First appeal hearing “in recent memory” postponed

JOANN KALENAK, DCCR SENIOR BLOGGER — County Commissioners granted Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) a time extension yesterday so that the organization could prepare its case in the appeal of an administrative decision to approve Gunnison Energy’s 3D Iron Point and Trail Gulch seismic testing applications on April 18, 2019. The new hearing date is set for June 6, 2019 at 9 a.m. at the County Courthouse, Room 236.

Without prior notice, Commissioner Chair Don Suppes opened yesterday’s hearing with an examination of CHC’s right to appeal the April 18 approval citing the county Specific Development Regulations. “(A)ny member of the public (may appeal) who is able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Board that he, she, or it has been negatively impacted by such administrative decision,” Suppes stated as he read from the regulations.

Chris Mochulsky, attorney for CHC, was surprised by the Commissioner’s opening statement at that juncture in the process but deftly argued that the organization had standing to file its appeal because it was representing the group’s membership who “recreate and use water from the area of the project.” Mochulsky explained that the organization’s concerns about impeding water flow and recreation in the area where the seismic testing would occur gives CHC “standing in our courts” by federal and state law. Mochulsky’s points convinced Commissioners that CHC had standing to appeal.

Mochulsky then proceeded to argue against an earlier refusal by Commissioners to grant a continuance so that CHC could prepare their case given the 325 pages of documents received from the county late in the day last Thursday prior to the Memorial Day weekend. “On Thursday, May 23 at 3 o’clock we received the procedure, the process, the standard of the review, and the scope of the review for how this hearing would be conducted,” said Mochulsky. “…we had one business day to prepare.”

Mochulsky said he had contacted county staff early on Friday asking that CHC be given more time to review the documents and prepare their case. Staff told Mochulsky that Commissioners were “inclined to deny a continuance” citing a 30-day deadline to respond to an appeal in accordance with the county’s Specific Development Regulations. Mochulsky argued that the time constraint would take effect after the new hearing date and that Commissioners would have 14 days to make their decision once arguments were heard.

“This is the first time in recent memory we’ve had an appeal hearing like this, so we are doing our best to follow our regulations…,” said Suppes. Mochulsky argued that the county had misinterpreted its regulation where the time constraints were concerned.

Citizens for a Healthy Community is a grassroots 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the air, water and foodsheds within the Delta County region of Southwest Colorado from the impacts of oil and gas development.