Organization files suit against the county for regulation violations

JOANN KALENAK, DCCR SENIOR BLOGGER — Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC), a local nonprofit, has filed a lawsuit against Delta County Commissioners and the Delta County Planning Department alleging violations of county regulations during the review process of two seismic mapping applications in the Trail Gulch and Iron Point areas. The applications, submitted by Gunnison Energy, propose the detonation of thousands of pounds of explosives 30-60 feet underground to understand the subsurface geology for oil and gas operations in the project areas.

Because Gunnison Energy plans to begin blasting in June, CHC also filed a temporary restraining order to stop the oil and gas company from proceeding pending the outcome of the suit. Seventh Judicial District Chief Judge J. Steven Patrick will hear the motion on Wednesday, June 19.

Judge Patrick agreed to add Gunnison Energy to the CHC case as a participant and the company’s council is expected to argue against the restraining order claiming that the projects will not cause irreparable harm to groundwater or geologic conditions. CHC believes the company’s claims come without complete evidence.

CHC filed the law suit after County Commissioners unanimously denied an appeal filed by the organization in April complaining that both specific development processes were flawed and that the county planning department made a decision without first obtaining all of the information required by law.

The decision was a “willful and unreasoning action, without consideration and regard for facts and circumstances presented,” said Chris Mochulsky, attorney for CHC, at an appeal hearing held earlier this month.

During a seven-minute discussion in a public meeting on June 11, Commissioners gave scant reasons for their decision to deny CHC’s appeal stating that they ultimately believed that planning staff had followed the county’s specific development process.

“I’ve said this many times in public meetings that our specific development code leaves much to be desired in this process,” said Commissioner Chair Don Suppes. “I do believe the code was followed to the best of our staff’s ability.”

CHC’s suit, filed days after their appeal was denied, contends that the Commissioners’ decision to allow planning staff to move forward was a violation of administrative law. This law gives the court the power to set aside an administrative agency’s decision if it is found to be “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”

The suit alleges that several required elements are missing from the application including a detailed study of geological hazards in the area; a hazard mitigation plan; an inventory of all water wells, springs and streams; and a study of potential impacts to surface water, water wells and groundwater quality. CHC contends that irreparable damage could occur as a result of the development and should have been clearly identified and addressed during the application process.

“Planning staff reviewed the applications and determined that the applications were complete and adequate, despite the applications not containing information required by the regulations,” states the CHC complaint.

At the same June 11 public meeting, Commissioners approved a gravel pit application adjacent to Confluence Park on the condition a traffic study be completed. No mitigation plans were included in the application since the results of the study are yet to be determined. Both the traffic study and mitigation plan are required by Delta County regulations and, by law, the application should not have made it past the county planning department.