After more than three months of discussion, two tabled votes, a public forum and a public comment period, the Grand County Council voted 6-1 on Oct. 21 to join the controversial Seven County Infrastructure Coalition.
Council member Elizabeth Tubbs, who cast the dissenting vote, suggested that the council should postpone its action. She said that she was “not against joining forces with other counties,” but that forming another government entity wasn’t the way to do it. She also said that misconceptions remained on both sides and for that reason alone, “the council still had work to do.”
An assembled crowd of approximately 100 people filled the council chambers and overflowed into the hallway in anticipation of the vote. Sheriff’s deputies were present to maintain crowd control.
The vast majority of those present were opposed to the county joining the coalition. Of those who addressed the council, 14 spoke against and four spoke in favor.
Dwight Johnson spoke in favor of the coalition and said, “I have never heard so much hysteria in my whole life as I have heard about this coalition.”
“You would be insane not to have a seat at this table, that’s where decisions are going to be made,” Johnson said.
Several of those who spoke against joining the coalition urged the council to put the issue up for referendum, or to postpone the vote until after the general election to gauge whether they were representing a majority of the population.
“We keep getting labeled a vocal minority,” Bob O’ Brien said. “I don’t know how to get around that other than an election.”
“You totally ignored 90 percent of the comments,” Michael Peck said. “Please listen to our feedback. If you won’t, please postpone the vote until after the election.”
Reactions to the vote were swift, with people yelling out from the audience in protest.
Pete Gross, who spoke at the meeting against the coalition, told the Moab Sun News that “the decision to rush the vote was a slap in the face to their (the council’s) constituents who spoke pervasively against it.”
“The public comment period and forum served one purpose, to give the illusion of open-minded deliberation on the part of the council,” Gross said. “The process was just a charade for what was already a done deal in the minds of six council members.”
The vote came on the heels of a public comment period during which the council received 234 letters, 209 opposed, and 25 in favor of the county joining the coalition.
Issues of concern for those opposed ranged from potential liability associated with the vagueness of the legal contract, to suspicions that the coalition’s purpose is to subsidize the hydrocarbon industry through the diversion of Community Impact Board (CIB) funds.
CIB funds are meant to mitigate the effects of extractive industry by providing affected communities with funding for public infrastructure projects. In September, the coalition was awarded $50 million in “surplus” CIB funds towards an estimated $3 billion railroad to haul hydrocarbons from Uintah to Carbon County.
Letters in support said that the coalition would give Grand County a larger voice in competing for CIB funds, and that it was in the county’s interest “to have a seat at the table.”
Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson said he understood people were disappointed in the council’s decision and that he respected everyone’s opinions, but that “it is very difficult to find consensus on these issues in our county.”
“I felt we had a thorough public discussion,” Jackson said. “People chose to participate in the public process in different ways. I personally heard from many, many people who supported joining the coalition, but didn’t write letters.”
Jackson said there were several reasons he voted for joining the coalition, including the ability to work in cooperation with surrounding counties on regional projects. He acknowledged that though the impetus for the coalition was to develop infrastructure for transporting hydrocarbons, “it is also clearly interested in all types of regional economic infrastructure development.”
Leon Behunin said he was glad the council voted to join the coalition and that he thought it would be beneficial to the county. He said that there are as many people pro as against, but that those against are more organized.
“I think it is a minority of people who are well organized and who take up the space with their comments,” he said.
Former Moab Mayor Karla Hancock, who wrote a letter against joining the coalition, said that she was “disappointed but not surprised” in the council’s decision.
“It was apparent at the early meeting at the Grand Center (the public forum) that the council’s mind was pretty well made up,” she said.
Hancock said that with an issue this divisive, council members should have taken the time to “sell it to the community” before they voted on it, or that it should have gone to referendum.
“There were some very important points made by a number of the speakers at the council meeting, and for the council to totally disregard them and push the vote at that time was an insult to Grand County residents,” she said.
Hancock also said however, that she was “somewhat reassured” by Jackson’s comments after the vote was taken.
“I just hope what he said holds true, especially his conviction that amendments could be made after the contract is signed,” she said. “I have trouble believing that the other six counties will be receptive to that suggestion.”
Jackson said that there are time and expenses associated with holding a special election for a referendum, and that many council members believed that these are the kinds of decisions they are elected to make. He also said that should the make-up of the council change in November, a clause in the agreement will allow the new council to opt out of the coalition.
Tubbs said now that Grand County is a member of the coalition, she “intends to work as hard as is necessary to ensure that the interests of Grand County are protected.” She also advocated toning down the rhetoric.
“None of us are served by hurling insults, accusations and threats toward one another,” she said. “That kind of behavior hijacks the issue, creates an atmosphere of distrust and puts a stop to any effective communication. I call upon reasonable people to help reverse that process.”
County council votes 6-1 to join controversial regional board
The decision to rush the vote was a slap in the face to their (the council’s) constituents who spoke pervasively against it … The process was just a charade for what was already a done deal in the minds of six council members.
I have never heard so much hysteria in my whole life as I have heard about this coalition … You would be insane not to have a seat at this table, that’s where decisions are going to be made.