In what was referred to as a “monumental” move Monday, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution that invokes their statutory right to be a coordinating agency in processes involving federal government agencies with jurisdiction over Archuleta County and its resources.
According to County Attorney Todd Starr, being a coordinating agency will help Archuleta County to be involved on a deeper level in projects such as the proposed Village at Wolf Creek and efforts to protect the endangered Pagosa Skyrocket flower.
“It’s going to be huge for us,” Starr said, adding that the coordination status would be a lasting move for the county.
In the proposed scenario, federal administrative agencies must coordinate with local government to develop and implement plans, policies and management practices.
According to nonprofit organization American Stewards of Liberty, status as a coordinating agency gives local governments “equal position at the negotiating table with federal and state government agencies” and is, according to the organization, “the most effective method for protection of the rights of citizens to own and use property.”
Coordination first became a right for governments at the local level in 1976 through the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLMPA). The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have similar requirements for coordination with the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as well as the Endangered Species Act, Homeland Security Organization and other processes.
“Coordination is a significant, significant term,” said Starr, adding that the BoCC has a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens, including economic welfare.
“Archuleta County contains very large tracts of federal lands, as well as significant state land, therefore, the ability of the County to fulfill its obligations to the citizens of the County and the State of Colorado are closely intertwined with federal and state land management decisions,” the resolution states.
“This is also a gesture toward stronger local control,” Commissioner Steve Wadley said, adding, “This creates a real seat at the adult table.”
Additionally, Commissioner Michael Whiting pointed out that coordination goes beyond cooperation, which would entail public comment, to a “deeper, more meaningful” level of true coordination.
Although a step the commissioners were seemingly pleased to take — allowing for all three commissioners to sign the resolution instead of only the BoCC chair, as is customary — it is also a move Starr admits is controversial.
“It’s controversial, to say the least,” Starr said at the meeting.
In an interview Wednesday, Starr said there are both legal and practical reasons for considering the resolution controversial.
“I think, from a legal standpoint, it’s controversial when a local government asserts rights against the federal government, because of the preemption doctrine,” Starr said, speaking of the doctrine that asserts that federal rules and regulations maintain supremacy over state and local law.
Concerning the practical reason to the controversial nature of the move, Starr said, “As a practical matter, it’s controversial because it gives little Archuleta County a much bigger voice and table that we have not historically been allowed to participate in.”
Greg Schulte, county administrator, pointed out at the meeting that, while the resolution was an important step, it is only a first step.
Next, according to Schulte, the county must look at its policies and regulations to be prepared to serve as a coordinating agency.