Montezuma County government faced a flurry of issues and projects in 2017. Cmmissioners aligned with Pleasant View residents to prevent major changes to an intersection, partnered with local land agencies to prevent an invasive mussel from entering McPhee Reservoir, built a new courthouse and won a long-running tax case involving Kinder Morgan.
Interested residents packed the commission chambers on morning for their chance to weigh in on a proposed change to County Road BB, a proposed asphalt plant near Cortez, and the county’s initial decision to defund the Colorado State University Extension program.
Kinder Morgan tax caseOn June 19, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of Montezuma County in a long-running tax case against Kinder Morgan. The final decision opened the door for the county to collect millions of dollars in back taxes owed by the energy company, which extracts carbon dioxide in Montezuma and Dolores counties.
The complex case began in 2009 when the county assessor concluded that Kinder Morgan had underpaid its property taxes by about $2 million for 2008 production. A Kinder Morgan tariff deduction for transporting its carbon dioxide was rejected. Kinder Morgan paid the higher tax bill for 2008, but petitioned for a refund, claiming it qualified for the tariff deduction, and that the county’s retroactive valuation was not authorized. The higher valuation was upheld by the Colorado District Court of Appeals in 2015, and then by the Colorado Supreme Court. The court ruled that the Montezuma County assessor had the authority to retroactively assess property taxes on oil and gas leaseholds operated by Kinder Morgan because the company had underreported the wellhead selling price of CO2 gas. The county said some of the tax windfall will be used to replace the millions of dollars the county was forced to spend on a new courthouse.
New combined courthouseMontezuma County was the last Colorado county to combine both county and district courts under one roof, a requirement under state law. After first considering an expensive $5 million remodel, commissioners opted for a new building that would last for 50 years. The new courthouse is aligned to face Mesa Verde with a circular kiva design representing the community rooms of the Ancestral Puebloans.
“This is the newest and most technically advanced courthouse in Colorado,” said District Court Judge Doug Walker. It was built by Jaynes Corp. of Colorado. The total price tag for the 29,000-square-foot courthouse came to $9.6 million, of which Montezuma County contributed $6.6 million. The rest came from state grants.
The County Road BB flapAfter years of vehement opposition in Pleasant View, in May the Colorado Department of Transportation dropped a controversial plan to alter the Road BB and U.S. Highway 491 intersection. CDOT had planned on allowing only right-hand turns onto and from Road BB, citing increased traffic on U.S. 491 and a history of crashes near the intersection. Residents and the Montezuma County commissioners objected to the plan, and during a series of public meetings, residents argued that farmers and ranchers rely on the existing intersection for their work.
Commissioners rejected an earlier CDOT offer to close the intersection in exchange for $630,000 for county road improvements in the Pleasant View area. To address safety issues, officials discussed installing signs that light up when vehicles approach, warning drivers about the dangerous intersection.
CSU Extension troublesIn October, dissatisfied county commissioners voted to defund the county Colorado State University Extension office, which runs the 4-H Club and many agricultural services.
The surprise decision left the program, which depends on $108,000 per year from the county, in limbo. Commissioner Larry Don Suckla later revealed the move was a “fake news” ploy designed to force a meeting and program review with regional extension supervisor CJ Mucklow. An all-day community meeting was arranged with Mucklow that aired out issues with the way 4-H and extension operates. Enrollment in 4-H has been dropping.
An advisory committee was formed, and a memorandum of understanding was hashed out that clears up roles of the fair board and 4-H during the county fair. Parents of 4-H kids said there has been some confusion between the fair board and 4-H organizers about who should be in charge of various aspects of 4-H, especially leading up to and during the fair.
Man killed by deputyOn the evening of July 4, a Pleasant View man was killed after he shot at a Montezuma County sheriff deputy.
Tyrone Orvy Peabody, 53, was fatally shot during the incident on County Road 12. Deputies initially responded to the home after a family disturbance call.
In October, the 22nd Judicial District reported the shooting was legally justified. The report said when deputies arrived at the residence, Peabody shot at them with a rifle, forcing the deputies to retreat to the road. Upon instruction, Peabody put down the rifle, then picked it back up and aimed it at the deputies, prompting one to fire the fatal shot, according to the report. An autopsy revealed high levels of alcohol and marijuana in the victim’s system.
Summit Lake accessThe county and Tres Rios office of the Bureau of Land Management worked to improve hiking and horse riding access to an isolated piece of BLM land south of Summit lake off Road N. But the plan hit a snag because of private property issues. This summer, the county took over jurisdiction of Roads 35.6 and Road N to improve access, and the BLM considered building a parking lot and access point for nonmotorized use. Summit Lake West residents have been vocal about their concerns of increased traffic and road wear due to a new BLM access point. The access issue was put on hold after a county property survey in October revealed a narrow strip of private land between the edge of a 60-foot road easement and the BLM boundary. The 200-foot-long strip is 2 feet wide on one end, then narrows to a foot on the other. “It appears that without an easement across the private land, there is no public access at this point,” said James Dietrich, federal land planner for the county.
McPhee Reservoir closuresDue to fear of an invasive mussel contamination, access for motorized boating on McPhee Reservoir was significantly restricted in 2017. Motorized boats can only access the lake via the McPhee and House Creek boat ramps when boat inspections stations were open. The goal is to decontaminate any boats suspected of mussels which if get into the water proliferate rapidly and clog irrigation and municipal water infrastructure. To prevent unauthorized launches, the county and San Juan National Forest closed Road X at Sage Hen, and put up some barriers near the Dolores cemetery. Lake managers are trying to figure out a way to pay for an expanded boat inspection program that would improve motorized boating access.
Sand Canyon parkingIn 2017 Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Montezuma County collaborated on a plan to boost parking at the Sand Canyon trailhead from the current 20 spots to up to 70. The popular trailhead sees 18,000 visitors per year, and the current parking lot quickly fills, leaving up to 50 overflow vehicles parked along the narrow County Road G. The BLM has have proposed a new parking lot a quarter-mile east of the current lot that would include a trailhead and connector trail to Sand Canyon. The county proposes using its right of way for 40 more cars.
Master leasing planA federal plan to further regulate oil and gas development in Montezuma and La Plata counties became unlikely in 2017 due to a new deregulation energy policy under President Donald Trump.
A master leasing plan proposed by the Colorado office of the Bureau of Land Management would have required additional scrutiny of oil and gas leasing on 71,000 acres of land valued for its natural and recreational values. Areas slated for more review included the Phil’s World trail system and areas near Mesa Verde National Park and Hesperus. But in October, the Department of Interior included master leasing plans as one of the many regulatory “burdens” to oil and gas development and said they intended to rescind them.
Also in 2017 ...The county approved a controversial high-impact permit that will allow D&L Construction to conduct crushing operations and construction storage on County Road L. The permit does not allow use of a hot-asphalt plant, which would need to go through a separate permit process.The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe announced plans to build a $2 million solar farm with 265 panels. The 1 megawatt solar array was made possible thanks to a $973,000 grant from the Department of Energy, and a $1 million match from the tribe.The Montezuma County Landfill opened the Upcycle Store that sells usable items that arrive in the trash. Landfill staff keep an eye out for valuable items to set aside. And when customers come to unload, they are now asked if they have anything worth saving. In April, asbestos contamination forced the Towaoc Recreation Center to close and triggered an Environment Protection Agency cleanup. The estimated cost of the cleanup was $600,000, which was covered by the EPA. The recreation center re-opened in August.[email protected]