County's planning commission reviews French Quarters abandonment issues
The Carbon County Planning Commission met Tuesday and reviewed a number of matters.
The first issue on the agenda was the panel's reconsideration of abandoning the French Quarter sub-division and rezoning the property back to its original RR-2.5 classification.
The property was changed to R-1-20,000 when the sub-division plot was adopted.
The issue had been before the planning commission once before. The matter then went before the Carbon Commission in December, where it was tabled for further investigation by the county attorney's office pertaining to local government liabilities for the unfinished utility systems.
During the county commission meeting, it was brought to the attention of Carbon lawmakers that some of the utility lines were not in working condition and could cause future problems if they were not repaired, removed or disabled.
The question of workmanship on the installation was brought up at the county commission meeting. However, according to inspectors and an engineering firm, the completed part of the system was installed correctly, but was left unfinished because of non-payment to the contractor by the owners of the sub-division development project.
"I feel slighted by what was reported in the newspaper and was in the letter from the Price River water district about the workmanship on this installation," said Shane Campbell of Scamp Construction. "The lines were installed properly."
Campbell presented the commission with a packet with a series of reports and letters from 1999 showing that the utilities the company worked on were installed properly. The reports and letters indicated that the reason the project halted was because the owners of the sub-division failed to pay him the $211,000 he was owed at the time.
"This matter was referred back to us by assistant county attorney George Harmon," indicated Dave Levanger, planning director. "The contractor has demonstrated that the lines were adequately put in and it appears that the only real interest the county has is to the public right of way in the sub-division and how that will change when the plot is relinquished."
The commissioners talked about the problem and a couple of the members felt that the best way to deal with the incomplete utility system was to pull the lines out completely.
"The sewers may be useful in the future and I see no reason to remove them," stated Lavanger. "Based on what we have learned they are not out of compliance."
But the opposition to leaving the sewer and water lines as they are currently in place on the property was still opposed by a number of people.
"I know the pipe and lines were installed properly," stated Gary Scow, the owner of the property and an inspector on the system during the construction in 1999.
"What has compromised some of the systems is that irrigation water running down the lines has caused some of the problems. I have agreed to plug the lines and all that would remain is an air pocket in the ground. Once I fill it, it will just be a farmer's field," pointed out Scow.
Part of the problem with the development has to do with the deterioration of the exiting systems. Even removal may not resolve all of the related concerns.
Gravel that has been laid under the pipes could continue to act as a drain for water that could end up in on neighbors properties.
Questions arose as to the liability should the lines in the ground cause flooding or drainage problems beyond Scow's land.
Joane Pappas White, in particular, had some concerns both from the viewpoint of a nearby land operator and a lawyer.
"In my opinion, the county can't turn over its liability for county improvements to a private entity," stated Pappas White. "I think if the county abandons this, there could be some serious liability to the county."
The question of liability was also tied to a letter of credit that the bank that was financing the whole project originally issued.
Some of that bond had been released by the building department, just as they normally do as projects reach certain levels of completion.
The letter of credit, according to many in the room was an irrevocable one, but research by local representatives of the bank say it has already been revoked and is not irrevocable.
Lynna Topolovec, one of the members of the planning commission brought up the fact that there was too much confusion on almost all the issues at hand.
"If the county is liable in any way, I think those lines need to be removed," pointed out Topo-lovec. "If we are not liable, I think we should leave it there in case of future development. I just wonder who can answer this question conclusively."
"Our attorneys do not believe we are liable," indicated Carbon Commissioner Mike Milovich, who sits on the planning commission as the representative from the county leadership.
But Pappas White still had another take to offer on the situation.
"The issuance of a plat and a letter of credit that I thought was irrevocable makes the county liable," stated Pappas White. "The existence of that letter of credit could become significant in any action."
Some people in attendance at the planning meeting felt that taking the lines out may not even solve the problem, especially if the compaction afterward is not done correctly. In fact, it could be worse.
After the discussion, the planning commission decided to table the measure and have four things done.
The planning panel members will have the county attorney's office re-examine the issues.
The panel asked Scow to get a cost for filling the pipes with slurry to disable them.
The county planning commission members also asked Camp-bell to get a cost for both completing the project so it is usable as a utility or pulling out the lines and backfilling the trenches properly.
The next issue on the planning meeting agenda was the request for a zoning change from a critical environment-1 to a CE-2 and the issuance of conditional use permits for 20 wells by the JM Huber Company.
A letter from Mel and Mary Frandsen, who own property in the area, asked the county planning commission to deny the company's request for more wells because of the problems the couple have had concerning land use agreements.
Other residents in the area raised concerns about the impact and what the company is offering in compensation for access to their land.
Levanger also had a concern, but on a different level.
"We have gone out and pulled up the positions of some of the present wells the company has and I count nine wells that don't have permits," Levanger pointed out to the planning commission members.
Brian Wood, the Huber representative at the meeting, explained the situation from the company's point of view.
"We inherited some of these wells from another company and on some we did not know there were not permits," stated Wood. "We actually only drilled one well before we got a permit. The rest, we inherited."
"I think we need to get them into compliance. But I want to know why you are applying for more wells when you haven't even settled with many of the people who own land in the area first," indicated Milovich as he pointed to the people in the audience who had expressed concerns regarding Huber.
"If we do this deal with Huber on outland, we will be losing a $1,000 per year based on the roads and well sites taking up grazing space," said Mildred Cave, a land owner in the area.
"They want to give us a one time $800 payment and that's it. That will not make up for the 20 years the well may be there," added Cave.
Other residents felt that they had been dealt with superficially.
"I have been willing to go along with the going rate," pointed out Carroll Butcher of Marsing Cattle. "But this onetime lease money is not enough for the inconvenience and what we put up with."
Milovich explained to the group that the planning commission couldn't hold up any permitting or zoning because of financial disputes between property owners and companies.
"But just the same, what do you think would be fair?" Milovich asked the group.
"At least the recovery of what we have lost," said Cave. "We have thought that one percent of the take for those that don't have mineral rights."
The question of dust and road conditions also came up as a number of people complained that Huber was not meeting the conditions on the permits the company already has.
The public discussion ranged from what kinds of conditions roads have been left in to whom should be called if the company is not meeting its obligation to keep dust down.
"As a county we shouldn't have to police these conditions," stated Levanger. "Companies should do this as part of their permit. If they don't do it their permit should be revoked."
Earl Gunderson, one of the planning commission's members, told Wood that Huber needed to take care of the people in the county who had land around the company's drilling operations.
"You need to work with us and the people of the county for their protection," emphasized Gund-erson.
Following the discussion, the county planning commission approved the zoning changes and conditional use permits for the company.
In unrelated actions, the planning commission members:
Talked about how it would fill the vacancy left by Bill Kirkwood's resignation from the board.
A suggestion was made that the new member come from the Helper area and Mayor Joe Bonacci be consulted for input on potential candidates.
In addition, Levanger passed out drafts of changes to the county zoning codes that he and the staff are proposing.
The changes outlined in the draft proposal included:
Renaming zones to reflect what the areas really are rather than using confusing numbers and letters.
Changing critical zone nomenclature to reflect the uses it permits.
Adding classifications in areas where there isn't proper zoning policy presently.
Implementing various other changes in present zoning laws having to do with such things as animals and industrial areas.