A chicken and a cow walk in to a bar(n) . . .
This is not as silly as it first seems because it illustrates a frustrating situation for a Saguache County organic chicken farmer who has been selling eggs since 1993. David Toews came before the commissioners during a March work session to question why his farm is classified as commercial rather than agricultural. In a friendly back and forth with Commissioner Tim Lovato, who raises cattle, the argument is brought into focus. Why is a cattle rancher given an agriculture classification and not a chicken farmer? The chicken produces an egg; the cow births a calf, one on a farm, one on a ranch. Some of the main differences revolve around water usage and metering, taxes, fees, taxed real estate values, among other things. Toews received the original determination in the ‘90s. I went to the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) website under which CDA inspects egg producers, retailers and wholesalers to ensure product wholesomeness, and to verify truth and completeness in labeling. A producer inspection involves the washing, sanitizing, candling, grading, packing and storage procedures in use for compliance with good manufacturing practices for food producers. If the state agriculture department oversees eggs, maybe Saguache is in need of an update.
Land Use Code
The Land Use code continues to be a focus this month. One significant issue concerns new housing construction. The County’s proposal to set the minimum size of new housing construction at 900 square feet goes against the direction that the state of Colorado is going. Colorado regs state that every home needs to have at least 150 square feet of floor space for the first occupant and at least 100 square feet for each additional occupant. This is in recognition of increasing population density, the need to use fewer trees and less water and other measures to reduce the human impact in recognition of climate change considerations. The upside of this continuing dialog is that about 100 people are working with the Mindful Land Use Solutions group and engaging with our county commissioners in a productive way. This group has painstakingly built their case within the legal guidelines, responding to a county in which it is difficult, anymore, for a family to afford to build a home. Lisa Bodey, a Saguache County resident and member of the Crestone Energy Exchange, said she wanted to share ideas, education and innovation with the commissioners. “When can we actually work together to address land use issues?” she asked. There have been barriers for the public to be heard. Commissioner Lynne Thompson said, “I think that they should have been allowed to give their presentation. I think all these people need to be heard.” In response, County Commissioner Tom McCracken said, “If the Planning Commission cannot have input from the public then we have a problem.” Some opponents have spoken of smaller homes as tiny homes, which they are not. Tiny is often used in a pejorative way. It smacks of class attitude in this county, one of the poorest in the state. The Commissioners unanimously approved sending back the issue of minimum square footage to the Planning Commission.
Another faction of the county seems not to be working within the expected parameters of the Land Use Codes. At KV Estates it is hard to determine what is going on. Amidst many rumors, there have been court cases, reports of their Home Owners’ Association not communicating well with residents, reports of guns being fired, of drinking water not being potable, and illegal marijuana grows. I spoke with Amber Wilson, the County’s Land Use Administrator, who said they are looking at possible violations, but the process is moving slowly as they follow legal procedures. Her department will determine if the situation is lack of compliance with land use codes, or the prevalence of lawlessness or just a few people being outside the law.
Ready to dance?
The largest event in Saguache County history is coming this Labor Day weekend. Seven Peaks Music Festival will be a happening unlike no other. It will take place in the Villa Grove area. Live Nation reported that previously the three-day festival has attracted over 11,000 people which created a $13.6 million economic impact and supported 144 jobs. This has never happened here before,” said Amber Wilson of the County’s Land Use department. “It is exciting.” Yes, is exciting. But it begs the question: how will this county of less than 7,000 people handle the possibility of over 10,000 people landing in this rural area? Saguache County Commissioner Tim Lovato said. “As long as they meet certain guidelines, we are fine. They crossed all their t’s and dotted their i’s and have everything in order. They met all the criteria to be given a single use permit. They have their own concessionaires, their own security, their own clean-up crews. Attracting this many visitors to this county is going to fill our coffers.” That’s a good thing, but there are other considerations. Not all these people will camp. Many will descend on Crestone and Saguache as well as Salida, jamming Hwy. 17 with all the other Labor Day visitors. And how is water usage going to affect our endangered supply? Surely all factors will be considered.
Other newsworthy items
The term “Red Flag” needs clarification. It is used to signify a day of strong wind and possible fire danger. It is also a gun control law that permits police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves. Sheriff Dan Warwick, who also serves as Fire Marshall will need to sort that out.
Commissioner Tom McCracken is the County Liaison to Colorado Counties Inc. He reported among other things that Governor Polis spoke and recognized that agriculture is part of the solution to climate change.
A bi-county jail?
The County is looking into the possibility of establishing the new county jail in partnership with Rio Grande County. Commissioner Lovato noted it has potential because a well is already there and no homes are nearby.
Housing Authority progress
Director Evan Samora continues to be a one-man dynamo. He is multitasking, writing several grants at the same time while exploring land for new housing even as he oversees the two low income units in the county.
Emergency Management honored again
Saguache County Deputy Director of Emergency Management David Frees was awarded the prestigious Mike Gelski Award for outstanding volunteerism and community service. Frees dedicated thousands of hours to Saguache County and the SLV through his work on the Northern Saguache Fire Department, Saguache County Search and Rescue Team (SAR) and Emergency Management. The County Director of Emergency Management Robert “Bobby” Woelz was also recognized by CEMA and the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) for becoming a State Certified Emergency Manager and for completing two State Emergency Operations Center task books for both Public Information Officer (PIO) and Planning Sections Chief.
Residents in the Mineral Hot Springs area said that there’s a flagrant disregard of County rules. The County has rule of a minimum of one acre to construct a residence for one family. They reported there are multiple dwellings on one lot, five vehicles, and people living in sub-par conditions.
Squaw Creek name change
And finally, US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland issued a Secretarial Order declaring “squaw” a derogatory term and established the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force, which is charged with considering replacement names for locations currently utilizing the term. Saguache County has been identified as having one or more geographic locations utilizing the term “squaw.” Our County commissioners would like to receive public comment with suggested name change to forward to the US Geological Survey. If you would like to suggest a new name for “Squaw Creek” please do so in writing to Saguache County Administration at 505 3rd Street, or mail to PO Box 100, Saguache, CO 81149 or you may submit your suggestion by email to Wendi Maez at firstname.lastname@example.org by April 1, 2022.