Public lands were the focus of a sometimes contentious discussion at a Montezuma County Commission town hall meeting this week.
The two-hour meeting Monday at Mancos Town Hall was the third in a series of public evening sessions the commissioners have scheduled to give people who can’t attend the commission’s regular Monday morning meetings a chance to share their opinions.
Commissioners Keenan Ertel, James Lambert and Larry Don Suckla listened for about two hours as more than 20 people offered comments at the meeting. Speakers sometimes demanded answers to questions on controversial topics, such as public lands, healthcare and economic growth, from their commissioners.
The meeting was an informal question and answer format, and no official decisions were made. The first town hall session was in Cortez in July, and the second was in Dolores in October. Suckla said the next session will be in Lewis-Arriola or Pleasant View, and they will continue rotating locations across the whole county.
The most common topic at the meeting was public lands, especially the transfer of federal lands to states. Many speakers said transferring land to states would place an extra burden on counties that they could not afford.
Mancos Planning and Zoning board member Gina Roberts said the county already has budget problems, so it could not afford to take the Sage Hen area back from the U.S. Forest Service.
All the commissioners said that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management don’t have adequate funds to take care of the lands they hold. Lambert said counties are getting less and less money to maintain land and roads, too.
When asked if he would like to see the Antiquities Act repealed, Lambert would neither condemn nor endorse the act.
“I’m not sure what will be the best way, but we need to stop presidents from taking the land,” he said.
Passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act allows the president to create national monuments, such as Bears Ears, from federal lands.
Ertel said the opposite was happening in Montezuma County, with the federal government taking over private lands. He said the “regulation industry” in Colorado is one of the strongest in the country. Ertel singled out the BLM for creating unnecessary regulations.
“I think we’ve got plenty of regulations,” he said.
Other topics of the conversation included internet service, renewable energy efforts and growth in the county.
Lambert said no decision had been made on fiber internet service to the county, and county staff members were still trying to find the best option for everyone. Suckla said the goal is to install fiber down McElmo Canyon, connecting to San Juan County, Utah. The system would then connect Montezuma County to Salt Lake City, as well as Albuquerque, Grand Junction and Denver, he said. More information about internet will be coming to the county on Feb. 14, Suckla said.
Ertel said the county is trying to attract a company that would start a solar energy farm to the area. Suckla said there is a solar energy project in the works, but he said it was too early in the process to share details.
Ertel said the commission is working to encourage growth in the county, but Montezuma is limited because of a lack of logistics infrastructure such as a railroad. He said hemp could turn out to be a very viable crop for the county. Suckla said he is “100 percent” behind hemp.
Speakers at the meeting urged the commissioners to talk with elected officials at the state and federal level to influence policy decisions on public lands and healthcare. Suckla said he will be traveling to Washington, D.C. later in February with a delegation of Colorado elected officials to discuss policy.
“We are working on crafting bills with our legislators to get some help,” Suckla said.