Lawrence “Butch” Gunn, the owner of the property on County Road 4 where the offending dump is located, and Mark Maynes, representing the Maynes family and Maynes Tire in Montrose, the primary source of the tires since 1990, along with their lawyer, Amy Ondos, contended first that the county could not compel cleanup of what Maynes called “erosion control” on agricultural property, and second, that they were waiting on negotiations with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment before acting on a Final Closure Plan. Maynes said he was hoping CDPHE would declare the buried tires “stable” and allow them to remain.
Ondos, of the law firm Weaver and Fitzhugh, produced copies of a 2001 lease agreement between Gunn and Jim Bridges allowing Bridges to graze cattle on Gunn’s 640 acres. She said that under County Ordinance 95-1, agricultural land was exempt from regulations on the dumping of rubbish.
“So,” Commission Chair Heidi Albritton asked Interim County Attorney Kathryn Sellars, “you could have a rubbish dump on ag land?” Sellars nodded her head. “That’s an interesting fact!” Albritton exclaimed.
Sellars, however, questioned whether the half-page lease was sufficient proof of ag status. “Is there a time frame on this lease?” she asked Ondos.
“Is it filed with the county?”
“So, our opinion,” Albritton asked Sellars, “is that the Notice and Order does apply to this property?”
Discussion then turned to the removal of tires from the river. Gunn and Maynes described their efforts to be in touch with each of the private property owners along the 17 miles affected by the washout of approximately 1,000 tires during an August thunderstorm. They have retrieved most of them, and paid to have them hauled away by a registered hauler, Maynes said. (He encouraged any landowner who sees tires emerging as the flow decreases this winter to call Maynes Tire at 970/249-7696.)
They have made significant progress, Ondos said, and have been thwarted only by continuing high water (and the forecast for more this week) and one recalcitrant gatekeeper, the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. “We have not been allowed in by Game and Fish in the Billy Creek area,” Maynes said. “We have been refused access to go get them.”
(Reached after the meeting, Parks and Wildlife’s Renzo DelPiccolo said his division has been advised by the state Attorney General’s office to hold off on allowing Maynes and Gunn access to Billy Creek State lands, for liability and other reasons, “for the time being, anyway.” DelPiccolo also said that the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership has volunteered to help clean up the Billy Creek area.)
Albritton said that while river cleanup is important, the county’s main concern was the potential for future tire “spills” from the illegally filled-in gully on Gunn’s property. She did, however, recommend continuing the public hearing until Dec. 6, citing an email from investigating officer Jeff Emmons of CDPHE, who recommended allowing more time, until January 2012.
LOW ALTITUDE TRAINING PLAN FAILS TO ADDRESS COUNTY CONCERNS
“The Air Force needs to genuinely define terms and be honest about noise levels,” said County Commissioner Lynn Padgett at Tuesday’s meeting in Ridgway. “Only one of the seven concerns we raised [about a new Low Altitude Training Area plan] was addressed in this Draft Environmental Assessment,” Padgett continued. “They agreed to set up a hotline for ranchers to call in when they are branding, and the training flights [the AF wants to fly as low as 300 feet] might stampede the cattle.”
She urged fellow commissioners to heed a request by the Ridgway-Ouray Community Council to craft a letter to Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico demanding a full Environmental Impact Statement.
The seven concerns enumerated in the county’s comment letter last summer included impacts on ranching, on wildlife and big game animals (particularly on critical winter habitat and calving areas), on protected Wilderness, on the potential to trigger avalanches, possible interference with wildland fire fighting, lack of communication with search and rescue and emergency response agencies, and noise impacts.
Padgett said none of them, except for the branding concession, were addressed. She called the EA “blatantly deficient.”
Listing just one example, she cited an AF finding that claimed the flights will produce an “average of just 35 decibels of noise at a certain point on the ground over 24 hours. But that number averages in 23 hours and 59 minutes of silence!”
“It seemed like the EA was phoned in,” commented ROCC President Denise Gendreau. “The math was funny. The conclusions were questionable.
“Telluride was excluded [from the permit area],” she added.
“And we are not!” exclaimed Commissioner Chair Heidi Albritton. “The squeaky wheel . . .”
Albritton concluded, “There are definitely enough question marks” to warrant a request for an EIS.
Commissioner Mike Fedel said, “Our economics are definitely an issue here, tourism and hunting. I’m ready to say we need answers, but I’m not ready to call for an EIS.”
The commissioners agreed to table the matter until Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., when they would look at a letter that Padgett would draft overnight.