County Beat: March 12, 2020

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RBC | The county’s broadband program is going well, according to Communications Director Cody Crooks. During a work session Tuesday, March 10, Crooks updated the board of county commissioners on the program’s progress.

The board also heard from County Attorney Todd Starr, who suggested not pursuing financial reparations for damages to a county bridge and guardrail in September 2019. After reviewing the situation, Starr said he didn’t believe the county would be able to get any money from the individual involved and given the circumstances, said he would opt for compassion. The bill for the repairs, which is slightly more than $10,000, will be paid out of the county’s road and bridge department budget.

In the regular meeting, the commissioners approved a permission letter to allow the Meeker Arts and Cultural Council to provide alcohol at the ERBM Meekerpalooza series this summer on June 12, June 26, July 17 and July 31.

The commissioners approved a comment letter to the regarding the revision of the National Environmental Policy Act process. Tuesday was the last day to submit comments.

“Hopefully with all the comments made it will streamline the process from 10-15 years to two or three years or less. NEPA wasn’t put in place to stall projects, but that’s what it does,” said Commissioner Jeff Rector.

“It doesn’t change NEPA,” added Commissioner Gary Moyer. “It changes the rules and regulations for how the federal government implements NEPA.”

The State of Colorado is opposing the revisions, as is Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. Garfield County has come out in support, along with the State of Wyoming.

Once all the comments are compiled, they’ll be reviewed at the national level. The proposed new rules have been published on the federal register (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/01/10/2019-28106/update-to-the-regulations-implementing-the-procedural-provisions-of-the-national-environmental). According to the document, “the Council on Environmental Quality has not comprehensively updated its regulations since their promulgation in 1978.”

“The environmental community is strongly opposing [the changes],” Moyer said. “Rural counties that have a lot of federal lands welcome these changes.”

The board also approved a comment letter regarding updates to BLM grazing regulations.

“This is just in the scoping, or initial process,” Moyer explained. “BLM is asking for problems to be identified and what they can consider changing.”

Road and Bridge Director Dave Morlan said spring load restrictions started last week and are expected to last 28 days.

Bid Openings and Awards

Opened bids for the County Road 8 overlay project, estimated by the engineer at $1.985 million.

Opened bids for the county’s chipseal project, estimated at $871,000 by the engineer.

Awarded the bid for a new motor grader to Wagner Equipment for a total of $173,750.

Awarded the bid for a new skid steer to Wagner Equipment for a total of $60,255.

Awarded the bid for a tandem truck with snow equipment to MHC Kenworth for a total of $179,954.

Awarded the Piceance Creek weed and pest herbicide hand spraying project to Osborn Industries and Julius Ag, Inc., in an amount not to exceed $100,000 each.

Public comment

During public comment, Becky Ridings requested “clarification” about the status of the OHV rendezvous, for which she has been a volunteer for several years. This year instead of being a single weekend event where local guides lead visitors on OHV trail rides, OHV users are being told they can call the Meeker Chamber of Commerce and request a guide for a day.

“I have heard a different version everywhere I go,” Ridings said of the reasoning behind the change.

The county supported the event for its first four years, then handed it off to the Chamber, Rector said.

“They [the Chamber] have told me why they’ve chosen not to facilitate this program, but I don’t understand their reasons,” he added.

Ridings said the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO) estimates the revenue generated for the community from the 2015 rendezvous at $279,000.

“We’ve been having discussions about it among ourselves as a board,” Rector said. “We think it has value and I’d like to see it resurrected, but we can’t make any decisions here today. We didn’t know about it [the change] until the Chamber came in during budget discussions.”

Moyer suggested a work session with all the stakeholders involved to take another look at the topic. The commissioners agreed to schedule a work session on the evening of March 23 so that if a decision is to be made by the board, they can add it to the March 24 agenda.

Commissioner Updates

Si Woodruff: Woodruff said he and Starr met with Elaine Moe, regional manager of the Craig Regional Center for the Colorado State Patrol Communications Center and “went through the pros and cons” of changing the county’s dispatch to the Craig center.

“She answered all our questions,” he said. The Craig center dispatches for multiple Moffat County agencies.

According to Woodruff, the county currently pays $508,000 for dispatch, approximately $80,000 of that comes from the Meeker police and fire departments. He said there’s a potential for several hundred thousand dollars in savings by switching to CSP’s dispatch center.

Woodruff and Starr also attended a meeting in Craig about the possibility of establishing a fire base at the Meeker or Rangely airports.

“I think the decision was made before our meeting,” he said. “Hayden will be used for large airplanes and Craig will be used for small airplanes.”

He also shared a letter from the Sheriff’s Office thanking the road and bridge department and the coroner’s office for their excellent work related to the deadly cabin fire off County Road 14 last month.

Gary Moyer: Commissioner Moyer said he attended the National Association of Counties (NACo) Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., last week with Commissioner Rector.

“I applaud Rector’s efforts on the public lands committee, his expertise with the oil and gas industry is invaluable,” Moyer said, adding that they had opportunities to speak with Colorado legislators and “had a very private unexpected meeting” with Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

Moyer also attended a meeting last week in Hayden attended by Gov. Jared Polis to discuss the future of northwest Colorado without coal. “Clearly the state, the governor, etc., don’t show a lot of concern about this part of the state as far as losing our fossil fuel industry.”

Jeff Rector: Rector said he spent a weekend testifying against a number of bills in Denver at the State Capitol. “It would be nice to go testify for something we’re in support of.”

Following the regular meeting, the board went into recess prior to continuing a tax abatement hearing for TEP Rocky Mountain LLC, an oil and gas company. After a lengthy discussion, the commissioners went into executive session with the county attorney. Upon returning, they moved to accept the original 2016 recommendation from Renae Nielsen, Rio Blanco County Assessor.

By NIKI TURNER  | editor@ht1885.com