The Public Lands Coordination Commission is no more.
With very little, if any, notice, the Montezuma County Commissioners voted unanimously on Monday to disband the seven-person commission after two years.
Disbandment of the group has not gone over well with the 9/12 Project/Tea Party Patriots.
The Public Lands Coordination Commission (PLCC) was tasked with coordinating with federal agencies on public lands issues in accordance with federal law. It met with U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management agencies every month or so, but there was a communication issue, Montezuma County’s Federal Lands Coordinator James Dietrich said.
“I felt like the commission was not functioning well together,” he said. “It was beginning to develop a rift” with the county commissioners and amongst its own members. PLCC member Dennis Atwater denied that any such rift within the PLCC existed “to any significant extent.”
“Things were initially working pretty good,” Dietrich said. “It just became difficult for the commissioners to coordinate with the federal agencies because they were working through a middleman (the PLCC).” He noted that five of the original nine members (which included two alternates) resigned from the commission in December 2010. These resignations were mainly “due to concerns that an adversarial atmosphere was preventing the group from moving forward,” he said.
Dietrich said the PLCC came about after the county received a private grant from Don Kelly’s American Stewards of Liberty. The grant enabled the county to conduct a workshop, which called for development of a working group. Kelly’s group was promoting local control, Dietrich said.
Incoming Commissioner Keenan Ertel said he supports the disbandment of the PLCC, but was caught off guard by how quickly it happened. “I was surprised it was disbanded that rapidly,” he said Wednesday. Ertel, who is running unopposed for the District 2 commission seat, was in attendance for the morning portion of Monday’s meeting. He was unaware of the commissioners’ action, which took place in their afternoon session, because he did not see it on the agenda and wasn’t notified until he received an email from the 9/12 Project/Tea Party Patriots on Wednesday.
County Administrator Ashton Harrison said the disbandment of the PLCC was on the agenda, apparently under “1:30 P.M. James Dietrich, Public Lands Report.” Draft minutes obtained from County Clerk Carol Tullis reflect that the commissioners repealed three resolutions relating to the PLCC and disbanded the group.
AN AGENDA QUESTION
The Colorado Open Meetings (Sunshine) Law requires that public bodies post a “full and timely” notice at least 24 hours prior to a hearing. Public notice is required for meetings at which the adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation, or formal action occurs.
County Attorney Bob Slough said he doesn’t believe it was a violation of the state’s open meetings law. “It can be argued one way or the other,” he said.
Slough said he doesn’t believe the commission’s action was covered under a statement at the end of the agenda that says, ”ADDITION the Board of County Commissioners shall conduct such further business as may come before said meeting.”
Commission Chairman Steve Chappell explained the reason for the disbandment of the PLCC. “For the sake of the government agencies and us as well, it’s probably better if we meet with them directly.”
Chappell, who will be the only returning commissioner after the election, noted he has taken field trips with the BLM and Forest Service recently. He believes these federal agencies are currently making an effort to coordinate road management with the county, but added that this was not done in the past. He referred to a federal mandate that these agencies coordinate with state, local and tribal agencies on travel management plans.
As far as the PLCC goes, Chappell said he appreciates them “and the time they put in on it.” During the summer, the group had trouble getting a quorum. “Once they got started up again, there was some confusion as to what their job was,” he said.
Chappell added that some cattlemen were unwilling to serve on the PLCC because they believed it might compromise their grazing permits. Dietrich said the cattlemen’s issues are addressed through a different group that meets two or three times a year. “The Rangeland Stewardship Committee has been working on federal land issues for many years without difficulty,” he said. “In fact they really are a model for how an appointed working group can function and make progress.”
Dexter Gill, a spokesman for the 9/12 Project/Tea Party Patriots, said the group is “very concerned about our access and use of our public lands, which is being summarily taken away by the Forest Service closing down access to public lands and not making a balanced use. The PLCC is supposed to be a coordinator of the various interests. Whether or not they’re doing a good job or not is irrelevant.”
A QUESTION OF SUPPORT
Atwater, a member of the PLCC and the 9/12 Project, was not happy about its disbandment either.
The county commissioners “weren’t giving us the support we need,” he said. “We can’t work effectively with the agencies when the very people who appointed us don’t work effectively with us.”
Early on, the PLCC and then-chairman Dewayne Findley, who is currently running for the District 3 commission seat, requested that one commissioner attend the PLCC meetings. Atwater said that rarely happened. Atwater also said he made several complaints to Dietrich about him not writing an accurate and complete account of their meetings as recorded in the minutes.
“How do the commissioners know what goes on in the meeting if they don’t attend and the minutes don’t reflect what happened?” Atwater asked.
Dietrich said he only remembered one such complaint, which was from the group’s last meeting on Sept. 25. The revisions from that meeting expanded the minutes from three to seven pages, Atwater said.
The PLCC formulated a protocol outlining their desire for coordination with the federal agencies that the county commissioners approved in November 2010, Atwater said. It was sent to the Forest Service on Nov. 15, 2010. The Forest Service responded with a letter dated June 2, 2011, but the PLCC wasn’t notified about it until July 31 of this year, Atwater said.
“The commissioners and Dietrich hadn’t told us,” he said. Dietrich said that the letter was received in June 2011 but noted that the PLCC didn’t meet over the summer months due to lack of a quorum. “The next meeting was held near the end of September,” Dietrich said via email. “After nearly three months without a meeting, the letter was simply an oversight on my part for which I have apologized.”
In the Forest Service’s June 2011 letter, then-Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles said, “We are concerned that this protocol could result in extended time frames and additional costs while providing limited value added to the decision making process. We find no requirements for the specified detail in the protocol in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Forest Management Act, or National Environmental Policy Act. We also believe that many of the stated goals of the protocol are already being accomplished through our on-going communication processes for proposed federal actions.”
Atwater referred to the Forest Service bulldozing roads on the San Juan National Forest without complying with Environmental Protection Agency requirements. “Under state law, the county commissioners’ duty is to keep these roads open,” he said.
“The 9/12 group is concerned about the cancellation of the PLCC. Who will now effectively represent the citizens’ rights of way and public use on public lands?...To date these commmissioners haven’t done that.”
An Aug. 13 letter from the county commissioners to Derek Padilla, the U.S. Forest Service’s Dolores District Ranger, stated that the commissioners believe “that we are making steady progress with coordination, and so far we are pleased with the level of commitment shown by local federal agency representatives...”
The letter notes that the commissioners “appreciate the good faith effort to correct past deficiencies in the coordination process by re-opening the Glade/Boggy Draw Travel Management Plan... While the Boggy/Glade TMP process has not exactly been the perfect model of coordination, we need a place to start, and we now feel (sic) that coordination is happening, and is steadily improving.”
Continuing, “We will let the PLCC know that further concerns they may have regarding past and ongoing coordination should be brought directly to the Board of County Commissioners so that we can communicate those concerns to you ourselves.”
Atwater said the county commissioners did not discuss the letter with the PLCC prior to sending it. “Basically they sold us out,” he said.
Editor’s note: The federal law in question is the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act of 1976.