Friday, January 17, 2020

Call Horsefeathers on our Commissioners

     If someone tells you three times in a conversation that he or she has a black belt in Teashido, what is the message?  If you answered that this person is warning you that they have special skills that makes them formidable, then congratulations, you understood their point.  I say this because of course everybody knows that Teashido is the ancient martial art of flinging boiling hot tea in your face.  The subliminal message here is that you better mind your "p's and q's" or the master may just have to put a teapot on the burner.  They want you to know that they have a superior position in the conversation and you best be listening to them. You see this all the time, maybe even at a BOCC meeting.  "I am an engineer, I am an engineer, I am an engineer!"  They spin around in a circle three times (OBTW... did I mention the number three is magic?) and give you a look that screams, "Everything I say henceforth is unimpeachable truth!"  It is at this point they make their point.  "There is a thousand years of water in the Denver Bedrock Aquifers.”
At this moment the best response to this statement is to just stand up and say, "Horsefeathers, horsefeathers, horsefeathers!"  Spin around in a circle three times and then give them a look that screams, "Not so, Mr. Wizard!”  Make the point that, "There are numerous studies to the contrary about the depletion of the Denver Bedrock Aquifers from expert hydrologists in the field. Experts. Really!”

     This is an important topic.  So now I am going to get a bit more serious.  I went to the Elbert County Commissioners Town Hall meeting at the Gates Mercantile Building in Elbert last Wednesday night, January 15th.  Shortly after my arrival, Commissioner Thayer said that there may be as much as a thousand years of water beneath our feet.  This is not the first time that this figure has been bandied about.  There may be, of course, millions of years of water left in the Denver Bedrock Aquifer System if we just agree to not withdraw any water from it ever again. Yes, eventually it would return to its pre-European expansionism in North America levels.  Of course that is not going to happen.  According to numerous reports on the subject which you can access online from the USGS, there is a great deal of uncertainty on the part of many hydrologists as to just how much water is actually still in the aquifers. Scientists cannot determine with preciseness what the makeup of the layers in the earth look like to determine how porous they are. They can take core samples and use sophisticated sonar devises but at best they have to use the word "if" a lot to describe what is available to us.  "If" these measurements are consistent across the entire formation then it will hold x amount of water.
     For purposes of this article my main source of information is from the entitled Assessment of Groundwater Depletion and Implications for Management in the Denver Basin Aquifer System.  It was published in October of 2019.  In that document the authors of the report basically lay out a snapshot of what they believe is happening in the aquifers. I must be fair, essentially our commissioners did not stray too far away from the information that is provided in the study.  Still, the notion that, at our current rate of development partnered with the ongoing over-allocation of water in the top three aquifers and the value of potable water reaching all time highs, the concept that Elbert County residents need not be concerned is ludicrous. 

     It amazes me that no one from our county government will acknowledge the impending water crises looming on our horizon.  Nobody from the Colorado Division of Water Resources will admit that they are responsible for the gross over-allocation of water in the top two Dawson aquifers.  And finally, that Grant Thayer can say with a straight face that he has no idea what the impact of the development and subsequent water shortages in El Paso, Arapahoe and Douglas counties might be, just after telling us three times that he is a engineer, is just flat-out wrong!  He may not know the exact impact, but just like the guy facing a tsunami wave bearing down on him while on the beach, he knows it ain’t gonna be good and he'd better make some good decisions…soon.

     The people who have lived here in the county were never made aware of all of this.  The taxpayers were never cautioned that you may need to dig wells that are deep enough to allow you the most water available on your property and consistent with the parameters of your domestic well rights to avoid future financial surprises. Over 90% of Elbert County residents are on well and septic.  Wells are one of the biggest investments when building or buying an existing home out here.  Once you are a resident and you are paying taxes, you naturally assume that your needs take priority over those of a developer who has yet to build a single home. That may be your assumption, but it would be wrong.

     I was left in slack jawed amazement that the 900 pound gorilla in the room was not even discussed Wednesday evening.  When the water in the Independence footprint is developed and the pressure on the top aquifers is realized coupled with the usage of those living to the west of us in Douglas County, it is going to be a difficult scenario for those living adjacent and to the south of Cty. Rd. 158.  Wells will fail... in fact they already are. It is not about if the Craft development is breaking the law.  They are entitled to explore the limits of their rightly purchased water rights and that fact should be recognized.  But the question should be what can our county officials and future developers do (in terms of usage and planning) that helps keep existing landowners assured that they will not be harmed?  But no, the evening “town hall”  just became a session where both the developers and the local government wanted to be absolved of any wrong doing.  In the opinion of this writer and resident, that is very unfortunate.

I do not give a whit with which political party you choose to identify.  But at a minimum, if you are the slightest bit concerned about the water beneath your feet, and want to continue to live out here, then become engaged in the political process long enough to know whomever you vote into office is aware that this is your priority. If you do not, the problem will only get worse.  When water problems get bad, water districts form, pipelines are built, and your mailbox fills up with water bills. You will pay what the market demands and it won't be inexpensive.  I will leave you with a quote from the abstract on which I am making many of my points.  It describes how much the water levels were going down in an area of Douglas County, our very close neighbor to the west, due to over-development in the recent past.

"Several key depletion patterns and spatial water‐level changes emerge in this work. Hydraulic head changes are the largest in the west‐central side of the DBAS and have decreased in some areas by up to 180 m since 1990…” 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Cutting Your Nose Off to Spite Your Face? Shooting the Messenger? Yes, You Will Still Need Water to Do All of That!

     I attended the Water Warriors meeting at the Elizabeth Library regarding the Independence Application for Expanded Water Uses; the Letter of Opposition with the Water Court; Citizens' Call for a Public Hearing; and Brief Question and Answer.  My wife and I arrived at 6:30 P.M. and the first of four sessions had already begun.  I had been asked to be a presenter and due to the crowd size we literally could not get in without squeezing in through the back door.  In line, inside the library and overflowing into the entry, were a couple of hundred people from both Elbert and Douglas County, waiting to get into a venue that according to library officials will not  accommodate  more than 35 people at a time. Believe me when I tell you that everything was done to try and find a larger venue on such short notice, but due to the required filing deadline required by the State Water Court about this pressing issue, the organizers had no choice but to forge ahead.  To say that this was frustrating to all in attendance would be a vast understatement. In order to allow more people to have a seat, my wife and I remained outside the building and talked to those people coming about the  proceedings.  We received a very unique and wide ranging perspective:
     • “We can't stand around here waiting all evening.”
     • “It's just another one of these things that the Duvalls don't want.”
     • “Why was Dan Rosales there and so vocal against people wishing to learn how to  file a  
        legitimate complaint?”
     • “Why do I have to have adjudicated water rights to file a complaint?”
    • “If the agreement with the county says in ‘iron clad’ statements water will not be sold off the
       site, why is that not good enough?”

     I wanted to hear what people were saying.  From my perspective,  Most of it was pretty disheartening.  I will start with the issue most dear to my heart.  It is about water, without which, none of us can live here, or anywhere, for that matter. It is unfortunate that water has become a divisive tool of politicians and developers. Like adequate access to health care,  I believe that access to clean water is a basic human right.  However,  when water becomes scarce, its value skyrockets.  If you don't have enough water you will be the one paying the price. If you have enough money, you likely have adjudicated your water rights.  If you have lots of money, you might just purchase water rights from someone and when the price of water takes off, then you are in a position to make tons of money...because nobody can do without water.

     It is like Big Pharma: to stay alive people will pay whatever they charge.  Even when it is not illegal, when and if you jack up the prices on necessary commodities to make ungodly profits, it is wrong.  If you have enough money to buy water for your insanely expensive landscaping and golf courses to satisfy your need to prance around in brightly colored pants, good for you.  That said, the hard working family struggling to make ends meet to pay the mortgage on their modest Elbert County home shouldn't have to move away because their well failed.  When will the State of Colorado admit it has been over-allocating water in the Upper and Lower Dawson aquifers and make amends? Why will our Elbert County government not admit it has not exercised the foresight to plan for the water needs of its citizen in the future? Why is it that our commissioners show more respect and consideration for developers and the prospective future residents of Elbert County than for the existing residents?

     After working over a dozen years on water issues here in Elbert County, my wife and I have helped hundreds of people get water adjudication.  To date, we have not made a single penny for our efforts nor has it gotten a single candidate that was interested in protecting the water beneath our feet elected to local office.  Try to imagine how ugly it is to hear from the public that trying to help people preserve their water is just some political stunt dreamed up by Jim and Jill Duvall.  The most political thing Jill Duvall  said was to stop voting for candidates based on the letter behind their name.  She did not say vote for Democrats. We all know that is not a remote possibility in this county.

     Chill people...the votes are in, and the Republicans swept every one of the 2020 county elections.  Congratulations.  But if upcoming candidates have the same mind set about water that the current crew does, you are going to be paying the price that the scarcity of water brings.  I do not care if you vote for Republicans.  But here is a news flash: last night the room was filled with Republicans  concerned about water!  Would one of you please step up and run for office?
     Dan Rosales was Grant Thayer's campaign manager and was the former head of the Elbert County Planning Commission.  Grant Thayer is all in on development based on his voting record. In my opinion, Dan Rosales was there last night to defend the Planning Commission and his friend, Grant.  When he says that the language is "iron clad" and will require the applicant to go back for another hearing before they can move water off site, he is correct.  But unless you have been asleep for most of this developing situation with water and Independence you have to know that getting that approval from this board will be a given.  What event in the empirical record at the county would lead you to believe that this iron clad agreement is anything more than a formality before they give Craft what he wants?  You do not have to look very far.  It is not there.

     You need to adjudicate water rights in Colorado in order to file a complaint.  The water court makes decisions based on the rights that you have applied for and received.  If your rights are older than mine, you have seniority in the eyes of the court.  The court needs to know for what purpose you are going to use your water.  If you did not sign on for a water park then you will not be able to say that is your desired purpose.  Yes,  you can go through the process of amending your rights, but the job of the court is to protect those who have adjudicated rights from being damaged by others.  That is why we have told people for years to file for their water rights.
     And finally to those who could not stay last night for a seat in the room, it is certainly understandable; kids at home, early meeting in the morning, family has the influenza... I get it. But know that the people who are doing this, the Water Warriors,  will attempt to get adequate information up on line in a timely manner.  These organizers felt terrible that the situation was not perfect.  But they did pull it off.  They were inconvenienced every bit as much as you were.  They did the absolute best that they could in the narrow window of time provided and I am grateful to see people still pull together to help each other out, even when you find yourself in an uncomfortable mix of people and their politics.

*** This post is best appreciated if you are thirsty or standing in the shower ***

Saturday, January 4, 2020

When Tim Turns on the Big Tap!

      Unless you have been living under a rock, by now you are probably aware that the Independence Water and Sanitation District has applied to the State water court to expand its decreed water usage from “in house and irrigation” on the subject property to now also include “domestic, municipal, industrial, commercial, stock watering, fire protection and exchange and augmentation purposes,” both on and off the Subject Property (Thank you, Susan Schick.). 
     The purpose of this article is to tell you a couple of facts about water rights that you may or may not know. Up front, I encourage you to get involved, check all the information out from reliable sources and stand up for your rights. NOW.  The next few months will probably be a difficult period of time for many who are living in Elbert County, in particular those in the northwestern portion of the county, who never considered that water issues might be the most difficult hurdle to clear when considering whether to stay or move somewhere else.  Yes, this is just that serious. 
     Tim  Craft is the developer and owner of the proposed Independence, a 1000 acre expansive subdivision on an old homestead to the north of County Road 158 in Elbert County, very close to Douglas County to the west.  Before you begin to look for some diatribe here making Tim Craft out to be doing something unlawful because he improperly filled out his water papers, you need to know that, to the best of my knowledge, Mr. Craft purchased the water rights when he purchased the land, just as prescribed by Colorado law.  That does not make him a bad person, but to say that his presence and his project will not adversely impact many of you living in Elbert County is a huge understatement. 
    Much of the upcoming turmoil will be coming to you as a result of several past iterations of the Elbert County BOCC, the Colorado Division of Water Rights, and the vast array of people who have learned how to become extremely wealthy on the fresh water in our aquifers.  Nothing that a developer can build on top of the ground can surpass the value of the water under the ground.  Water is going for as much as $85,000 per acre foot in water deals here in our state. Before Gaye and I adjudicated our deep water rights on our 60 acres, we had the domestic rights to 1.5 times, and using the 40 acre set formula, we originally had 1.5 acre feet of water per year.  After adjudicating our water rights, we are now entitled to approximately 100 acre feet of water per year from all five aquifers.  If we had a pipeline and a willingness to sell our adjudicated water, then theoretically, we could be making $8,500,000 per year.  We do not want to sell our water.  Some people do.  Tim does.  He has said so.
     The standard for the amount of water given to a property for domestic use was based on the old notion of a family farm being forty acres.  If you had a farm of forty acres you automatically were allotted a domestic well permit for one acre foot of water per year.  The Colorado Division of Water rights still uses that formula today.  But people started moving into rural areas to get out of the city.  They often wanted only a couple of acres of ground to garden and raise a few chickens.  But the State still gives the same amount of water for a domestic well to a two acre home as it does to a forty acre farm.  It does not take a mathematical genius to see that the same forty acres of ground that once had one family with a single well might now have twenty homes on the same footprint with twenty wells, each automatically allocated one acre foot of water per year.   So this formula, from the State of Colorado, designed to protect the water from the aquifers, actually has become one of the culprits in depleting our underground water.     
     Take a drive down County Road 158, the road that forms the southern boundary of the Independence project.  To the south are lots of homes on acreage that ranges form 2 to 5 acres in size.  The homes there are on well and septic.  Heck, estimates say that 96% of the county is on well and septic.  What we know for certain is that the wells in this area are going down at an alarming rate. 
    There are areas across the county line in Douglas County that desperately need water.  When you do not have water you will pay whatever the going price is.  Now along comes Mr. Craft and Independence.  Tim Craft has been allocated 350 acre feet of adjudicated water per year in the upper Dawson alone.  If nobody had ever adjudicated that water until today, I can promise you that the water courts in Colorado would not allow the owner to have 350 acre feet from the Upper Dawson.  You could apply for the water rights but they would send you a letter back to say that there is not enough water in the Upper Dawson to give you that much water.  They would go on and on about how you would have to do an augmentation (replenishment) plan due to the over-allocation of water in the now shallow aquifers and you would get a pittance of what the original owner was able to get when the papers were first filed.  Mr. Craft would have to drill deeper into the lower aquifers for his subdivision, (possibly the Denver or Arapahoe)  not into the top aquifer (Upper Dawson) that the majority of property owners surrounding him have drilled into.
But Tim gets the whole 350 acre feet which I will from henceforth refer to as the BIG TAP!
          When the BIG TAP eventually gets turned on it is going to cause the people who live in that area to have to dig deeper wells (if they can afford to do so) and that is a prohibitively expensive proposition.  To be honest, it will break the financial backs of many.  The developers know it, the BOCC knows it and the Colorado Division of Water Resources knows it.  Still, at least two members of the BOCC continue to spew disinformation about how much ground water is in our aquifers, saying there are a thousand years of water below our feet.  The fact the State of Colorado has labeled our aquifers as not non-tributary says that they are aware of the problem. The aquifers are not recharging fast enough to keep them from drying out all together. It took millions, upon millions of years for our aquifers to become the resource they are. It is therefore inevitable and currently happening as I write this, that the water tables are dropping and when it is gone…well, you are going to get thirsty, to say the very least. Mr. Craft’s project, what he will do with his water rights, will put loads of money in his pocket, but a dire strain on the aquifers and everyone else reliant on that upper aquifer.  You may own the rights to the water if you have adjudicated, but the State of Colorado owns the water under your feet, no matter how much or how little.
      The BIG TAP  is something that could be controlled either by a judge or by our Elbert County Board of County Commissioners.  The impact, as brutal as it could be, might be lessened if the local government interceded and helped to put a plan into place to help those who are vulnerable.  But up to now, that has not been the way things have gone.  They seem to only be interested in rampant growth and look down their noses at anyone who did not have the foresight to drill deeper when they came out here.  “Caveat emptor (Buyer beware),” they will say.
     So now we find ourselves back at the picture I made for this story.  Tim is going to reap lots of money for his water.  The little kid (surrounding property owners) is going to get hosed.  That said, I have been involved in many causes over my nearly seven decades and when many people stand together, put partisan bickering behind them and raise their collective voices in unison, sometimes good things happen.  Sometimes, but if it is going for us, Elbert citizens who rely on and cherish the water beneath our feet, you need to, we need to remember the words of the poet, Omar Khayyam, when he said, "The bird of time has but a little way to fly --- and Lo! the bird is on the wing."

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Is This Watermagedon

         From 1993 until 1996 Gaye and I lived in a little development called Dove Hill off of Gun Club Road in Aurora, CO, next to what would soon become E470.  We had a great view of the Front Range, about 3 acres and a beautiful home that was supposed to be our last one.  I could fill a book with all of the things that went wrong in Dove Hill, but that really is not the focus of  this screed.  We all have our tales to tell.  The only thing that makes ours a little different is that the battles we ended up fighting there in east Aurora are the same battles we are fighting out here in Elbert County some twenty-two years later. 
    Suffice it to say that before we left Dove Hill we were fighting a toll road with all of its planned overreach. It turns out our development sat on land that was once part of the Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range,  and munitions kept surfacing on neighbors’ properties. Before it was all over, we sat on several Restoration Advisory Boards (RABs) set up by the Army Corp of Engineers regarding unexploded ordinance (UXO's, unexploded bombs, shells, etc.) and stored mustard seed gas canisters. We also neighbored a Superfund site that had (has) deadly toxins that were migrating through the ground which were problematic as all nearby properties were on well and septic. We were dragged into a quick study of groundwater, hydrology, water districts, developers and politics.  It was all to protect our dream home.  While we believe that we made a lasting impact, our dream home was left painfully tarnished.  That was our first, but not the last encounter with public activism.
        We finally gave up on Dove Hill and decided to move six miles southeast of the town of Elbert. Two school teachers working in Cherry Creek schools by day and driving to Elbert and building by night.  We found Dream II on the Palmer Divide on sixty acres behind Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch.  Our plan was to build a guest house to live in while we built our new dream home.  In early 2005 we heard rumblings of a toll road that would be coming through our county and possibly through our development spanning the eastern plains from Fort Collins to Pueblo.  We attended public meetings and offered our experience fighting a toll road.  Shortly after beginning work with The Elbert County Toll Road Warriors to fight this Superslab, it became painfully obvious that this proposed swath of massive imminent domain (210 miles long, 12 miles wide) was not about transportation issues.  The man behind it had never built a foot of highway or laid a single foot of rail.  He was a notorious water developer named Ray Wells.  It was clear that this unprecedented land grab was about the water in the Denver bedrock aquifers, and had it not been for the hard work of public activism he might have pulled it off.
     Those underpinnings led to an understanding that if Elbert County citizens did not wish to be run over by developers and water brokers in the future, they needed to have a more responsive form of Elbert County government.  The political landscape began to quickly change. The non-partisan efforts of the Toll Road Warriors had its membership revealing their political affiliations to one another.  There was an almost equal blend of Democrats and Republicans successfully working in concert, but in a staunchly Republican county it soon became apparent that any activism to follow the Superslab, that was led by Democrats, was dangerous to the Republican Party and the well being of Elbert County. If you  wear a “D,” your motives should be questioned.  Cracks formed and unfortunately the result of party bickering means that, when a crisis like the Independence Water Grab raises its ugly head, politics taint our collective response time.  And make no mistake about it, this is a crisis with no room for partisan bickering.
     This is not my first rodeo with the Herculean effort it takes to make a difference while attempting to preserve or at least help control the impact of rampant development that benefits the few while dashing the dreams of the many.  If you cannot see or even listen to the fact that at least two of our commissioners are on board with the Watermagedon that will arise as the result of unfettered water plans in the Independence Project, then you are reading the wrong post.  This has been in the planning stages for a long time.  Enough has been  approved already that, even if we start immediately, we may not be able to rein in much of the damage.  The developers have been systematically granted more and more power.  At this point, it will take the largest turnout of resistance that we have ever seen in this county to get it across to the BOCC that 95% of the county who live on well and septic do not wish to be financially ruined by the greed of those who do not even live in our county. 
    If you do not know how an aquifer better get off your duffs and learn about it or they will straight faced spoon feed you nonsense.  If you do not know which politicians are working for your best need to take a crash course in Elbert County Politics 101.  You need to know who and why development favors these people who are empowered to gamble with your future.  If the rural life style is something you had better be prepared to make cogent and practiced speeches at the hearings that are coming.
     Gaye and I have been telling anybody who would listen over the past twelve years that if enough of the citizenry stands up for their water rights and presents a united front, then the less lucrative a Metropolitan Water District looks to a bunch of water speculators who  stand to benefit from it.  We have assisted hundreds of people adjudicate their water rights.  Many of the people want to do things with their rights that Gaye and I do not agree with on almost any level. But that is the beauty of adjudication: it becomes your  choice of how the water beneath you is used, not someone else’s. That said, the more of the public that has taken charge of the water beneath their feet,  the harder it is to take it away from them.  It is not easily done, and more importantly, not profitable. 
    Water. This is about the one natural resource none of us can live without. It has unimaginable value.  If you lived in the Bahamas today, recycled drinking water is going for $7.00 per gallon. Gaye and I have the adjudicated water rights to 100 acre feet of water per year, but there are no pipelines so it currently has little value in comparison.  But ask yourself the following questions:
     • Who can build a pipeline?
     • Who grants permission to build a pipeline?
     • Where does the water in a pipeline go?
     • What is a Metropolitan District and what powers do they have?
     • How does this affect my property, its value?
     • What happens if my well goes dry?

     If you do not know the answer to any of those questions, you will soon enough.  The water wars are just beginning and if you live near the Independence project, you are on the front lines.  There are surely more coming down the pipeline...excuse the pun. Growth is on its way.

     There is a movement afoot to bring this ill-fated plan that will impact so many in adverse ways.  If you wish to have a say in your future here in Elbert County, and water is KEY to your future in Elbert County, watch for notices of organizational meetings about these matters.  Our only hope in stopping this is becoming involved.

Fate operates when people give up.
Jacques Illul

Monday, September 9, 2019

Big Fiction RR or Rampart Helicopter Services - Be Prepared!

This following is a true story. Some years ago, a close friend of mine and I filed incorporation papers with the Colorado Secretary of State and that was the humble beginnings of The Big Fiction Railroad Company. We used the boilerplate language set forth by none other than the father of the Superslab, Ray Wells.  We used the same antiquated and unfair language that allowed Mr. Wells to claim that he could build a toll road from Wellington, Colorado to Pueblo Colorado.  It was a swath of land that was 12 miles wide and 210 miles long and had literally thousand of farms and homes within its boundaries that would likely be subject to eminent domain laws straight out of the 1800's.  Encumbrances were placed on the titles of all the properties in the pathway of this gigantic railroad scam.  It took years to fully drive a stake in the heart of this ill conceived plan.

To make a point with the Colorado legislators, we used our railroad company to lay claim to a similar corridor that ran from the Cherry Creek Mall, through the Denver Country Club, up Broadway Blvd, through downtown Denver and arriving at Coors Field.  Our reasoning was no more outrageous than that shown by Mr. Wells.  When you want to get to the ballpark, why not take the train?  Our plan was read into the hearing records on the Superslab at the Colorado State Capital. Lots of lawmakers laughed, but it was derived from the same laws and flawed reasoning, and they had to agree it was a legitimate claim. Once we made our point, my friend and I put away our engineer caps and dissolved Big Fiction Railroad. We had successfully made our point.

Here we are in 2019.  The Elbert County BOCC is about to decide on the fate of Rampart Helicopter Services, to be located approximately 2 miles to the south of County Rd. 94 on the east side of County Rd. 37, on September 11th.  We are going to look at the laws and and zoning regulations and see if this is a fit for a quiet, agricultural/residential (A/R) neighborhood whose residents want nothing to do with this plan.  

The whole point of this post is that those of us who live here are going to face the fact that even though this is not a fit, the BOCC may make it a reality.  Can they do it? Yes, just as certainly as our Colorado State Government could have done it  with Ray Wells  over a decade ago. Before the contingency from the Eastern Plains arrived at the Capitol, the legislators were pretty much sold on the SuperSlab bill of goods.  But the precedent, as we pointed out with the Big Fiction Railroad, would have been far reaching and ill advised.  The people spoke.  Our representatives in government heard us.

If we let this type of decision go forward now, anybody can have their own helipad almost anywhere in a county, our county, which has as much land area as a small New England State.  Don't think it can happen to you to your neighborhood?  Well, when I moved here twenty-two years ago, I did not think a railroad could be built across my land let alone a commercial helicopter landing site be located just a stone’s throw away,  but both were planned and proposed and made it into the legislative process.

Think about it.  Would you want this in your backyard?  Most will answer with a resounding, “HELL, NO!"  Some may have no objection because the business does valuable work that I myself appreciate.  I understand that reasoning.  But once the genie climbs out of the bottle, it sets a precedent and it is hard to go back. 

 If this resonates with you, show up and go to the microphone.  Be prepared with a written statement.  If you have documentation to share, make four copies: one for each of the commissioners, and one for their clerk.   Make your three minutes count 

I will be there, not to say that Rampart Services does not belong in Elbert County because it could be an asset, but it needs to be located in a place where zoning and existing homes and agricultural businesses will not be so adversely impacted.  Be there and let your voice be heard as well. Be proactive and vigilant. Now. Our Elbert County property rights need to be protected.  

Sunday, September 8, 2019

'Copter Sham

"Copter Sham"
(with apologies to Dr. Suess)

I do not like this helipad
If near your home, would you you be mad?
Would you like it extra loud?
When wildlife flees, will you be proud?
When farm values, start to sink,
Will you admit you are a fink?

I do not like this ’copter sham
Its owner does not give a damn
I would not like it on my thumb
I do not want it up my bum
I do not like it, not one bit
Go someplace else you stupid twit. 

     I live very close to Elbert County's newly proposed “helicopter for hire” operation that made it through the September 3rd Elbert County Planning Commission's review.  As you probably have garnered from my terrible mutation of the Green Eggs and Ham passage above,  I really hate this idea.  There are a couple of levels on which this plan is flawed and I intend to make those perfectly clear in this post.  The precedent that this project sets is unconscionable and those of us who fought the Superslab (Look it up!)  in 2005 know the arguments set forth all too well.

     Milt Johnson, a neighbor and good friend, made the following observations from the September 3rd ECPC meeting:
     “ 9/3/19 Planning commission, 13 Nearby owners voice extreme opposition to finding that use is compatible with the surrounding area and neighborhood and that the use will not cause significant noise pollution, and that the use will not harm the welfare of present or future inhabitants of Elbert County. After hearing about 40 minutes of opposition applicant made statements some of which are paraphrased, and others verbatim. 
          • You're just being emotional (this is incredibly condescending to effected owners) 
          • We all hear the horror stories, not true, don't believe it 
          • Not that noisy, just 85 decibels. It’s a tractor with wings, really it’s a John Deere 
          • I don't even want the helicopter (honestly, he said it listen for it on the recording) 
          • Not as dusty as raking a field 
          • I'm going to plant some trees”

     Basically he reduced the heartfelt protests of the people with whom he says he wants to be a friend and neighbor and called them a bunch of whiney NIMBY's (Not In My Back Yards). The ghost of Ray Wells (that pesky Superslab guy) was smiling from someplace in the Underworld as he ticked off these beauties. Boiled down to its purest form, the applicant, Mr. Armstrong, owner/operator of Rampart Helicopter Services, is saying, "I do not care about your concerns.  I am in need of a place to put my commercial helicopter service even if it means turning a quiet agricultural/residential area into a noisy commercial area.  Everybody should love wanting to live next door to an open shooting range, a railroad line, a race track or helipad!  The noise is so enchanting. Just like they did in Douglas County...erm... before they kicked me out."

     Armstrong did his homework.  He went out ahead of time and recruited local emergency service providers to act as his ambassadors.  Which brings me to the divisive nature of the arguments he presented at the hearing: Elbert County Citizens love their firefighters, EMT's and Police.  The argument being made is that this is the only place Rampart can go in the county.  That is not true and to be pitted against these valued, brave men and women is totally unfair.  Mr. Armstrong actually will be inconvenienced if, after buying 79 acres of agricultural land and then building what the locals thought was a hay barn, has to move. It would be bothersome but it was his own fault. He hid his true intentions from his new neighbors without asking anybody in the surrounding areas if they had any objections beforehand.  Instead, he went about recruiting our emergency service providers who would never turn down an opportunity to have assistance saving lives and property in the event of a fire.

     I get that and you should, too.  But not one person said that Mr. Armstrong should not provide his services to Elbert County.  They did point out that there were areas in the county where the helicopter service would not present such a negative impact.  Nobody said they did not want it.  They clearly said that there were better locations.  Nobody said our county emergency services would not benefit from Rampart. They clearly would.  It was the way in which Mr. Armstrong manipulated the zoning to his advantage at the expense of existing homeowners that really is the problem. His lucrative vision of the future is no more or less important than his neighbors dreams or visions.  The only difference is that their vision was consistent with the neighboring properties.

     If you read this and understand that this could happen to you if we set this dangerous precedent, please attend the BOCC meeting on September 11, 2019 in the BOCC chambers of the County Courthouse in Kiowa (2nd floor).  If you can't attend, please consider writing a letter to your county commissioners or giving them a call.  Tell them that you understand that Rampart may need to be placed in the county, just not in an area that will have such a negative impact.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Peaceful Valley Ranch... Questions Answered

     Today at 1:00 in the BOCC Hearing Room, the Peaceful Valley Boy Scout Ranch made its presentation to get a zoning change from Agricultural status to a PUD (Planned Unit Development), and it was unanimously approved by the Board.  In my blog yesterday I had pointed out that it was my fervent hope that all my questions in regards to this matter would prove to be groundless and that I could gain reassurance that the enormous BSA Ranch (Boy Scouts of America), my western neighbor, was not up to anything suspicious due to the fact that its parent organization has fallen on hard times in recent years. 

     The presentation was made.  It was thorough and the public was asked to make comments.  That was why I was there.  I had three minutes to make my points and ask my questions.  I spent my three minutes asking the questions at the top of my list and making a few observations, but I was unable to get to them all.  That is the way it works in a hearing. I went first and was relatively sure that others in the crowd would ask the questions I did not get to ask. My focus was on valuable water reserves and to point out that even though I was an ardent fan of the BSA, I viewed this recent downturn for the Scouts a potentially problematic situation.  Since the BSA was in trouble, this vast land was an asset that understandably could help them resolve financial issues if it were sold.  Since it is in Elbert County, there is a genuine thirst for their water reserves by neighboring communities.

I also took the time to point out that recent unrest toward the county government regarding what the citizenry viewed as unbridled development was in part fueling this present concern.  I pointed out that letters to the adjacent neighbors were vague and the county provided little information to those searching the topic online or over the phone.

In Elbert County, water issues always take center stage. As much as I admire the BSA, selling water rights or changes usages on the property was something I believed the public had to know about. This concern was adamantly addressed by the representatives from the BSR. No plans to sell the water or water rights.  They need the water that is there to be a successful organization.

Another one of my neighbors stood up and delivered her message to both the Board and to the assembled committee of officials from the BSA.  That was it.  There were no more questions from the public.  The Commissioners asked some pertinent questions designed to assuage the frazzled nerves of an audience that, in hindsight, seemed placid following the formal presentation. 

This meeting was a first for me in that the BOCC members actually brought up more points than did the audience in attendance.  Then the BSA answered even more questions and validated that yes, the Scouts, on a national level, had fallen on hard times, had sold numerous facilities and even water rights due to recent enrollment decline and lawsuits.  But they were also careful to point out that the Denver Area Council was not in the same financial lineage of some of those more notorious branches, and that, in fact, were making $18 million dollars worth of improvements.  They pointed out also that the agricultural contract with the Olkjer family and the partnership that they have with the BSA are viable and keeping the camp in good financial shape.

This is all good news.  This was what I wanted to hear.  I walked away feeling that I had done my civic duty.  Despite some criticisms online in a couple of venues and one person in the meeting who seemed to believe this was all about fear mongering, the meeting was informative and non-confrontational.  I followed up with the members of the BSA contingency and they were even kind enough to offer my wife and I a tour. 

I feel more at ease, but lest you think I have now become a fanboy of current development policies in the county, rest assured I have not. The point is that when you have questions that you feel are legitimate or not, it is your right to participate.  Do not let others dissuade you from getting the answers you want or need. Stand up and be heard.
     If something changes in regards to the PUD, the public was assured that the BSR would have to resubmit their application.  It is our responsibility as citizens to watch for changes like the ones proposed in today's BOCC meeting.  If it does, and it is posted, I will be right back there asking questions.