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La Plata County commissioners want Durango’s plan for homeless camp

Timeline for closing county site concerns Durango’s mayor
La Plata County commissioners asked Durango City Council in a letter to open a new camp before they will commit to end camping west of town.

La Plata County commissioners want the city of Durango to clear up several uncertainties about a new homeless camp the city plans to open adjacent to the Durango Dog Park before the county closes its campground west of town.

In a letter sent April 18, commissioners seek several pieces of information from the city about its new campground. The letter, signed by Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, says the county will take about 60 days to decommission its campground after the city has opened a new camp.

The letter has sparked concern among Durango city councilors.

Mayor Sweetie Marbury said she is concerned about the long timeline cited in the letter. She’s also concerned about the county’s plan to relocate its existing camp to a new location next to the capped Van-Dal landfill north of Tech Center Drive near the base of Hogsback Mountain.

The county said the move is necessary to mitigate the fire danger posed at the existing site. It will be a temporary move until the city opens its own site. But Marbury said the temporary site also presents a fire danger.

“The city has stepped up to the plate, and we want that camp closed,” she said.

The 60-day window for closing the county’s new camp won’t start until the city’s camp is open, the letter says. That would mean two campsites open at the same time.

The county’s letter also asks the city to provide details about its new site, including location, hours, rules, a map, services it would provide and the ability of the camp to serve those who are physically or mentally impaired.

“We must ensure that we protect the constitutional rights of the citizens of La Plata County, whether housed or unhoused,” the letter says.

In an earlier letter, councilor Dick White explained a general plan for the new camp, but it did not address all the specifics county commissioners have requested.

Commissioner Brad Blake said the county requested the information to protect itself.

“We don’t want to be hit with a lawsuit,” he said.

Next week, the city will respond to the county’s letter and release a timeline for opening its new site, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said. The city was waiting for information from the La Plata County sheriff to prepare its plan for the new site, he said.

Lachelt said she had concerns about the viability of the city’s proposed site because it is a former uranium mill site and there are unanswered questions about it. For example, the city may have to complete a health-risk assessment on the site because it is home to radioactive materials.

The city’s plan has not been shared with Colorado’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division. So the state’s Remediation Program Manager Monica Sheets could not say whether a health-risk assessment will be required. It can take her department a month to 45 days to review plans for uranium mill tailings sites depending on their complexity. But the timeline could be shorter for Durango’s site, she said. LeBlanc said the city plans to share its plan with the state once it is complete.

The new county campsite is clear of vegetation and will address the “clear and present” danger of fire, Lachelt said.

“It’s a preferable site to the current camp – not ideal, but it’s a better option,” she said.

The county expects to move campers to the new site next week. Residents will be prohibited from camping in the existing location, where tents are more dispersed, said Lt. Ed Aber of the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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