It was a sight to see as Elbert County residents piled into the exhibit hall at the fairgrounds in Kiowa. About 1,000 people showed up to the Aug. 24 …
It was a sight to see as Elbert County residents piled into the exhibit hall at the fairgrounds in Kiowa.
About 1,000 people showed up to the Aug. 24 county commissioners’ meeting to show their opposition to an amendment to a service plan that would allow a 150-mile pipeline transporting water from Lamar to the county in an effort to provide a renewable water resource.
But before any voting could take place, it was announced that the applicant, Karl Nyquist with the Elbert and Highway 86 Commercial Metropolitan District, had withdrawn his petition. People, holding “vote no” signs, cheered as a letter was read by commissioner Del Schwab from Dianne Miller, legal council representing the Elbert and Highway 86 Commercial Metropolitan District.
The letter stated that the district had withdrawn the petition and sincerely appreciated the work of the Elbert County staff and the consideration of the Elbert County commissioners in processing the petition to this point. Nyquist and his team did not attend the meeting.
Although the public’s excitement was apparent after the announcement, many residents continued to voice their disappointment in the commissioners for allowing the petition to reach this far during public comment. Bill Frangis, former Elbert County Sheriff and a county resident, said the assembly of people at the meeting was the largest the county had ever seen and he felt gratified knowing that Nyquist and the metro district chose to withdraw their application, but believes the applicant should have some consequences.
“I don’t thinks it’s proper for any entity to run the county through this emotional roller coaster and just end up being done with it in the end,” he said. “I think they should be billed for all of the hours and all of the costs incurred by this county.”
For long-time resident Maria Soderberg, witnessing a community come together as a unified front was an emotional experience. As she spoke to the board, she held back tears and said she was truly moved by the people of Elbert County.
“Elbert County is an example for this country and this is exactly what needs to happen in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “People in this county have spent at least 400,000 hours on this issue and this is not a small thing. We do have a voice and I appreciate being in a county where you have a voice.”
A big issue among residents was the lack of communication between county staff and the public. Complaints about not knowing the issues until the last minute was a constant gripe from residents after the potential amendment to the service plan landed on the July 13 agenda. Because of the lack of information the issue was continued twice by the commissioners, once to the July 27 meeting then to the Aug. 24 meeting.
Schwab apologized for the county’s website and lack of information posted in a timely manner and said the county will work very hard on the website to get the issues worked out. Community and development services director Richard Miller also commented on the website and the desire to have better communication with the residents.
“One thing that came out of the meeting is, as soon as an application is accepted by us, we will post it on the website,” he said. “That way you will get notified of it before hearing dates are set and you are welcome to come in and a look at all the files.”
Even though commissioners Schwab and Kurt Schlegel dodged the vote, they were prepared to make a decision. Commissioner John Shipper wasn’t present. The commissioners were accused of not communicating enough with the public about the issue by residents in the county. Schlegel came to the board’s defense during the meeting and said due to the law, the board cannot voice their opinions on land use issues with the public.
“People have said there is no leadership shown from the county and as commissioners we sit in a quasi-judicial role when we are looking at these issues and we are unable to speak against or in favor of any issues that come before the public regardless of our feelings or beliefs,” he said. “If we say anything publicly against or in favor of any issues we would then have to recuse ourselves from making a decision on that issue.”
Schwab also said he was prepared to vote and did not know the board would be receiving a letter. The focus is doing the right thing for the county and listening to the people in the county, he said.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to vote and I’m saddened by that,” he said. “We take our jobs very seriously and we want to do the right thing. We have followed the rules and this board has not hidden anything at all. If you want to talk to us we do not deny that opportunity to do so.”