The Cortez City Council on Tuesday debated whether it should take an official position on the Trump administration’s review of Canyons of the Ancients and other nearby national monuments.
During a workshop before the council’s weekly meeting, city manager Shane Hale asked if they would consider writing a letter to Congress on behalf of the national monuments in the Four Corners region. He said he and Mayor Karen Sheek had received many questions from the public about the issue ever since April 26, when President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. Department of the Interior to review the monument designations of about 27 protected places, including Bears Ears and Canyons of the Ancients. While some members of the council, such as Sheek and Mayor Pro Tem Ty Keel, were in favor of writing a letter, others said it was too soon to take a position.
“I don’t see any problem with having some sort of validity ... to say ‘yeah, this is important to us,’” Keel said.
Sheek said that although it’s not clear yet which way the review would go, she believed it would be helpful to write a letter supporting the monuments so that the city’s position would be clear when it came time for the federal government to make a decision.
Council member Jill Carlson disagreed.
“Just because the review is being done doesn’t mean it’s going to strip anything of its designation,” she said. “I think we get a little too speculative by taking a position now, when we don’t even know if the ones that are in our area are in danger.”
Council member Tim Miller backed her up, and added that he didn’t think it would be worthwhile to “tick off” a portion of the city’s residents, who might disagree with the council’s position, this early in the review process.
“I want to be liked by both sides,” he said.
Most of the council members said they agreed the monuments are important sources of tourism revenue for both the city and the county, although Miller said some people believe they give the federal government too much control over local land. In the end, they agreed not to make an official statement on the issue in the near future. Amber Clark, a member of the Dolores River Boating Advocates who attended the workshop, reminded the council that the Department of Interior plans to open a public comment period about the monument review on May 12. The council members did not say whether they would re-consider making a statement after that date.
Mike Lavey, a member of the parks and recreation advisory board, spoke up during the public comment section of the main council meeting to say he believed the city should write the letter.
“I’d like to recommend that we protect our national monuments in any way possible,” he said.
During the workshop, the council also heard a presentation from Cortez resident Bob Waggoner, who asked them to consider taking steps to make the town more bicycle-friendly, such as adding more bike lanes to major streets and intersections. Representatives from M,E&E Engineering, a company the city hired to assess the heating, vents and air conditioning system at the recreation center, reported that several rooftop units and other pieces of the system will need to be replaced in the near future. Laura Lewis Marchino, of Region 9 economic development district, gave a report on the district’s efforts to boost business in the Four Corners area over the past two years.