RBC planning commission adopts 2011 master plan

RBC I The Rio Blanco County Master Plan was adopted by the planning commission Jan. 15. The plan is the result of a process that began two years ago.
The collaboration and actual compiling of information has taken 18 months and the final product was made possible by the work of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAG), the RBC Planning Commission, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), the public, the county’s staff and other participants.
It is the ground work for shaping regulations that match the vision of and keep Rio Blanco County values at the core of future growth, as county director of natural resources Jeff Madison said, “(It is) an assessment of what the county values are and gives a fairly clear overall direction that most of the residents want to see.”
The county’s previous plan was 13 years old and in need of an upgrade. The idea was to create a “living document,” a guide for crafting actual regulations.
The master plan was budgeted at $120,000, of which approximately $100,000 came from the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) through grants. The money was spent primarily to pay consultants, county employees, as well as mapping and basic copying, etc.
The planning process consisted of six steps: Initial scoping to identify issues and concerns, quantify existing conditions, county visioning and preferences, build maps to graphically represent plan components, create guiding principles, goals and supporting policies, establish master plan recommendations and implementation actions and inclusion of other plan elements. Each step contributed to the overall master plan.
In the initial step stakeholders were determined, including county employees and elected officials, major landowners, business owners/managers, interest groups, area governments, the school districts, special districts, federal land managers and the Division of Wildlife. More than 30 interviews with stakeholders yielded a comprehensive list of issues.
Issues, principles, goals, policies and actions regarding Rio Blanco County’s future are addressed clearly in this master plan. Graphs provide information about the current population, projected population, land use, employment and housing. The plan evaluates the county’s economy and residents’ quality of life, thereby addressing issues reflect Rio Blanco County’s strong western ethic and private property rights.
The plan recognizes changes have to be made to protect agriculture. For example, the plan examines a homestead exemption for ranch that have been in the same family for multiple generations.
The plan provides direction for an economic and service task force, as well, acknowledging the need for diversity in the economy.
“The economy cannot be dependent on one sector,” Madison said. The boom and bust cycle of an energy-based economy demands ways to stabilize the county’s economy in the midst of it. Instead of planning for a different kind of future 20-30 years from now, the new master plan aims to maintain our core values.
There are always factors Rio Blanco County cannot control that would affect the entire master plan. One such factor is oil shale. The impact of an oil shale boom to our county would be enormous, as the Green River Formation houses an estimated 800 billion barrels of oil and could be as high as 1.5 trillion barrels. That estimate is enough to sustain the United States for 110 years at the current use rate. It is three times the proven oil reserves in Saudi Arabia, just to put the issue in perspective. This is something that would change the projected population numbers by up to 30,000 people in the county.
“This is very real as seven of the eight national Research and Development (RD&D) projects are in this area so we would have to re-assess in order to not be run over,” Madison said.
This is one reason the plan will be reviewed every five years. The review process will not be nearly as extensive as the creation of this plan. It will evaluate areas that are on track and those that need redirection without requiring the hours or monetary commitment of the original document.
The plan is a work in progress for Rio Blanco County to create regulations and guidelines for the future, created by the people attending public meetings and the many committees that have worked diligently to develop a picture of the future of Rio Blanco County. The complete 74-page document can be found on the county website.