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Watchdog group files opposition to Weld County grant proposal

GREELEY — A Weld County watchdog group recently filed opposition to a $1 million Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant application by the Board of Weld County Commissioners, citing problems with the application.

The request for grant funds pertains to a section of Weld County Road 29 from Colo. 14 at Ault north to Weld County Road 90 at Nunn. The change in road classification has been a hot topic among the community since early in 2017 when the county reclassified the 17-mile road to an arterial, making way to change the road from an unpaved local road to a possible four-lane major thoroughfare with speeds at 55 mph. The opposition document outlines what People United for Responsible Government (PURG) believe to be an ongoing effort by the commissioners to deceive taxpayers.

“Not only are several of the statements made by Weld County in this proposal questionable, especially regarding the current level of traffic and the impact due to oil and gas activities, the fact is that this road is an arterial in name only,” the objection reads. “While there may be reasons for Weld County to implement improvements, we feel that there may be better locations, even in Weld County, for funding provided by the (Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Advisory) EIAF program.”

The report was filed by Dave Kisker, president of PURG.

PURG sent their opposition arguments to the 12-member EIAF Committee ahead of a hearing that was held in Burlington earlier this week.

The advisory committee meets a few times a year to consider applications for grants that are designed to help communities impacted socially and/or economically by oil and gas development, processing or energy conversion of minerals and mineral fuels

Funds come from severance taxes on energy and mineral production and a portion of the state’s share of royalties paid to the federal government for mining and drilling of minerals and mineral fuels on federally-owned land.

Seven of the members are appointed by the Governor to four-year terms and five are state department executive directors or their designees. However, final funding decisions are made by DOLA’s executive director, Irv Halter.

THE BACKGROUND:

In 2017, commissioners said they wanted the changes because it was the only road that ran uninterrupted from Greeley to Nunn. They said the county was planning to spend up to $35 million over five years to pave a portion of it from Colo. 14 to Weld 90.

However, just months after making the classification change, they also approved an access control plan and before long were planning the paved improvements.

The Weld County Planning Commission recommended against the changes. Residents and some community leaders along the way also complained, to no avail.

During this time, it was revealed Commissioner Mike Freeman owned property just off the road to be improved, and he was negotiating with a company that needed to put pipeline along his property that would lead to an oil and gas processing facility at the corner of Weld 90 and 29.

The stretch of paved road would improve infrastructure for facility vehicles making their way out of the area.

The group behind the processing plant announced it was building at the location in a trade journal in Texas before any hearings by either the county or the Town of Pierce, before the improvements to the road were announced, and before residents in the area impacted by the development were included in discussions.  This led to PURG questioning the motives behind the improvement.

THE OPPOSITION:

According to documents obtained by Complete Colorado, PURG points out several inconsistencies in the county’s application with DOLA. Along with its comments, PURG included maps of the area, traffic counts from the county’s website and other documentation to make its case. It also included newspaper reports to document timing and letters from residents in the area. Issues include:

  • Demonstration of need:
    • The county says: “WCR is an important arterial north/south oil and gas road serving Weld County. It is also an arterial road to Nunn, Pierce, Ault and Eaton, Lucerne and Greeley.”
    • PURG says: “In fact, as both the traffic counts and the map of oil/gas activities (show), the section of WCR 29 between (Colo. 14) and 90 does not have the “characteristics of an ‘arterial.’ According to the county’s own traffic counts, most of the that section carries less than 300 (vehicles per day), and, there’s no evidence of either a large number of trucks or extensive oil/gas activity at this time. Further, as mentioned in the citizens letters, the ONLY town that WCR 29 connects to directly is Nunn. WCR 31 and WCR 33 (already paved) are the actual arterials in this area.”
  • Measurable outcomes:
    • The county says: “Weld County has seen increased traffic and land use development along the corridor. The improvements will make the area safer for all motorists and add y ears of life to the existing roadway by using innovative technology at the subgrade level, which will help with truck traffic deterioration.”
    • PURG says: “The statement that there has been increased traffic and land use development does not appear to be supported by the data. The County’s traffic study data suggest that the increase in traffic for most of the section of WCR 29 under consideration has been quite modest, and the aerial maps (from Google Earth) do not support the claim that extensive new land use activity has occurred.”
  • Local Commitment and Ability to Pay/Local Effort:
    • The county says: “This project has been deferred for years because of lack of local funding.
    • PURG says: “This is a remarkable claim, given that WCR 29 was not even classified as an arterial until 2017, and before that was local road.” PURG also included a table of data showing traffic counts that the county previously did not believe justified mag chloride treatments.
    • The county says: The county has many impacted oil and gas roads and that all available funding is going to help mitigate on as many roads as possible. “The grant would allow public works to complete a significant oil and gas road, which wouldn’t otherwise be completed.”
    • PURG says: “The significance of this road as an “oil and gas road” should be examined. As shown in a later figure, the oil and gas activity in the neighborhood of this proposed activity is quite limited.”
  • Energy and Mineral Relationship:
    • The County says: “Weld County accounts for more than 50 percent of all oil and gas activity for the entire state and therefore is extremely impacted. Much of the road’s traffic is due to oil and gas trucks.”
    • PURG says: The traffic count does not support the statement. PURG supplied county traffic studies pointing to smaller truck traffic and few cars per day than quoted in the application.

PURG also claimed in its objection that the map supplied by the county pointing to the road being improved was labeled incorrectly. The map shows the road to be improved south of Colo. 14, when it is actually north of Colo. 14. PURG says the mislabel makes it look like the road is closer to oil and gas production sites.

Several residents who live along Weld 29 filed complaints, citing their own beliefs of deception on the part of the commissioners.

“A year ago, my neighbor and I were told by one of the county commissioners that this would be a long, ongoing process and it would not happen in his lifetime,” said Elli Rathbun, who lives just down the road from Freeman. “Now I see this work is to begin in 2019. Those of us who voted for a friend and neighbor to be county commissioner are disappointed that the individual has appeared to have “sold us out.” … It has been suggested that this project has been deferred for years due to lack of funding. How can that be when (it wasn’t) even an arterial until 2017?”

Mike and Sharon McNeil, who also live along WCR 29 pointed out what they see as conflicts of interest among the commissioners.

“These conflicts include Mr. Freeman who owns property on CR 29 and standsto make personal gain by these improvements,” the McNeil’s said in their letter to DOLA. “These gains appear to be driving the fast-paced progression and long-term deception delivered by the board. This same conflict involves a proposed gas plant that also appears to be on the same fast track process as described above, working to avoid due process.”

Natriece Bryant, chief administrative officer for DOLA, told Complete Colorado a decision is likely not to come before the holidays. She said it usually takes a couple of weeks after the public hearing for the department to decide. With Thanksgiving, it may not come until the end of the month.

 

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