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.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

IS THE PEACEFUL VALLEY RANCH IN ELBERT COUNTY UNDER ATTACK?



A rural treasure, the Peaceful Valley Boy Scout Ranch which is 3,344 acres of unspoiled pristine beauty, is slated to do a presentation on Wednesday, August 28th at 1:00 PM before the Elbert County BOCC.  In short, they are asking for a PUD (Planned Unit Development) designation for the entire ranch.  Let that sink in.  A large 3,344 acre ranch that has vast reserves of groundwater, with prime building potential, is asking for a zoning change that would make it almost impossible for the average resident to challenge on any grounds.  This is the same land that has been coveted by wealthy shooting sports enthusiasts from around the nation for decades. The Travis Family Sporting Clays Facility is there and it is amazingly beautiful.  That said, the shooting enthusiasts and the surrounding landowners have been at odds since 2007.  There have been lawsuits and issues surrounding what that type of activity does to the tax exempt status of the BSA.  That is why when you see a shooting event at the ranch all of the literature points out that it is all for charity.  Under the current arrangement, the tax exempt status of the ranch is jeopardized by "for Profit" events.

Times change and it is no secret that the BSA is no longer as popular as it once was.  There has been national attention focused on the declining enrollment and the allegations of misconduct by a few Scout Masters that have the organization scrambling to stay financially solvent.  The only real assets owned by the Boy Scouts of America are tied up in vast parcels of land situated across the country. It is inevitable that downsizing is one of the options that the BSA must examine to help resolve some of their issues.

I love this ranch.  I live adjacent to it.  Part of the way I make my retirement income is by shooting wildlife photography. Believe me...there is incredible wildlife on the Boy Scout Ranch in our county, even photographed from a distant public road.  And, as a former school teacher of young children I believe the Boy Scout experience is good for the young men and women of our  country.

But I also live in Elbert County.  In recent years, our county has come under extreme pressure to sell our water and develop our land for the sprawl of Colorado's Front Range communities.

Below are some of the red flags that those of us who have examined this issue just in the last few hours are seeing.  Please take a look and understand why we should all have concerns and become involved.  Time is of the essence.  

• Why are there no specifics in the letters sent to adjacent properties about what is being proposed in the way of development?
• Since the Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch is comprised of numerous parcels of land, why is the entire ranch included in a planned unit development?
•  What does this PUD do to the tax exempt status of the ranch?
•  Why has it been so difficult to get specifics from the county on what is going on here when you attempt to call them or review documentation?
• Why does documentation for this proposal reference numerous Douglas County government decisions?
• Why are traffic studies, water reports and other documents (that any other developer is normally required to submit for such a proposal) out of date, and, in some cases, as many as four years old?
• Is there any relationship between the Economic Development Zone designation for Elbert Road being lauded by our commissioners and this proposal?
• Heliport next to the East gate of the ranch?

This post is sure to ruffle the feathers of our county government, but trust in our local governance is low and possibly waning more as you read this.  I want to be wrong about all of this.  I want someone to ease my deep sense of foreboding.  After viewing the BOCC's  new attitude of growth at any cost and turning a deaf ear to citizens' cries to slow down,  I am convinced many people need to show up at this meeting.  Again: Wednesday, August 28th, 1 PM before the Elbert County Board of County Commissioners.  Please attend.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Elbert County on the Horns of a Homemade Dilemma

Editors Note:

Based on further research, it turns out that the abortion comments were not as lengthy as I was led to believe.  I try to be as accurate as I possibly can be. Pastor Swanson did not deliver a scathing diatribe about abortion and therefore I offer my apology on that error. It was inappropriate to bring up abortion in an invocation in my opinion. It was still a mistake to have a man who leads a designated hate group represent the spiritual direction of a community meeting.  With that one exception, the article still stands.  Elbert can do better than this.  

Robert Thomasson


Generally speaking, a dilemma is something that forces a person to make a decision between two difficult choices or outcomes. When you find yourself in a predicament in which you have only two difficult options you risk being caught on one of the horns. But as the title here suggests, in Elbert County our elected officials go out of their way to generate dilemmas on which they can continually experience the discomfort of being gored by their own flawed reasoning. Case in point: the decision to invite  controversial pastor, Kevin Swanson,  of the Reformation Church of Elizabeth, Colorado, to give a three minute invocation at the regular meeting of the BOCC on June 26th.  You may not know Pastor Swanson, but his controversial views in recent years precede him.

The following is short list of those views derived from national publications:

1. Blaming the wildfires in California on the state’s embracing of LGQBT rights

2. His view that Girl Scout leaders should be executed for supporting gay children

3. The Disney movie Frozen should be banned for promoting homosexuality and beastiality

4. That parents should drown themselves before allowing their children to read or view 
    Harry Potter movies

5. Pastor Swanson is the director of Generations.  Generations is a religious organization 
    that produces a daily podcast that primarily denounces LGQBT rights. Swanson is also  
    a  writer for The World View in 5 Minutes, a daily online Christian newscast.  His efforts 
    have won him a designation as the director of a hate group by the Southern Poverty   
    Law Center, the nation’s most prestigious organization to track such groups.



It is my understanding this was the first invocation delivered by Swanson at the regular BOCC meeting. Why would our BOCC go out of its way to invite Swanson to deliver its weekly invocation?  There are plenty of worthy religious leaders here in the Elbert community from which to choose without picking a total extremist with such a hate-filled agenda.  We know our  BOCC does have its own short list of Elbert County religious leaders from which it chooses to deliver the regular invocation.  And, it is unclear why there are no rabbis or imams in this rotation, but  perhaps the BOCC just believes that their list reflects the community makeup.  That said, I do not know many people who are calling for the execution of Girl Scout leaders here in the county either and who might qualify as a religious leader.



I have an opinion based on my years of involvement with Elbert County politics over the years as both an election official and as a commissioner candidate:

 

This selection was no accident.  Our commissioners, or at least a majority of the current board, knew exactly what they were doing.  They were making a statement designed to anger those Democrats who regularly show up at the meetings…just for the mere pleasure of doing so.  There have been several brush ups between the county government and the Elbert County Democrats over the years.  But, the invocation is a perfectly acceptable practice nationwide and permissible by law. Praying at the beginning of a community meeting is just one way to open a community gathering, remind participants to be inspired by their chosen deity, and to thereby do good work. Goodness is the key feature of an opening prayer.   In this instance however, the BOCC chose to weaponize a benign practice to insult the Democrats in attendance who, in the past,  have taken issue with the county’s disregard for the separation of church and state. 



Mr. Richardson is a former officer in the U.S. Military.  He proudly touts his leadership skills and features himself as a man of reason.  However, if you impugn  his intellect, Mr. Richardson is quick to take you to task.  Do not be surprised if you are challenged to a full contact game of Scrabble or a Trivial Pursuit Marathon.  He must believe that this is evidence that he is obviously no dummy.




Grant Thayer is a scientist and an engineer.  I have known him now for nearly 20 years and he drops those two facts into every conversation you have with him or into every diatribe he delivers in any meeting. Seriously,  I am sure he works it into everything he discusses.  Imagine the confusion his barista must have when he walks up and says, “Let me have a venti cup of Pike, the drink of engineers!” So he is also no dummy.



I  feel I must give Mr. Pettit a pass here.  I find him to be reflective and quiet. He is not boastful man and he always has a smile.  If he is a genius (and he may well be) he has never gone out of his way to wear it like a badge.  If he does have strong religious beliefs, he has never pushed them on me  or anyone while I was around.  Not only is he not a dummy, he appears to be a gentleman.



So it is my belief that this choice for the invocation last Wednesday was done on purpose by at least two of our commissioners.  It was a calculated move to enrage those who would know just how inappropriate it would be to have the leader of a hate group deliver an opening prayer.  By one account from a person in attendance, a significant portion of the invocation was on the evils of abortion in a tone only a practiced hate speech artist could deliver.  This was confusing, as abortion was not listed on the agenda of the meeting… at least the printed one. 



The message hit its mark.  People were definitely offended.  Keeping the community divided along purely political lines was strengthened.  Those who felt they had successfully delivered an attack from a position of righteousness could smugly smile with glee. And so now as a result, protests are being planned, news agencies have been contacted and social media has caught on fire. 



In my mind the BOCC walked away believing they were the clear winner in this planned altercation.  They know when it comes to an argument involving religion that the close knit leadership of the Elbert County Republicans will always gather the wagons in a tight circle.  But was it really a win?  It is certainly unclear at this point because the county is rapidly changing.



Colorado’s economy over the past few years has been on fire.  It has been growing and that is due in large part to the legalization of marijuana, transportation growth, clean energy, fossil fuels and real estate.  This is all occurring under a rapidly changing political dynamic that is headed toward the left.  The growth numbers in our population are strongest in the column of the millennials.  From red to purple to blue is Colorado’s continuing pattern of political evolution. In the meantime, Elbert County has acquired a taste for the money that development brings and that does not bode well for keeping the population of Elizabeth and Kiowa deeply conservative.  The call to “bring on the rooftops” is a double-edged sword, and I predict within five years, at current growth rates, there will be viable and successful Democrats elected into office to represent a changing majority.



This tact of insulting the minority party for the short term strategy of divisiveness may have left lasting scars on the rising minority party, and that will have lasting consequences. The notion that we are located  so far away from Denver and Boulder that they will never be able to impact local politics with all their so-called, “snowflake” ideas is not the way things are turning out.  Elizabeth is rapidly filling with those who enjoy the trees, the deer, other wildlife, etc.  I overheard a young couple at Starbucks the other day talking about why they were looking at real estate in Elizabeth. The frightening response to any Republican within earshot was, “It reminds us of Boulder and Niwot.”



The first horn for the local Republicans would have been to leave well enough alone and allow these very active Democrats with their critical view of the current board their weekly presence without challenge. I am certain that the Republicans felt that option left them looking weak, and they couldn’t have that now, could they? Horn number two was to call a hate monger and allow him to a platform that appears to give him political legitimacy by delivering what should have been a motivational and healing message.  We know what they chose to do and so now we find them dangling from the damned horns of a homemade dilemma.  If their mission was to dispel any notion that they had not a shred of intelligence or decency then it was a roaring success.



Hate is never a good foundation on which to build a house.  Even a dummy should  know that.