It looks like short commissioner meetings are already a thing of the past. This week’s agenda was full, including a comment from the public on the proposed, controversial Sweetwater State Park.
Mary Stevens, member of the Sweetwater Lake Working Group, expressed concern that the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife could approve the park before a biological survey by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program has been made public. Stevens is against the creation of the new park due to potential noise, crowds, land and wildlife disturbances. “The decline and disappearance of species are affected by people and recreation,” she said. “We need to hold the United States Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife accountable, and they must conduct an environmental impact statement. If these entities have nothing to hide, then no decision should be made before the biological survey study becomes public.”
Commissioners voiced frustration with how the creation of the park has been handled so far, calling it a “travesty” and stating that Governor Polis has done a “terrible job as governor.” Commissioner Jankovsky said that the Board will support the citizens of Sweetwater in opposing the park. “The federal government can’t break its own rules, which it’s trying to do right now,” he said. “The U.S. Forest Service is trying to push this through without proper [National Environmental Policy Act environmental analysis].” He added that this will probably end up in court.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario spoke to commissioners about severing a courtesy agreement to hold Pitkin County inmates. Last week, local media reported that Vallario sent emails to Pitkin County Sheriff Michael Buglione and County Manager Jon Peacock about his decision. This week, Garfield County Commissioners made it official. Vallario and then-Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo signed the original intra-governmental agreement in 2021 for three years. But, Vallario ended it just shy of two. At Monday’s meeting, The Sopris Sun asked him why.
“The agreement all along was that the commissioners of [Pitkin] County would move toward substantial progress toward building a new jail,” said Vallario. “Two years later, the newly elected sheriff, a couple of county commissioners and people in the community have made it clear that they don’t think they need a new jail.”
Vallario said he did not want to get in the middle of what he called a tug-of-war between those who want a new jail and those who don’t. He said that Garfield County pays over $100 per day to house inmates. “We’re being reimbursed [by Pitkin County] at the state rate of about $60 a day.” He added that one Pitkin County inmate who was housed in Garfield County filed a lawsuit against the jail, which is an additional cost to the county. “I see no reason for the Garfield County taxpayers to continue to foot this bill on behalf of Pitkin County.”
In other news, the Board approved the consent agenda as well as a supplement of $392,157 for county insurance due to rate increases. The county budgeted for $250,000 to insure buildings, vehicles and more, but this falls short of the total $622,157 bill from County Technical Services, Inc, which includes a $20,000 claims deposit. Jankovsky suggested exploring a new insurance company for next year.
Keith Rice, county risk manager, provided a safety committee update, stating that the committee has returned to the six meetings per year pre-pandemic schedule. He said that fire drills are a priority for this year. County building safety inspections will rotate monthly.
County human services introduced new employees and discussed EFT/EBT reimbursements. Jankovsky was concerned about how those enrolled in federal entitlement programs will face a reduction in benefits when the federal COVID emergency funds end in April 2023. The Board approved EBT disbursement of $3,299,987, renewed agreements with Rio Blanco and Pitkin counties, and approved extending three full-time human services staff positions until the end of 2023.
Commissioners revisited the guardrail proposal for Rocky Point, a deadly curve on County Road 113. Wyatt Keesbery, county road and bridge foreman, said that cost estimates range from $40,000 to $50,000 for the guardrail plus end caps. He stated that the guardrail may make the road appear narrower in that section and installation may require embankment cuts or drilling into rock. Commissioners advised him to put the project out for bid since it will cost more than $25,000.
The Board adjourned for executive session regarding the purchase, lease, transfer or sale of real property interests related to Garfield County Search and Rescue and to receive legal advice related to the proposed state park at Sweetwater Lake.
After lunch, the Board listened to presentations by county staff and mining company IC Scott, Inc, about a proposed 12-acre gravel pit between Silt and Rifle. Commissioners unanimously approved the wet-mining venture with conditions, including removing Russian olive trees and tamarisk on the property. A berm around the pit will also encroach 10 feet into the 35-foot setback from wetlands.
The next regular meeting is Monday Feb. 6 at 8 a.m.