Commission swears in new county attorney, talks Elk Meadows and Wildfire

Swearing in of the acting county attorney, concerns at Elk Meadows and a fire season report were all part of the May 17 meeting of the San Juan County Commission.

At the latest county commission meeting Brittney Ivins was sworn in as the acting county attorney as she took the oath of office administered by Judge Lyon Hazleton.

Ivins will fill the remaining eight months of the county attorney term vacated by Kendall Laws.

Deputy County Attorney Alex Goble is the only candidate for the county attorney position during the November General Election.

Members of the San Juan County Commission heard from local fire officials regarding Wildland fire risk this summer, including from the Forest Service, The Bureau of Land Management and the Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

San Juan County Fire Warden Ryan McArthur shared that last year from June to October his engine responded to 78 fires throughout the county. Most every fire was low acreage or single trees excluding the human caused Pack Creek fire, which burned nearly 9,000 acres in the La Sal Mountains last June.

County Administrator Mack McDonald asked fire officials why the county's request to start the season at fire restriction stage 1 was denied.

“In that evaluation they looked at the humidity, they looked at the water soil content but they left off the human element. Pack Creek Fire last year was human caused. So if we know that we’re in a drought right now with a lack of water, and a majority of the fires in the state are human caused, why wouldn’t (...) we be pushing for those restrictions already to be put in place?”

McArthur shared that part of the issue is enforcement of restrictions if different agencies are at different levels. The agencies have also been working together campaigning to raise public awareness of wildfire dangers in the state.

BLM Fire Management Officer Clark Maughan said that two years ago they went into fire restrictions too early.

“We extended restrictions well into almost through Halloween. Enforcement becomes a big issue and the public kind of becomes numb to that message.”

Maughan shared that as wildfire dangers rise land management agencies are working aggressively to keep fire risks at the forefront of the public's mind.

Forest Service Fire Management Officer for the Moab Monticello Ranger District, Terry Garner also shared that other aspects of the model including energy release component and burn index, show that the risk of catastrophic fire is not at the point for level one restrictions in early spring.

Garner shared that the area has seen a drier and windier than normal spring, with models suggesting similar patterns through June before a wetter than normal monsoon season starting in July, as was the case last year.

Garner shared the Forest Service has been working on prescribed burns in the area including at Mill Creek area in northern San Juan County as well as the Shingle Mill project on the Abajos where they’ve burned 1,100 acres as well as mastication of 550 acres.

The San Juan County Commission also heard from several concerned residents in the Elk Meadows area, located northeast of Monticello, regarding a proposed development.

In January a request to rezone 18 acres of property by developers of the Ranches at Elk Meadows subdivision was denied by the County Commission.

The Provo based developer had plans to create eight lots ranging in size from one-third to one-quarter acre.

The rezone request was an attempt to apply a 2019 zoning ordinance amendment which allowed lot sizes as small as one-quarter acre in the county with approval from the County Board of Health.

Neighbors reported concerns about the small lot sizes, including concerns about the lack of water, waste water management and the belief that allowing those small lots in Elk Meadows would go against the general plan.

After denying the rezone request the commission expressed interest in addressing the 2019 amendment and its ramifications.

Residents of Elk Meadows came to the commission at their May 17 meeting to ask for an update on their work. The county reports updating that amendment is underway.

Members of the county planning commission reviewed a draft of the land use, development and management ordinance at their May 12 meeting.

The public process is underway, county staff reported a draft of the ordinance should be available to the public soon.

Regarding the quarter-acre amendment County Commissioner Bruce Adams explained the amendment was to address needs in Spanish Valley.

“Most of those people had built on one-acre or more and once we got the sewer system in for them we wanted to allow them, because they’re on the sewer system to be more like the city of Monticello, City of Blanding where they had a quarter acre lot tied into the sewer system so they could subdivide their one acre and hook up to a sewer system.”

In addition to updates to the amendment residents who live north of Monticello also expressed concerns about the developers at the Ranches of Elk Meadows updated proposal to subdivide two lots into eight, one-acre lots, which are allowed in A1 zones under the current ordinance.

County Planning and Zoning Administrator Scott Burton explained that the state division of water rights is the entity that can address public concerns about water issues.

“I recognise there are concerns about water, but the division of water rights is the board that has the ability to handle that. They’re the ones that issue the well permits, they’re the ones that handle all the applications.”

Burton also explained that although the development’s road plan doesn’t meet county road standards it doesn’t need to if the road remains privately owned.

Adams expressed concern over developers' promises to keep roads private as he said eventually residents will ask the county to maintain the roads.

Members of the San Juan County Commission also discussed the state requirement to create a criminal justice coordinating council.

The requirement comes from the passage of state Senate Bill 179 which requires each county to create the council by the start of 2023.

The bill's stated purpose of the council is to coordinate and improve components of the criminal justice system in the county.

The council requires varied representation including one county commissioner, the county sheriff or a designee, a chief of police from a municipality or designee, the county attorney, a public defender, a district court and justice court judge, as well as representation from corrections departments, mental health agencies, and victims advocates.

McDonald explained the purpose behind the requirement for the council is to try and tackle local issues and get agencies to work together.

“There are a lot of broken cogs in the wheel of our justice system throughout the nation, you could say. Here in the state, there’s a lot of missing coordination that needs to take place. This, from what I see, is an effort to push that coordination at a local level instead of just the state.”

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