Dear Mayor Arndt and Councilmembers Canonico, Francis, Gutowsky, Ohlson, Peel, and Pignataro,
We, the undersigned, have been part of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) providing input to the City on the development of its 1041 regulations, and we’re writing to express our concerns regarding this public participation process.
We have now gone through three versions of the 1041 regulations. With each new version, there are obvious changes that have been made to address the issues of water providers, while the concerns and recommendations of the EWG are generally ignored, and we find this to be unacceptable. We will give you one example.
On February 6, the Fort Collins Sustainability Group (FCSG) and the Sierra Club wrote to City Council with four areas of concern regarding version 3 of the 1041 regulations. This letter was also sent to city staff. Mark Houdashelt then watched the February 7 City Council meeting at which first reading of the 1041 regulations was postponed. He took extensive notes of Council’s discussion at that meeting, and his impression was that Council asked for:
- more information about:
o costs – permitting costs, environmental costs and costs of inaction
o impacts of the regulations on other water districts
o what is working well elsewhere?
- descriptions of the trade-offs involved in addressing the recommendations of:
o Save the Poudre
o Fort Collins Sustainability Group/Sierra Club
o Land Conservation and Stewardship Board
o Planning and Zoning Commission
o January 20 letter from Northern Water
- consideration of FONAI (Finding of Negligible Adverse Impact) vs. FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact)
After this, another meeting of the EWG was scheduled, and we were surprised to see that City staff wanted to discuss the following questions instead:
- Should the code exclude an applicability of standards review (i.e., FONAI determination)?
- Should the Code allow council to deny a permit with conditions for re-submittal?
- Should the code regulate activity outside City that has impact inside?
- Should work within existing easements that cross City Natural Areas be excluded?
- Should the Code include the use of third-party contractors to support staff administration of permit applications?
- Do project-size thresholds and exemptions for work within existing ROW reflect the intent to regulate “major” projects?
Mark wrote to staff and the EWG and shared his takeaway from the City Council meeting but got no response, and the EWG meeting proceeded with discussion of the staff-proposed questions only. Although Mark did have the opportunity to mention a couple of the concerns expressed in the FCSG/Sierra Club letter, these were not discussed at any length, and in fact, the consultants moderating the meeting were not even aware of the letter’s existence. To date, this letter has never even been acknowledged by City staff.
While we understand that there could be good reasons that some or all of the FCSG/Sierra Club and other EWG recommendations are not addressed in the 1041 regulations, we think that it is only fair that they at least be acknowledged and some explanation given if they cannot be incorporated. It doesn’t behoove the city’s public participation process to invite groups to take part and then ignore their input. Some of those who originally participated as part of the EWG have dropped out because they felt that they weren’t being heard, and we feel their frustration. In fact, the EWG has begun meeting on its own (i.e., excluding City staff) so that we can better focus our discussions on our priorities.
The purpose of this letter is not to delay adoption of the 1041 regulations – unless City Council thinks that this is appropriate – but to simply make Council aware that the public participation process did not work as it should in this case, and this may be a more widespread issue common to the City’s public participation process in general. We also want to provide some context to the 1041 regulation discussion, since we doubt that the chain of communication that we describe above will be included in the material that City staff provides to Council before first reading of the 1041 regulations on May 6.
We appreciate City Council taking the time to consider our concerns.
Mark Houdashelt, Ph.D. (Fort Collins Sustainability Group)
Elena M. Lopez, Ph.D. (Sierra Club Poudre Canyon Group)
John McDonagh (Sierra Club Poudre Canyon Group)
Fort Collins Sustainability Group
Sierra Club Poudre Canyon Group