By Leota Harriman
Torrance County’s new road policy is getting a test drive after a complaint from a county residnet, and the commission approved findings of fact and conclusions of law on a medical marijuana facility last week.
County resident Chad Hamilton appeared before the commission to say that a half mile of road near his house should be maintained by the county because it is dangerous.
Last month, the commission passed a new road policy, after several public hearings for input from the community. Part of that policy says that for the county to adopt a road for maintenance, it has to be brought up to the specifications called for in the county’s subdivision ordinance. That standard includes a minimum width and 6 inches of base course.
The road Hamilton wants to have fixed is Mi Ranchitos in McIntosh. According to county manager Joy Ansley, it is not a county road, but a private road.
That means, that according to the “anti-donation clause” of the state’s constitution—which prohibits the government from giving financial benefit to a private entity—the county can’t legally fix the road.
Part of Hamilton’s complaint centers around action the previous commission took, in adopting two roads, one in District 3 and another in District 1, which were not up to county specifications.
“I think everybody’s sympathetic to what Mr. Hamilton is saying,” said county attorney Dennis Wallin. “In the last decade I’ve sat here, roads have been the biggest issue all over the county.” He continued, “Frankly, from a legal standpoint, from the manager’s standpoint, and from the road department’s standpoint, the Hummingbird Raod he refers to is very controversial and we had lots of concerns about taking action that Mr. [Lonnie] Freyburger demanded be taken. … We opened up that Pandora’s box.”
Freyburger was formerly chairman of the commission.
“If you remember one of the meetings when Lonnie Freyburger was here, he did state the fact that if I do one county road, like Hummingbird Lane, then I have to do them all,” Hamilton said.
He added that the road foreman had said at a meeting a few years ago that if the county adopted Hummingbird, then it would also need to adopt Mi Ranchitos. He also said he was told it would cost $40,000 to bring that half mile of road up to county specifications. “If I had forty grand I wouldn’t live where I’m living,” Hamilton said.
Commissioner Julia DuCharme said that she was pleased with the process that the county had gone through to create its new road policy. “Right now we are putting this policy to work and we tried hard to come up with a good policy,” she said.
DuCharme asked Wallin if the county could lower its standards for adopting roads, and Wallin answered in the affirmative.
After Hamilton complained that he is a taxpayer and deserves to have the road fixed, Candelaria explained that money to fix roads comes from a gasoline tax. The only gas stations in the county that are not inside municipalities are Clines Corners, Flying C and the gas station in Tajique. “Our roads are limited in funds,” he added.
Hamilton described Mi Ranchitos as a “bumpy, lumpy, crumpy, crappy road,” and asked how the county would decide which roads are adopted for county maintenenace.
Ansley told him that the process calls for a petition to be started to ask the county to adopt Mi Ranchitos. If the commission wants to, it can adopt the road even in contravention of its own policy, as it has done before.
“Nobody wants to claim the road, but when it’s in dire repair, then nobody wants to do anything about it,” Hamilton said.
The item on the agenda was an action item calling for the adoption of Mi Ranchitos Road. No commissioner made a motion, so the matter died there.
“I don’t hear a motion, so I guess the subject is dropped for now,” Candelaria said.
In other business, last month the county commission had voted to uphold the authority of its planning and zoning administrator, Steve Guetschow, on his determination that marijuana is a “plant” and a “crop,” both items that are allowed in the very restrictive conservation district zoning.
An appeal by Linda Filippi and other nearby residents was made to the county commission, which voted to uphold Guetschow; the findings of fact and conclusions of law is a legal document, now ratified by the commission.
That starts the clock for any appeals which may now be made to district court.
Neighbors had objected to the medical marijuana growing operation, saying that it amounted to production of pharmaceuticals, violated federal law, and would use too much water.
The commission, in upholding Guetschow’s determination, said that he had the authority to decide if the use met the criteria for what is allowed in a conservation zone.