Commissioners gut land use codes

speak-the-truthOn Monday, May 13, the Garfield County Commissioners held a public hearing on land use codes. Watch the video here. Under the video screen on the left side of the page, scroll down to “i. To consider a request for a text amendment to the Unified Land Use Resolution of 2008 to amend Articles 1 through 16 …” and click on it. The hearing begins at 2:32:40 and lasts until 5:16:42.

At 4:37 Anita Sherman presented a petition to return compliance language to the comp plan. The discussion that followed lasted until about 5:00 — an extremely enlightening 23 minutes. Be sure to watch!


anitaheadshot-smallGuest post by Anita Sherman*

The revisions to land use codes being rolled out by the Commissioners remove all local 1041 regulations. The 1041 regulations are found in Article 7: Standards of the land use codes, and provide local governments with the ability to strengthen water, wildlife, and impact regulations locally, regardless of state interests in local developments, like oil and gas. Despite John Martin’s use of words like “limited” to describe 1041 powers, these local controls provide strong regulating authority for land use and permits. Further, 1041 powers have stood the test of judicial review and support since 1912.

Decisions regarding revisions to our land use codes rest solidly in the hands of Garfield Board of County Commissioners John Martin, Tom Jankovsky, and Mike Samson. By removing the compliance language from the comprehensive plan in 2011, permit approvals returned to a private right to use without public review process in unincorporated Garfield County. Without the umbrella guidance of a mandated comp plan, changes were made to the board’s governing structure moving it from a Council-Executive system — with interdepartmental checks and balances — to a Commission-Board with full legislative authority. The current board members haven’t been shy about their support for landowners’ private right to use property. The oil and gas industry makes up the largest group of private landowners in unincorporated Garfield County.

As the push continues to remove local controls and punt public health, safety, and environmental regulation to the state and feds, Commissioners and their advisors evade specifically discussing the oil and gas industries. During the public hearing for land use code revisions on Monday 5/13 in a room with a dozen people, the oil & gas industry received a few cursory comments from the Commissioners. That’s right. In a public hearing about land use code revisions, the number one industry in the county was barely mentioned.

When I brought up the oil and gas industry, my comments were met with irritation. No distinctions were ever made by the Commissioners between local and state interest developments, and land use. Nor mention of the fact that the industry enjoys sweeping exemptions from provisions in the major federal environmental statutes intended to protect human health, wildlife, and the environment. As provided by the Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) these statutes include:

  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
  • Safe Drinking Water Act
  • Clean Air Act
  • National Environmental Policy Act
  • Toxic Release Inventory under the Emergency Planning and Community Right Know Act

For local interest developers, like PUDs, the revised land use codes won’t be equitable. A local PUD or bakery in unincorporated Garfield County would have to follow federal environmental statutes that the state follows. However, the oil and gas industries are exempt. There are two separate interests that are homogenized to distract from the root focus of these changes. New revisions are created to close the split estate permit process that will substantially increase oil and gas development without public review, impact assessments, human health, wildlife, or environmental protections afforded in local 1041 powers. Further, these changes set a standard for other industry owned counties across the state to follow. All eyes are on Garfield.

The changes to our land use codes allow for state interest in oil and gas development, while using relaxed local codes to rubber stamp ancillary permit approvals, as fast as COGCC can issue state drilling permits.

Removing barriers is “commissioner code” for local 1041 powers to protect human health, wildlife, and environment, benefit the industry, not the public. Economic development — as rationalized for removing barriers — is “commissioner code” for more unregulated oil and gas drilling in Garfield. In fact, state and national figures show the outdoor recreation industry has outpaced the oil and gas industry for job creation since 2005. Revisions to land use codes will continue to reduce economic diversity, and continue the county’s reliance on either oil or gas extraction for export until the next bust.

The recent Williams Parachute Creek spill is a perfect example of the state and feds inability to adequately regulate and enforce regulations on an exempt industry. An industry with impacts traced to illnesses, and even death, to people and wildlife. Public and environmental protections from high impact industries and developments rely on the strength of land use codes that are compliant under a state mandated comprehensive plan. The mandated comp plan provides a consistent measure to build strong policy short term and long term, as opposed to a fluctuating partisan approach to creating policy each election cycle.

Removing compliance did four things effectively:

  1. Removed public review and impact assessment for permit requests not compliant with the Land Use Codes.
  2. Centralized permitting within the power of the elected BOCCs without public accountability, oversight, or transparency beyond an act of recalls.
  3. Removed the mandated protections afforded by the state to challenge drilling permits issued by COGCC.
  4. Changed our county’s governing process from a Council-Executive Administration — governing authority balanced between hired executives and board — to a Commission-Administrator board with full legislative board authority; extending limited powers to executives at the pleasure of the board.

At the public hearing, the Commissioners reminded everyone they were elected to office by the voters. But no one remembers the voters demanding the removal of tools that put our voice in the permit process, impact assessment, or the local controlling powers to challenge state issued oil and gas drilling permits. The oil and gas industries are well developed in Garfield County. The industry doesn’t need any more help under the disguise of economic development. The revisions being proposed provide an unregulated hall pass for a global industry to drill from Parachute to Carbondale, and dictate the terms of our local policies and land use. Public voice, health, safety, and environment impacts be damned!

The Commissioners viewed my concerns about removing local regulatory controls as nothing more than an “ideological difference.” I’d like to remind the Commissioners that ideology is a road map — the words spoken to convey one’s beliefs. The way our county is being driven under full legislative authority of the Commissioners is a matter of ethics. Actions speak louder than words.

As a matter of ethical concern, it’s clear the Commissioners are trying to defraud Garfield County’s residents of their 1041 powers in favor a state and federal regulations for an industry that is exempt from those regulations. If the Commissioners don’t want to support local controls over land use, maybe it’s time for a recall petition, instead of a petition to return compliance language to the comp plan.

* Anita Sherman is a consultant for Blue Wing Strategies, LLC; cofounder of the citizens advocacy group Garfield Transparency Initiative; and a local pledged supporter of the international collaborative The Mothers Project. She is the 1st Vice Chair for the Garfield County Democratic Party, and a strong community voice for equitable process and social justice in public policy.

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3 Comments on “Commissioners gut land use codes”

  1. Carl Mc Williams Says:


  2. Mary Russell Says:

    They cut out the portion of the meeting where Anita and I spoke, individually, to them about our concerns regarding the illegality and inequity of the process they’re undertaking to remove critical components of the Land Use Code.

  3. Randee Webb Says:

    THANKS Anita (and friends) for all you do! –Randee, What the Frack?! Arapahoe on facebook: Fracking Colorado (water on fire in drinking glass) h/w 303-750-6858

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