Drilling critic: Rewrite of rules favors industry

Garfield County officials are overhauling the county’s land-use review process, an action that a critic says kowtows to the oil and gas industry.

County commissioners on Monday continued a review of a rewrite of land-use regulations, an undertaking designed to remove redundancy where state and federal rules already apply, streamline procedures, and remove unnecessary obstacles to economic development.

But Anita Sherman of Glenwood Springs told commissioners Monday that while she’s fine with eliminating redundancies, the process shouldn’t weaken protections of public health and safety, and the environment.

Sherman is leading a petition effort challenging the direction being taken by the county on land-use issues, but it focuses on the commissioners’ prior decision to make the county’s comprehensive plan advisory rather than mandatory.

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he ran for office with a promise to make that change, and Commissioner John Martin said voters get to decide every four years if they don’t like the decisions commissioners make.

Mary Russell of Glenwood Springs told commissioners the comprehensive plan is supposed to provide insulation from the personal preferences of commissioners who come and go.

“The comp plan actually requires you to adhere to a plan that citizens on a board decided was in the best interests of the citizens of Garfield County,” she said.

Sherman said the new land-use codes remove local controls over things such as wildlife protection, and abdicate oil and gas regulation to the state. But Jankovsky said authority over oil and gas regulation already lies with the state. That’s a situation supported by Colorado’s Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, he reminded Sherman, a Democratic activist.

Martin said he supports limited government regulation, and wants to make sure “everyone has a right to do what they’re doing in a proper manner,” with people trusting one another.

“Like Williams?” Sherman responded, referring to the company that leaked natural gas liquids from a pipeline leaving its gas processing plant into the Parachute Creek watershed.

Sherman said some land uses “do have the potential to hurt your neighbor,” and it’s easier to have discussions about the proper level of regulation at the local level.

Phil Vaughan, a former county Planning and Zoning Commission chairman, defended the regulatory changes being pursued by the county, saying they include “plenty of controls in place to protect the citizens of Garfield County.”


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