by Bill Boyle
The fact that 92 percent of San Juan County is owned by one government entity or another is a source of endless frustration to local residents.
As we continue to see, the frustration and conflict often results in San Juan County ending up in local, state or national headlines.
Between the hundreds of state sections, the massive Native American reservations, the renowned national parks, monuments and recreation areas, the beautiful national forests and the Bureau of Land Management, it seems that you can’t do much in our county without government approval or oversight.
This is due to the fact that government ownership means that citizens have a voice in how the public lands are managed. Propose just about anything on public land, and you will attract a crowd of people who are anxious to chime in and give their opinion.
All too often, the public process results in government restrictions on the development of the remarkable natural resources on the public land in San Juan County.
With restrictions on so much of the public land, it is on the remaining sliver of private land – just eight percent of the total – that a sustainable local economy can be built. The limited private land is the only area that does not have onerous government oversight.
That is what is so upsetting about the proposed listing of the Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species. The habitat for the handful of birds in San Juan County is almost entirely on private ground.
If an endangered species listing is made, government oversight would extend from the public ground to nearly one third of the limited private ground in the county.
Heavy-handed federal government oversight can be incredibly frustrating to local governments that are trying to build and develop an economy.
The San Juan County Commission has pursued the development of natural resources for decades, and that increased when Calvin Black came on the scene in the 1970s.
With a clear track record of supporting the development of natural resources, it should come as no surprise that the Commissioners pursued the development of wind resources.
The San Juan County Planning and Zoning Commission extended Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) to every organization that submitted an application for a wind farm. So far, three separate wind farms have received a CUP.
Two of the three projects have not yet progressed to the construction phase, but the Latigo Wind Park, which is under construction north and west of Monticello, is expected to reach “substantial completion” this month. It will go online as soon as the early spring of 2016.
Everyone is entitled to opinion about the wind farm. For the foreseeable future, the turbines will dominate discussions of local residents and of people passing through the area. Some believe that the turbines are an eyesore, while others think that they are beautiful.
The 27 massive towers on the outskirts of Monticello, and the nation’s largest “phase-shifting” transformer at the Pinto substation, are no small matter.
With an estimated price tag of $125 million, the project is the largest private investment in San Juan County history.
Don’t forget that it truly is a private investment of private money on private property. No public land is involved.
While the project will result in just three long-term jobs, it will generate lease payments to the private landowners.
However, the impact goes beyond jobs. Every year, the wind farm will generate an estimated $200 in property tax for every student in the San Juan School District. In addition, it will also help pave roads, feed senior citizens, keep the libraries open, and operate local government.
In a time of a decreasing tax base, the Latigo Wind Farm will help local governments maintain services and stem tax increases.
I understand the desire to be snarky about the neighbor on the hill, but I also feel that we should commend these private landowners for doing what the government won’t allow us to do on public land, which is to develop our natural resources.