El Paso County wants say on encroaching projects

GARRISON WELLS Updated: April 26, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: April 26, 2013 0

When “Super Slab,” a private toll road from Pueblo to Fort Collins was proposed in 2005, El Paso County’s commissioners had little or no say, even though it would have sliced through the eastern part of the county.

Last year, the commissioners found out about a high speed rail project that would have impacted residents in the Black Forest area during a Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments meeting, instead of from the applicant.

Major projects were bypassing local authorities.

The commissioners plan to put a stop to that practice.

The board is looking to a state statute to get a say in such “large-scale” projects that have statewide impact.

The statute, HB 1041, was enacted in 1974.

It provides a framework for local governments to have some control over major projects through permitting “where the development project or activity has statewide impact,” according to a news release from the county.

The statute “gives us negotiating power that we didn’t have before,” said Amy Lathen, El Paso County commission vice chairwoman. “The ghost of Super Slab still walks the halls.”

The county is focusing on three areas — water projects, including new domestic water and sewage treatment systems; site selection and construction of major public utilities facilities; and floodplain natural hazard areas.

At its meeting Tuesday, the board expects to set a June 6 public hearing on its proposal to implement the state statute.

The county also wants the authority to invoke 1041 powers on transportation projects, but consideration of adding that to the 1041 umbrella will not take place until August.

El Paso County is the only statutory county in Colorado that has not implemented 1041, county officials said.

Arapahoe County embraced the law in 2004, then amended it in 2006.

“The benefits would be that sometimes where there are larger industry impacts, like transmission lines or mining, the regular land use authority of the county doesn’t go deep enough in scope or investigation,” said Andy Karsian, legislative coordinator for Colorado Counties, Inc. “That’s where 1041 powers can come in.”

However, the county can’t use 1041 to stop a development or prohibit a use, Karsian added.

“What counties are able to do is get more information on things like transmission lines,” he said.

While the law gives the county more say in major statewide projects, it also tacks on another layer of government.

Mark Murphy, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, said the utility will “continue to consult with the county on how their future regulations will impact future utility projects.”

“We have a good relationship on both the Southern Delivery System permitting and other regional projects,” he said.

If anybody knows first-hand about 1041 powers, it’s Utilities, which went through a prolonged battle with Pueblo County over its $1.1 billion SDS system, a pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir.

It took five months of hearings for Utilities to get the 1041 permit approved by the Pueblo County commissioners.

Lisa Bachman, a principal in Lisa Bachman PR Group in Colorado Springs, said she supports the county’s move to implement 1041.

“I always think oversight, more insight, is good,” she said.

She added that she would like to see the 1041 permitting process occur at the same time businesses and developments seek other approvals to keep projects from being delayed.

“If it could run concurrently, from my personal perspective, you just have more eyes on it,” she said. “It gets them engaged earlier, rather than later, which is a good thing.”

Understanding 1041

Q: The 1041 provisions were enacted by the legislature in 1974. Why is El Paso County looking at this now?

A: The county is more urban and there are more and more large scale projects, traditionally considered to be “matters of state interest” impacting residents. Pipelines, transmission lines, high speed rail projects and major highways that are constructed through El Paso County have wide-ranging impacts on more county residents than such project did 30 years ago. The county has considered adoption of the so-called “1041 Powers” for several years and recent discussions about high speed rail, cross county pipelines, transmission facilities and stormwater and wastewater quality issues have added to those discussions.

Q: How will the designation of “areas of interest” impact an average citizen trying to build a new deck or put in a driveway?

A: There will be no impact. Such activities do not have impacts “statewide” and will not be affected.  

Q: Can the county use this process to prevent development?

A: No. In fact, the “areas and activities of interest” which can be designated are limited by the statute, and county land use determinations may be subject to review in court.  

Q: Will the county make money from new fees in connection with this process?

A: No. Relatively few projects will be subject to review as designated activities. The county regularly reviews land development fees to ensure they reflect the actual costs of services provided by the Land Development Department. Large scale projects will pay a review fee to offset staff time.

Source: El Paso County commissioners

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