May 31, 2013 11:22 AM by Maddie Garrett

El Paso County: Changing the system when it comes to utilities

El Paso County leaders say they think the system is broken and needs to be fixed when it comes to how utility projects are being approved. Some of those elected officials feel like their hands are tied, so they want to make some changes.

The way the laws work now, if a utility company wants to build a treatment facility, a reservoir or a water storage system, it goes before the El Paso County Planning Commission. After a presentation and public debate, planners rule for or against the location of the project.

But that ruling has no teeth. Utilities can essentially ignore the decision and build anyway.

"If the utility happens to agree with them, great, everybody walks away happy. But if the utility disagrees with them, then the Planning Commission's decision is overturned," explained El Paso County Board of County Commissioners Chair, Dennis Hisey.

An example of this was last week with Cherokee Metropolitan District, which went to the Planning Commission to get approval for its Sundance Ranch water project. Planners shot down their location for two 2-million gallon storage tanks in Black Forest, after neighbors protested. But now the water district's board of directors are meeting Friday night to decide whether to build on the site anyway.

"We don't get any water out of this, it's just going to ruin our property values," said Black Forest resident Joan Vairin at the Planning Commission meeting last week.

This process can be frustrating.

"In some regards I think it's an exercise in futility," admitted Planning Commission Chair Steve Hicks.

Hicks said it's for that very reason that the commission voted last week to change the system and adopt 1041 rules. Those rules, already in place in most Colorado counties, require county commissioner approval on major utility decisions.

The El Paso County Commissioners will now consider adopting 1041 next week.

"Should they implement 1041 then the buck will stop with them instead of the Planning Commission," said Hicks. "At the end of the day I think it'll be a good thing."

Commissioner Hisey said he plans to vote in favor of 1041 at their next meeting.

"Enacting the 1041 gives us the ability to have a seat at the table," he said.

For Hisey and many others, it's about time.

"We should have probably done this years ago," said Hisey.

1041 will go up for a vote at the next County Commissioners meeting on June 6th.

Meanwhile, Cherokee Metro's Board of Directors are meeting Friday at 5:30pm to make a decision on the Sundance Ranch project in Black Forest.



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