the River of Sorrows. The Dolores River Valley Plan and its system of transferable development rights were designed to protect the quality of that water by limiting density in the valley. However, the commissioners and a handful of businessmen ignored that concern and threw out the TDR system that had been in place more than 10 years after it was developed and approved by a broad-based, diverse citizens’ group and the commissioners at the time.

In throwing out the system, the commissioners mentioned that there were no sales of TDRs in the past 10 years. Could that be because they are expensive, or that landowners just wanted to hang on to them? The lack of sales did not mean the entire system should be rejected.

The vote was 2 to 1. Commissioner Keenan Ertel, to his credit, wanted more time to study the whole issue before making a decision, but the other two preferred to rush to judgment. Unless they have brains like super-computers, there is no way they could have processed all the information they received at that hearing.

But Ertel chastised me when I got up to speak, saying this forum would not be about water, but about TDRs. Well, the two issues are inextricably intertwined. What, tell me, is more important than water in an arid area like ours? And the TDRs were designed to protect the source of our water. So his statement was foolish, unless as I previously stated, the commissioners know how to make water.

But that was not the only foolish statement at the forum. Commissioner Steve Chappell said the TDRs were “confusing.” I’ll bet a lot of the laws of the land are confusing to some, but that isn’t reason enough to reject them. He said 70 percent of the county is federal land and thus there was no need for protecting open space in the river valley. Well, a very large chunk of that federal property he talked about – close to half of it – is the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation and non-Utes have no right to go there for recreation. So there is not nearly as much “open space” as he implied. Not to mention that much of the open space he talks about is desert — which, while it can be nice, is not the same as the beauty of the Dolores River Valley. Some of these statements led me to think he has drunk too much water from lead pipes.

Commissioner Larry Don Suckla in the past has said he doesn’t represent the government but the taxpayers. There were 120 taxpayers in that room, the vast majority of them wanting to keep the plan and the TDRs. So much for his concern about taxpayers.

Four former county commissioners urged the board not to make any hasty changes, but they were ignored as well.

If you don’t think density and water quality are important concerns, ask anyone living in a Third World country, or even China. But fear not, citizens of Montezuma County, our commissioners aren’t worried, so why should we be? If the three of them would spend more time coming up with ways to use and promote the amenities we have instead of undoing well-considered plans designed to protect our valuable resources, they would become true leaders.

Galen Larson lives in Montezuma County, Colo.


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