The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 33 - 4/13/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
A focus group forges ahead
by Rob Shaul
"I think one of our hardest tasks is to keep it simple enough to be readable, and flexible enough to be used into the future," said Big Piney rancher Nancy Espenscheid last Thursday night.
It was 8 p.m., and Nancy and eight other volunteer members of the Natural Resources Focus Group were into only the second paragraph of the 25 pages of the 22-year-old Sublette County Comprehensive Plan they are responsible for updating. Progress was getting bogged down in disagreements over semantics and definitions.
Nancy and the others in attendance - Chairman Eric Peterson, Doug McWhirter, Linda Baker, Rod Rozier, Lary Lozier, Kathy Raper and Bill Belveal - were considering language that would encourage good soil management. Boulder rancher Lary Lozier thought it would be appropriate to specifically define what good soil management was. Pinedale librarian and environmentalist Linda Baker agreed, and called for specifically defined words and phrases.
This led to Ms. Espenscheid's comment. She suggested using more general language in the body text, and further defining specifics in the "guidelines" that follow. Mr. Lozier saw her point. "If you write the thing too specific, you can create a mess for someone," he responded. "Yes," added Ms. Baker, "this is not a regulatory document."
This example demonstrates the give and take, argument and dialogue, vision, focus and simple hard work that is driving the Comprehensive Plan update effort. Judging by the work of this focus committee, the work is proceeding thoroughly, but slowly.
The Natural Resources Focus Group is one of five all-volunteer focus groups currently working on the plan update. The groups were appointed by the County Commissioners last January. Thursday's meeting was the second for the Natural Resources Focus Group which meets monthly.
Eric Peterson called the meeting to order at 7:10 p.m. - just slightly late. Mr. Peterson runs a tight ship without a heavy hand, and promptly moved through administrative business to the first item on the agenda - a question and answer session with County Planner Joanne Garnett. The questions were pointed, focused and insightful.
Rod Rozier asked why federal lands are referenced in the current Comprehensive Plan when the County does not have jurisdiction over them. Ms. Garnett responded that that's not entirely true, and gave the example of the county's required approval for septic and other permits at Lakeside Lodge and the Half Moon Lake Resort - both of which are located on federal land.
Nancy Espenscheid wanted Ms. Garnett to explain how the current plan was used by the P&Z Commission and County Commissioners to make planning decisions. She pushed Ms. Garnett to give a specific example.
Eric Peterson asked what happens when there's a conflict between the Comprehensive Plan and existing zoning . Linda Baker wanted to know what data the focus group was responsible for updating. Doug McWhirter asked for the difference between "guidelines" and "policies."
After a few more questions, the session with Ms. Garnett was concluded, and she left the meeting at approximately 7:45 p.m.
Linda Baker then gave the group a presentation on water quality. She was well prepared and researched for the discussion. Ms. Baker noted that the old plan gives the exact location of freshwater aquifers and flow in the county, but that there's no discussion of water quality. She contacted the EPA, DEQ, and BLM and was disappointed by what she discovered. "What I found is that there's a lot of insufficient data on our water," she told the group.
Kathy Raper then discussed her planned work this year for the Conservation District in establishing a water quality baseline for the New Fork drainage. In preparation for her own water sampling and analysis, Ms. Raper said she's found numerous other studies and documents which address Sublette County's water.
Lary Lozier urged the group to investigate and use Leopold's work on water quality in the county.
Paragraph by Paragraph
At about 8:10 p.m., Mr. Peterson steered the discussion to the current plan and suggested the group move through the update sequentially, paragraph by paragraph beginning on page 24. The Natural Resources Focus Group has been assigned to update four chapters of the current Comprehensive Plan - Environmental Quality, Agriculture, Public Lands, and Natural Resources. These four chapters comprise 25 pages of the 64-page current plan.
Rod Rozier agreed in general with the sequential approach, but cautioned that using the old plan as a template for the update could blind the group to new issues which should be addressed. "We're going to be tempted to deal with just what we have here," said Mr. Rozier, "but we also may need to add, not only to edit."
After discussing soil, Mr. Peterson deftly moved the discussion onto the next paragraph, solid waste and sewage treatment. The group decided it needed an inventory of what solid waste facilities were still in use in the county, and how long the Marbleton Landfill was expected to last.
Someone asked Lary Lozier if the Boulder landfill was ever covered up. "Yes," he said sarcastically, "but only after a lot of garbage was blown a long way across the country!" Mr. Lozier's comment drew a laugh from the others, and you could feel camaraderie growing.
The discussion of solid waste disposal led to questions about household hazardous waste, and if how much the plan should encourage refuse segregation and recycling. Bill Belveal wanted to know how hazardous waste was handled in the county now. The group decided to contact the County Sanitarian for more information.
"Do we want to use the word 'recycle'?" asked Nancy Espenscheid. "I would recommend that we encourage recycling and spend more county funds toward that effort," said Ms. Baker. "I don't know that we dare try to use this to advise the commissioners how to spend money," replied Ms. Espenscheid.
Eventually the group settled on general language that encouraged recycling whenever possible.
Concerning sewage, Rod Rozier noted the high density of development outside the Pinedale Town Limits, and suggested the county require sewage treatment systems for high-density developments in the county in place of septic tanks. The group decided to ask the Town of Pinedale what is required now to hook up to the town's sewage system.
Slow, but Surprisingly Focused
The discussion of sewage caused the group to revisit water quality. "Water quality is a big issue that's going to be a bigger issue into the future," said Mr. Rozier. But the group was somewhat undecided about how specific and technical the discussion of water quality should be in the comprehensive plan.
Ms. Espenscheid said the group must consider how the plan will be used, and what kind of decisions will be made using its discussions and guidelines. "Keep it simple," she cautioned.
Ultimately, the group assigned Kathy Raper the responsibility of rewriting the water quality section of the plan.
By this time it was 8:55 p.m. and Mr. Peterson called for the meeting to wrap up. In two hours, the group had discussed six paragraphs and two pages of the current plan.
"As we look at the laws, air, water and other environmental quality issues, we need to ask what are the threats we should address," concluded Mr. Rozier to the group. "Keep in mind how the document will be used and what type of decisions will be made using it."
"Yes," responded Eric Peterson, "We want to maintain our vigilance for things that aren't here, and aren't addressed." He adjourned the meeting at 9:05 p.m.
The Natural Resources Focus Group will meet again May 4, 7 p.m. in the library. The Planning & Zoning Commission estimates that it will take at least a year to complete the update.
Photo credits: Rob Shaul
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