Local business met local government at the half-day North Fork Chambers of Commerce joint forum at Hotchkiss’s Memorial Hall on Saturday, January 21. The meeting started with a status review of Master Plans in progress by Delta County and the Towns of Hotchkiss and Paonia, particularly as the documents relate to economic planning.
Representing Delta County government were District 2 County Commissioner Bruce Hovde, County Administrator Susan Hansen and County Planner Dave Rice. Mayor Wendell Koontz and Planning Commission member Mary Hockenbery attended from the Town of Hotchkiss. Town Clerk Barbara Peterson represented the Town of Paonia. Also present was Elaine Brett of the North Fork Vision 2020 group, which was recently successful in obtaining a $100,000 Orton “Heart and Soul of Community” planning grant for the Valley.
The format for the morning-long symposium began with exchanges between Chamber members in the audience and panel members. Then those attending broke up into two rounds of small group discussions with separate tables for Delta County, Hotchkiss, Paonia and North Fork 2020.
After lunch was served by the Memorial Hall Board volunteers, Steve Weist, director of Oxbow Mining’s Oak Mesa Project gave an overview of Oxbow’s current mining activities at Somerset along the with company’s positive economic impacts on the county and tentative plans for Oak Mesa. Oxbow’s Executive Vice President, Mike Ludlow, and Vice President, Randy Litwiller also attended and participated in the morning’s activities.
District 3 (North Fork) County Commissioner candidate Bob Stechert also attended the meeting.
As far as Master Plan processes for local government, Hotchkiss Mayor Koontz reported that public input submitted during their revision work had been relatively light and the new document was nearing completion. New information from the recent 2010 census as well as changes to Town infrastructure needs and action items accomplished over the past five years are being updated.
Koontz noted that since the adoption of the 2006 document, the Town had written and adopted zoning and building codes and completed a new water treatment plant and water line upgrade to the High School area. All were items recommended in the Plan.
Barbara Peterson of Paonia, who is currently completing her master’s degree in public administration, said that elements of the 1996 Paonia Comprehensive Master Plan revision process would be part of her degree thesis. She said she plans to begin the formal revision process in about March of this year. She added that the Town of Paonia strongly supports the NFV2020 Orton planning process and plans to make use of the information collected in their Plan revisions.
County Planner Dave Rice reported that work on revision of the County’s 1996 Master Plan had slowed over the past two years and was delayed this past summer with the North Fork confinement chicken operations (see related story on page 12) taking up much of his time.
He said that an initial round of requests for comments about revision from the Area Planning Committees had resulted in a preliminary conclusion that the general goals of the Plan remained the same after 15 years. Rice also said that the Orton planning process would be helpful in gathering information for the County Master Plan revisions.
Delta County Planning Commission Chairman Tony Prendergast of Crawford was present and said the Planning Commission would begin focusing on the Master Plan revisions this year and invited everyone to submit comments on the current plan and a vision for the future.
As for the NF2020/Orton process Elaine Brett gave an overview of the history that led up to obtaining the grant. From a Hotchkiss coffee shop conversation among a few friends about two years ago the idea of planning for the next 10 to 20 years in the Valley has gotten a general community conversation going. Stakeholders in the Orton process will meet with Orton representatives on January 24 and hopefully begin to formalize things. Brett said that the group should be hiring a local coordinator for the process soon.
In the breakout groups the Towns and County talked about how to improve things economically. In the Hotchkiss group, topics ranged from what new businesses people would like to see to downtown improvement and what creative uses could be made of presently empty lots on Bridge Street.
At the North Fork 2020 table the conversation was a generally cordial one between attendees and Mike Ludlow, who is next in line to eventually take over from Jim Cooper as President of Oxbow Mining. Ludlow, is a friendly, open, Michigan native who seemed genuinely interested in understanding the broad range of opinion in the Valley.
By the time lunch had been eaten and the Oxbow presentation concluded, there were a few comments about the tender spots between the local “environmental” community and coal mining, particularly advertising that, according to Tony Prendergast, was being sponsored by Oxbow through a front group that attacked environmental groups.
Weist said that his issue was with groups that filed “frivolous lawsuits” in order to slow coal mining in general due to a broad objection to the burning of fossil fuels. He said that Oxbow is considering ways to capture and use mine methane; Venting the gas being an issue that environmental groups frequently cite as an objection to new mining activities. Weist stated earlier that the company should have enough exploration data by the end of 2012 to know if they will be applying for an actual coal lease on Oak Mesa.