County spends thousands on private driveway “by mistake”

JOANN KALENAK, SENIOR BLOGGER, DCCR — “Back in May [2023], Delta County performed a project estimated at $100,000 to $200,000 on private property,” wrote Hans Benson in a letter of complaint he shared with DCCR. Benson is co-owner of Benson Brothers LLC, a local company that specializes in heavy equipment sales and rentals as well as sand and gravel sales.

Benson spoke at last week’s Delta County Commissioner meeting during constituent time to make his case that county officials are detrimentally competing with private business, wasting taxpayer money and openly violating its own policies and rules when it comes to road construction in Delta County.

As an example of the problem, Benson told Commissioners about a recent project completed this past May where the county had done substantial road improvements to a private road that serves only one homeowner in Dominguez Canyon. When Benson confronted Commissioner Mike Lane, who single-handedly approved the project, Lane admitted to “making a mistake” because no one at the county knew where the county road ended, and where the private road began despite an obvious gate and sign that read “PRIVATE PROPERTY” (pictured above). This admission was confirmed in a recording of a work session, shared by Benson, where Commissioner Lane openly admitted to the mistake.

In that same recording, Lane and other officials go on for several minutes attempting to explain why the project proceeded. Commissioner Lane told Benson that the road had once been a school bus route but later in the conversation admitted that hadn’t been the case for some 15 years. Commissioner Don Suppes, who was not at the earlier work session, offered Benson the same bus route excuse at last week’s commissioner meeting in response to Benson’s public comment.

“Delta County has a whole [GIS] department at their disposal to verify, check addresses and property lines, and so forth…Who is liable for the $200,000 of the taxpayer’s money that was spent,” writes Benson in his complaint letter.

Responsible use of taxpayer funds is only one of Benson’s issues with the way Delta County does business. In both his complaint letter and public comments to Commissioners during constituent time last week, he described the county’s common practice of working outside of its capacities as well as “doing work not to the state’s specified standards.”

“You see, if Delta County puts a job out for bid, local businesses must compete to get the job. We also must follow engineered specs, for the requirements of the Colorado State standards, which every engineer is required to use when looking into projects from housing-to-construction,” writes Benson.

Unlike most other Western Slope counties, Delta County owns millions of dollars in heavy construction equipment claiming the investments save taxpayer dollars. Benson, however, questions the cost of taking business away from the private sector. Benson, whose family has worked in the industry for 40 years, says that Delta County’s equipment build-out is leaving companies like his out in the cold when it comes to competing for business.

When asked about unfair competition, Commissioner Lane told Benson during their work session that he would rather not take business from local companies.

Sadly, actions speak louder than words.

And then, there’s the question top of mind for Benson: Who’s accountable?

READ HANS BENSON FULL LETTER
Photo courtesy Hans Benson