Woodland/Teller trash war headed to court

Residents plead for help from commissioners

Rick Langenberg

 

The future bid of Teller County Waste (TCW) in Woodland Park and a proposed new recycling center has experienced plenty of trash talk and now could land in the laps of a District Court judge.

 

As a result, a several month dispute between Woodland Park and Teller County has been refueled with additional legal ammunition. County leaders accuse the city of not abiding by its own rules and current infrastructure standards and not addressing valid concerns of nearby residents, while Woodland Park officials argue that the TCW plans will create a much better site and offer a needed community service.

 

Only now, the fight is dealing with more than just trash talk.

 

Last week, the Teller County Commissioners, in a move that surprised some officials, instructed their attorney Chris Brandt to prepare to file a legal challenge against the recent Woodland Park annexations, regarding a nearly 2-acre TCW property area off West Street, with the Fourth Judicial District Court. Although no timelines were set, this could set the stage for a probable court fight over TCW’s future bid in Woodland Park. This annexation, approved in August, would allow an expanded business operation for TCW and a new recycling center. A final council hearing regarding the company’s special and conditional use permit requests and site plan review is scheduled for Nov. 7.

 

The commissioners’ action occurred after a closed door session last week, and came on the heels of a volley of complaints from neighboring county residents, who claim their concerns are completely being ignored by the city of Woodland Park. The residents also maintained that the trash operation poses an environmental threat and could seriously endanger water wells in the area.

 

“You are our last hope,” said John Harmon, one of a handful of residents who made a plea before the county commissioners at its regular meeting on Oct. 24. “They are putting a trash transfer station next door to us.”

 

Moreover, he accused the TCW operators and city officials of “blatant lying.”  Similar to concerns raised at several Woodland Park hearings, Harmon and other adjacent residents from nearby subdivisions west of the downtown claimed they have been the victims of an illegal trash operation for nearly 15 years.  They fear the situation will get worse, with TCW taking refuge under the city’s banner. “Currently, as county residents we are being forced by the city to continue to endure Teller County Waste as an unwelcome neighbor,” stated resident Diane Allen, in a letter read at last week’s meeting. “We also believe as county residents we have no representation in this matter as already shown by the total disregard of our concerns by the city. We are concerned that we will not be given the same consideration and protection of those in the city in the future since we cannot vote or run for office.”

 

Similar views were echoed by resident Elizabeth Turner. She told the commissioners that the group has filed a petition against the project with the support of 83 percent of the residents in the area, which encompasses close to 100 residences. “The petition was totally ignored by the city of Woodland Park,” said Turner.

 

Besides the petition, she said the access road into this site can’t possibly handle the additional traffic that would occur from a recycling center and an expanded trash business operation.

 

Jay Turner went one step further and accused the site of contamination and presented the board with a slew of photos, outlining questionable trash spills and road problems with Teller 231. He maintained that 44 water wells are in danger, due to the pending operation, and hinted that state authorities may be investigating the trash site.

 

“We are tired of policing it,” blasted Georgianna  Deppen, who claims the city has told the residents they need to monitor the  TCW operation themselves.  She jokingly commented that maybe Woodland Park should give her and the neighbors a pay check for code enforcement work.  “You are the last chance we got.  We want to remain optimistic,” added Deppen.

 

The residents’ comments definitely struck a favorable cord with the commissioners. “We hear you loud and clear,” said Commission Vice-Chairman Norm Steen.  “We are taking this very seriously. I am disappointed that the city does not want to take your concerns very seriously.”

 

Commission Chairman Dave Paul agreed and vowed that the board would do everything it could to assist the residents. “It is inappropriate,” said Paul, when describing the proposed operation and site. Paul told his peers that he recently attended a Woodland Park council meeting to get a better understanding of the city’s position. The county has strongly opposed the annexation of the property and the development proposals of TCW.

 

Paul, though, cautioned the residents that the board has to follow a number of steps before any action can occur. The commissioners already filed motions for reconsideration of the annexation, the preliminary steps prior to the filing of any lawsuit.  In these motions, the county accused the city of not following proper annexation procedures and not addressing the county’s transportation and infrastructure standards.  The city, though, denied this action, contending the filings occurred too late and that the concerns raised by the county were addressed at the previous hearings.  

 

 

What do you want?

City officials, though, are somewhat flabbergasted by the county’s pending legal action, especially after Woodland Park agreed to more than double the requested costs of road improvements to Teller 231 (West Street). Originally, the city merely asked for about $17,500 worth of enhancements for a half-mile stretch of Teller 231, leading from the driveway of Teller County Waste to Hwy. 24.  But after more negotiations, they upped this to about $40,000 and are now asking TCW to provide a one-inch application of asphalt paving to the road.  “I really believed we were close to reaching an agreement that met the county’s roadway, design and construction standards,” said Woodland Park Planning Director Sally Riley, who was surprised by the commissioners’ latest  stand.

 

Moreover, she noted that the TCW site plan calls for $230,000 in improvements prior to opening up the recycling center and expanding their operation. Riley contends that the city’s position is that the plan would allow for needed improvements in this part of town, while providing a good opportunity for city residents.  The city currently does not have any recycling center.

 

As for possible contamination and problems with water pollution, she said the city had a detailed environmental assessment done in this area that came out negative.

 

Similar views were echoed by City Manager David Buttery, who hopes that a court fight can be avoided. “We are sad about the possibility of court action,” said the city manager.

 

However, he still remains optimistic. “We think we can provide a positive outcome,” said Buttery.  He noted that the proposed improvements at the TCW site would offer a much better situation than what exists there now. He also cites that fact that this area of town has had an industrial flavor for years, with a nearby former trash site occupied by Waste Management. At one time, both Waste Management and Woodland Landscape Material, a company TCW owner Jay Baker previously operated, had temporary trash facilities. In fact, problems with these temporary transfer stations is what forced the county to order the shutdown of TCW’s current facility about eight years ago.

 

“I don’t think that (industrial) use is going to change (in this area),” said the city manager, who noted that the applicant has the legal right to pursue this business opportunity with the city.