The Delta County Planning Commission has worked on an update of the county's 1997 Master Plan for over a year. Input has been solicited through a series of meetings and open houses. Individuals, businesses and organizations from across the county have responded through social media, mail and phone calls.

On May 9, a highly advertised public hearing on the final draft was held at Delta High School.

Twenty-eight people made comments, all from Paonia and the North Fork Valley. If people were present from other parts of the county, they did not speak up.

Before comments began, Bob Stechert, chairman of the planning commission, told the audience that the Master Plan applies only to the unincorporated area of Delta County and is advisory and aspirational. The Master Plan is a living document and it is envisioned that appropriate changes and additions will be made as needs arise over time.

It is anticipated that rules and regulations will be enacted when the Master Plan is adopted so that existing and future landowners will know what they can expect on neighboring land.

Stechert asked attendees to make comments about the Master Plan and the Master Plan alone. Stechert repeated this request two other times during the meeting. It was ignored all three times.

Eighteen of the speakers spoke unalterably against all oil and gas development in the North Fork Valley. Some included advocating for the protection of clean air, water and soil.

Roger Smith said the Master Plan does not reflect what the residents of the North Fork have said in opposition to oil and gas. He said the county commissioners have influence over development of oil and gas if they work with the Bureau of Land Management.

Alex Johnson, Western Slope Conservation Center, said the Master Plan should provide more specific buffers, setbacks, etc.; preserve open space; protect wildlife and recreation on public land; and include more specific requirements for land use and energy. The recreation and trails plan (to become a part of the Master Plan) should contain provisions to improve recreation opportunities, hunting, fishing and boating.

Allison Elliot said it is necessary for the county to state it will make an effort to work with representatives of public lands in regard to wildlife activity.

Javier Izquierdo said, "With all the people here talking about oil and gas, it shows true concern about oil and gas. I was diagnosed with terminal cancer 2 1⁄2 years ago. I have twin boys, four years old, and am concerned about a legacy for them."

He turned and asked for people from Paonia to raise their hands. Almost every person in the audience responded. Sweeping his hand toward the seated Planning Commission members, he asked, "Where is Paonia representation up there?" Roars rose from the audience.

There are three members of the Planning Commission who represent District 3: Bob Steckert, Kim Shay and Tony Prendergast.

Roger Bentley told the Planning Commission they had done a good job, lots of work, amounting to a 104-page document. "Get your black pen out; it's way longer than it needs to be. Leave what we can expect the county to be, what we are able to do, and don't put oil and gas in the Master Plan," he advised.

Steve Wolcott, a member of an area planning committee, said if the county puts in zoning, land will increase in value, which will raise taxes. "Minimal regulations are why people live here," he said. "The beauty of the present land use system is you (as a landowner) can ask the neighbors about the things you as the planning commission asked for in public comment."

Eli Wolcott said, "Some of the issues in the Master Plan threaten my ability to stay here. Prioritize human health and safety over oil and gas. Keep the regulatory burden low for the little guy."

Bob Pennetta of Crawford, a member of an area planning commission, said 18 months of hard work should not go unnoticed. He hopes to see agriculture continue to prosper, and said the impact of proposed land use regulations on existing landowners should be well considered. His concerns also included clean air, water and soil, the effects of global warming, and that water used in the extraction of oil and gas is water lost forever. He said to the Planning Commission, "Your only deadline is the self-imposed deadline."

David Livingston, farmer and the last person to comment, said the timing of the Master Plan is unfortunate, that "we are under siege by oil and gas." He is concerned that the work of the working groups will not be incorporated in the current proposed Master Plan. He asked the Planning Commission to extend their deadline.

The Planning Commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, in Room 234 of the Delta County Courthouse to adopt the Master Plan.

Moving forward, the planning commission is seeking volunteers to participate in three working groups: contained animal feeding operations, oil and gas, and water development and sustainability across the county. More information can be obtained by contacting Elyse Casselberry, county community and economic development director, at 970-874-2105 or Kelly Yeager, contract planner, at 970-874-2110.

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