County declines climate proposal

Lieb, Hotter fear approval of greenhouse-gas plan would fuel new regulation

On a divided vote, La Plata County commissioners declined Tuesday to formally adopt an expensive long-range plan that took 2½ years to write.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” said Heather Erb, vice chairwoman of the steering committee that helped coordinate the La Plata County Climate & Energy Action Plan.

The plan outlines ways the county could cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent in the next four decades.

Residents packed the commissioners chambers at the County Courthouse on Tuesday to weigh in on the plan, which was being presented to commissioners for formal acceptance and action.

The proposal, which cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce and involved numerous community members investing more than 10,000 volunteer hours over more than two years, laid out 42 possible actions commissioners’ could consider to reduce the county’s greenhouse-gas footprint.

Few speakers at the meeting addressed the actual recommendations made in the plan. Instead, many argued either that the document would lead to unwanted regulation and was part of an international takeover plot involving the United Nations or that the document could help the county build a more sustainable future and failure to act could indicate a lack of commitment to long-range planning.

The refrain was similar to that proffered late last year as the county considered a proposed comprehensive plan aimed at guiding development in the county for the next 20 years and a new set of land-use regulations. That plan, which also took volunteers years to produce and cost more than $700,000, was abandoned amid the controversy.

“Today’s proposal is tomorrow’s new tax,” said resident Art Charette, who last year was ousted from the county’s Planning Commission after penning a letter to the editor, published in The Durango Herald, which, among other things, accused the United Nations of a takeover plot locally.

Others concurred and attempted to prove conspiracy theories with printouts taken from a varying list of online sources.

Meanwhile, speakers such as Jim Fitzgerald urged commissioners to “make something” of the plan and “do something with it” in light of the vast amount of effort that went into its creation and for the sake of future generations.

Erb and fellow steering committee members Josh Joswick, energy issues organizer for San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Durango City Councilor Dick White said they hoped the board would formally acknowledge the findings and order county staff to evaluate the individual recommendations in the proposal for possible implementation where the findings make sense and are cost-effective.

It’s how the Durango City Council approached the plan after the initial presentation last year to the two governing boards.

Erb called the plan “a menu of options” for local officials to choose from in their efforts to build a more sustainable community. And Commissioner Wally White added it is not a regulatory document that requires future action.

White motioned to accept the plan and have staff evaluate its contents.

But commissioners Kellie Hotter and Bobby Lieb said they felt that formally accepting the plan with a vote would imply intent to implement some or all of its recommendations, something they weren’t comfortable with.

“Raising (the plan) to that level bothers me,” Hotter said.

Lieb agreed, saying the plan threatened to create new layers of bureaucracy and turn county officials into “environmental police.” He feared formal approval or acceptance of the plan might inadvertently burden his and future county boards. He said he would be “all ears,” however, if some of the plan’s recommendations were brought to them individually for consideration.

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