The Cortez city council voted Tuesday to send a letter to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior asking that no changes be made to the national monument designation of Canyons of the Ancients.
The council has debated sending the letter since early May, when the Department of the Interior opened a public comment period as part of a review of 27 national monuments, including Canyons of the Ancients, which was ordered by President Donald Trump.
After prompting from several Cortez residents at the council’s May 23 meeting, City Manager Shane Hale drafted a letter stating the city government’s position that the monument should remain intact.
In an unusually well-attended meeting, the council voted 6-1 to allow Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek to sign the letter and send it to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
As part of the review process, Zinke has asked for comments from local governments and individuals affected by the monuments under review.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet also have sent letters to Zinke in support of Canyons of the Ancients. It is the only monument in Colorado that is under review.
In the city’s letter, Hale cited a study by the Headwaters Economics group that said Montezuma County has seen an 8 percent growth in population and a 10 percent growth in jobs since Canyons of the Ancients was designated a national monument in 2000. He said the monument draws about 30,000 visitors to the area every year and contains thousands of valuable archaeological sites.
“The City understands that the Department of the Interior is reviewing Canyons pursuant to Executive Order 13792, and is certain that any review should conclude that no changes to the designation are warranted or necessary,” the letter said.
Other council members pointed out a few minor grammatical errors in the letter that would need to be corrected before sending it, but otherwise most of them raised no objection to its contents.
The exception was Tim Miller, who has argued against writing a support letter ever since the council brought it up. He started Tuesday’s meeting with an apology for some of the things he had said during previous debates, saying he had “let (his) emotions get away from (him)” and used sarcasm. But he said he would still vote “no” on the letter. He said its language was “political” and he didn’t think the city should comment on a monument that isn’t located in Cortez.
“I’m not opposed to the national monument at all,” Miller said. “I’m in favor of the Antiquities law. What I don’t like is this letter saying the new executive officer shouldn’t have a review of the national monuments. Any executive individual ... should review (the monument) to make sure it fits the initial intent of the Antiquities Act.”
The letter does not state that the federal government shouldn’t review national monuments. The only time the review is explicitly mentioned is in the opening paragraph, quoted above.
Six people spoke up during the meeting’s public comment section to ask the council to approve the letter. Among them were Chris Easton, a former member of the Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance, and Montezuma County Democrats co-chair Alan Klein, who has spoken up in favor of the monument at several previous meetings.
“The financial and recreational benefits are a huge draw for Canyons of the Ancients,” Mayor Pro Tem Ty Keel said. “In the past few meetings, we’ve not had one person come from Cortez or the outlying area in opposition to this, and as a representative of the city, I really appreciate you guys coming out and showing your support.”
After the council approved the letter, they were greeted by applause from the audience.