The Grand County Council is holding off on any proposed changes to its interlocal agreement with the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition until its newly-elected council members are sworn in next month.
Four of the council’s seven current members voted Dec. 2 to postpone consideration of two key revisions that Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson is recommending. Councilmen Ken Ballantyne, Rory Paxman and Gene Ciarus voted in favor of vice chair Elizabeth Tubbs’ motion to postpone, while Jackson and outgoing council members Jim Nyland and Pat Holyoak opposed it.
Jackson said he came up with the recommendations in response to local residents’ concerns regarding Grand County’s involvement in the controversial coalition.
If the incoming council approves the changes, member counties would gain veto powers over any proposed coalition projects inside their borders. Jackson’s amendment would also remove any references that suggest a “simple majority” of coalition board members could approve infrastructure projects — or related decisions — and instead require a full majority vote by all seven coalition members.
“I think this amendment makes it very clear that the coalition cannot conduct a multi-county project in (an affected) county without that county’s agreement,” Jackson said Nov. 30.
Tubbs said she felt that the proposal was premature, noting that the coalition hasn’t officially ratified Grand County as a member at this point.
“I still feel like we’re kind of moving into this a little bit too quickly,” she said Dec. 2. “There’s no need for that speed; there really isn’t. I don’t think we’re going to lose anything in the next … month.”
Ciarus said he thinks Jackson’s proposal is a good one, and he supports county involvement in the infrastructure coalition. But he agreed that the incoming council members should have the opportunity to weigh in on any changes to the interlocal agreement.
“I think whatever we do, the new council should look at it, too, because one council can’t tie the hands of another. They could change the whole agreement, or back out of it,” Ciarus said.
The infrastructure coalition’s board members are expected to review the proposed changes at their Dec. 5 meeting, and Jackson anticipates that they will be receptive to them. In the future, he said, coalition members may be open to the possibility of additional revisions to the interlocal agreement.
“It had never been their intention to be a vehicle for projects that Grand County did not want,” he said.
The coalition’s reach currently extends across a vast region that includes Carbon, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, San Juan and Uintah counties.
Proponents of the coalition say the new governing body will strengthen the area’s influence and ability to fund infrastructure projects, including roads, water and sewer lines, airport runways and rail facilities. But critics are concerned that the coalition is focused on developing infrastructure that would benefit the conventional fossil fuel, tar sands and oil shale industries, while leaving local governments and their taxpayers on the hook for those upgrades.
Jackson said he’s not aware of any firm coalition projects in the works at this point, and he’s hopeful that his revisions address the issues that critics have raised in the past.
“It’s just to give those folks some additional level of confidence that their concerns that the coalition will run rampant over Grand County just won’t happen,” Jackson said.
Grand County Councilman-elect Chris Baird said he supports Jackson’s amendment to give member counties veto power over coalition actions.
“It’s a step in the right direction, I think,” he said Dec. 1.
Having said that, Baird sees room for additional changes to the overall interlocal agreement.
He believes the document, as written, does not offer specific definitions of the coalition’s powers and authorities. Moreover, he said Jackson’s proposal does not fully address many residents’ questions about a potential loss of local control over decisions that affect Grand County.
“It just doesn’t go far enough to alleviate all of their concerns,” he said.
In the wake of the Nov. 4 election, Baird agreed that it made more sense to hold off on any decisions until next year, when the new council is in place.
Grand County Councilwoman-elect Mary Mullen McGann said she’s encouraged that the council is reviewing the coalition’s interlocal agreement.
“I’m glad they’re looking at it now – that’s a good sign,” she said Nov. 30.
But McGann said it’s unclear in her mind whether critics of the coalition are completely opposed to the idea of any county involvement in the group, or whether they’d support an amended agreement.
“My gut feeling right now is that the election was also a referendum against the coalition,” McGann said.
However, McGann has been out of town on a family emergency, and before she takes office next month, she’d like to find out how her constituents feel about the issue.
“If I was a councilperson at this point, I would canvass the people: What do they want?” she said.
Personally, she said, she doesn’t want to have anything to do with the coalition, based on the way the council conducted itself during the time leading up to the vote.
“I just don’t like how the whole thing went down,” she said. “There was a complete lack of transparency.”
If she had her personal say in the matter, McGann said she’d like to withdraw from the coalition and watch from afar as it conducts its business over the next year or two.
“We need to get on with the business of other things in the county and just let this sit,” she said. “Put it aside and look at it in another year.”
Jackson says revisions would give county more say over regional decisions
It’s just to give those folks some additional level of confidence that their concerns that the coalition will run rampant over Grand County just won’t happen.
It’s a step in the right direction, I think … It just doesn’t go far enough to alleviate all of (the critics’) concerns.