Seeing the big picture...
Mar 21, 2013 | 754 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As a member of Grand County’s Planning and Zoning Commission, I winced when Bob Lippman complained (T-I, Feb. 30) about “creeping industrialization ... passing through a host of rubber-stamp permitting processes without any meaningful, interrelated, cumulative look ... at impacts that these ... activities will create.”

  He’s both wrong and right.

  First, planning staff is proud of the relationship they have built with the state’s Division of Environmental Quality. DEQ has been helpful with evaporation ponds, injection wells and a helium plant all off Interstate 70 near the Colorado border. In an air emissions regulation for that area, PC wrote cumulative limits to address the sort of “regional” concern to which Mr. Lippman alludes. Our new General Plan attempts to provide a comprehensive vision.

  If the conditional use process lacks regional synergy, it’s not because PC is mindless or disdainful of environmental issues – we’re not. It’s that the system focuses on immediate, local concerns. Conditional use doesn’t mean that PC can outright deny an applicant, only that they can require “mitigation” so that there will not be “a significant negative impact upon residents of surrounding property or upon the public.” Taken one at a time, applicants rarely fail the test – if they have any, their neighbors are cool. They show professional analyses promising to be a negligible polluter and water user. A negative impact to somebody is often a positive impact to somebody else.

  Moreover, there are shortcomings. When we wrote a cumulative air emission spec for Danish Flats, it was based on benign early air sampling results and parked high enough so that it looked both “reasonable” and unlikely to impact future evaporation ponds. The State Division of Air Quality now requires more accurate water sampling of soon-to-be-air pollutants which has proven much worse, so that Danish Flats will require a major source permit and expensive equipment, with an unspoken risk of default if the production water disposal market weakens.

Now what? That’s what DAQ has been pondering for months now. Since the county’s ordinance is now also violated, should we enforce what we’ve written? Should we write environmental regulations of any kind when we lack expertise and arguably authority to do so? If we don’t, who then protects regional environmental quality, so important in an area dependent on national parks? How do we handle potentially large disruptions such as tar sands and fracking from our more industrially oriented neighboring counties?

  These are valid questions Mr. Lippman raises. It can be disconcerting to watch our state Legislature at work. DEQ, here today, gone tomorrow, or so a Mike Noel or a sovereign state of Utah might declare.

  Don’t let it happen. It’s why we’re here.

 Disclaimer: This letter reflects the author’s opinion only.

—Mike Duncan

Moab

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