The Garfield County Commissioners, art by Larry Day

Garfield County Commissioners had a busy agenda for their final regular meeting of 2022.

The meeting kicked off with introductions of Bentley Henderson, new deputy county manager, and Jackie Harmon, county clerk and recorder-elect.

A celebration for Jean Alberico, who is retiring after 40 years with the county and four terms as clerk,  is scheduled for Jan. 5. The swearing-in ceremony for all newly-elected county officials is scheduled for Jan. 10.

Other items included approval of the Ironbridge Lift #1 station, certification of mill levies and revenues of $187,111,494 for budget year 2023 and a letter of support for a matching grant of $15,000 from the Colorado River District to the Silt Water Conservancy District (SWCD).

The SWCD operates Harvey Gap/Rifle Gap reservoirs through an agreement with the federal Bureau of Reclamation. The District will use the money to develop a Water Delivery Analysis for a system balancing procedure for drought and regular runoff conditions. The SWCD and the Colorado River District will provide $30,000 and the Bureau of Reclamation will provide $30,000 toward the project goal. Commissioners voiced concern about what happens to shallow water rights or ground recharge systems as water delivery systems become more efficient.

Commissioners also approved a $20,000 nonprofit grant request for the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corporation, which wants to include New Castle and Parachute in its regional economic development program. The town of Rangely made a purchase request for a K-9 vehicle from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department for $18,000. Since the Rio Blanco jail closed in June, local police departments are responsible for transporting inmates to Craig for holding, but Rangely’s K-9 vehicle was recently “totaled” after hitting an elk. Commissioners approved the purchase of a 2017 Chevy Tahoe with 92,000 miles on it.

Four county planning commission re-appointments were approved, as was the return of a $48,510 revegetation security bond to Terra Energy. Updates to the County Livestock Rulebook were also approved. County Fairgrounds and Events Manager Chris Floyd asked the board to approve a waiver of fees and deposit for the Coal Ridge High School Rodeo Club Gymkhana series. Commissioners approved the waiver of fees but, over protests from Commissioner Mike Samson, said the club has to pay the refundable $150 deposit.

Updates included presentations by Andrew Romanoff, director of Great Expectations (formerly the county’s Family Visitor Program), Alpine Legal Services, the Early Childhood Network and the county’s Human Services department. The commissioners also heard updates on the Parachute trail system and the LOVA “Meet in the Middle” trail from west Glenwood Springs to the entrance to South Canyon, and approved a quit claim deed for 893 Hunt Ranch.

Contract lobbyist for the county, Robert K. Weidner, updated commissioners about fourth quarter 2022 Rural Public Lands County Council work, including strategy meetings with county commissioners in Nevada and ongoing discussions with a Utah senator to coordinate R.S. 2477 strategy. R.S. 2477 is a federal law that helped Garfield County Commissioners win a legal dispute with High Lonesome Ranch last year over a public right-of-way.

Garfield County Manager Fred Jarman told The Sopris Sun in an email that “the County Commissioners, championed primarily by Chairman John Martin, [have] for many years pursued legislation supporting historic right-of-ways across public lands granted by Revised Statute 2477. The county continues to seek bipartisan support on a proposed bill.”

In reference to drought impacts on the Colorado River, Samson asked Weidner if lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are aware of the current water needs in the West. “If we don’t get our act together in the West, the federal government will get involved and that’s when things really get jacked up,” said Samson.

Weidner said it is critical that the seven states sharing Colorado River water be allowed to reallocate that water themselves and not have the Interior Department do it. “That would be a fiasco,” he said.

Commissioner Tom Jankovski mentioned that the board was involved in four different environmental impact statements (EIS) but did not specify which ones. Samson also said he and Martin would be back in D.C. for the National Association of Counties conference next year and would “love to meet with Senator Joe Manchin.” He asked Weidner to help set that meeting up. Weidner invoiced the county for $5,000.

Fred Jarman also told The Sopris Sun that Garfield County has been paying Weidner out of the commissioners’ budget in the county’s general fund since 2012. Jarman identified the EIS’s as related to Bureau of Land Management land use plan amendments and 10(J) Rule on the Reintroduction of the Gray Wolf in Colorado. As for why Samson wants an audience with Senator Joe Manchin? Jarman said to ask Samson.