County attorney says resort may face criminal, civil penalties; new air-monitoring regime sought
San Juan County wants to clear the air with Durango Mountain Resort, with the county’s attorney, Paul Sunderland accusing the resort Wednesday of “deliberate” violations of an agreement to monitor air quality.
Sunderland said the resort stopped its monitoring program in 2005 and could face civil and criminal penalties.
Sunderland said that he, County Administrator Willie Tookey and Commissioner Pete McKay have been trying to work with La Plata County and DMR to address the issue, but little progress has been made.
Commissioners have requested a meeting with their La Plata County counterparts to consider what action to take in light of what county officials here see as the resort’s failure to live up to its commitments.
But Sunderland said “La Plata County has apparently changed its approach. They’re not really interested in monitoring at DMR,” and instead that county is focusing on more regional air-monitoring efforts.
The dispute revolves around a 2002 development accord. Sunderland said that at the time the counties gave DMR a choice of either banning wood-burning stoves from the thousands of units planned for northern La Plata County and southern San Juan County over the next several years or conduct an air-quality monitoring program to detect changes that could then be mitigated.
In exchange, the county agreed to allow densities way above its normal 5-acre lot size, with up to 150 units on 40-acre parcels.
But Sunderland said DMR has failed to provide data. He also accused the resort of open burning in San Juan County in violation of the agreement.
He asked the commissioners: “What are you going to do about the violations?
“I think they were deliberate,” Sunderland said. “We could bring enforcement action against them. You do have to do something with regard to enforcement. We’ve worked on this for four years. It’s time for some action.”
He said the county regulations are clear and DMR’s violations are equally clear.
“The only question is what would the fines be.”
He said the county needs to “get DMR to understand the time for delay is over.”
Sunderland said the county should insist on an independent air-monitoring process, and if DMR won’t agree, “my thought would be we start enforcement action.”
He said DMR has proven itself “utterly incapable of doing monitoring. They didn’t bother to do what they were supposed to do.”
Sunderland pointed to the stakes involved.
“The Weminuche Wilderness has the cleanest air in the 48 states,” he said. “We’ve got the best air quality in the United States right up there on the flank of Engineer Mountain.”
McKay said he wants La Plata commissioners to come to Silverton and “make sure they have the same information and that they understand our concerns.”
“We need to continue with our own mandatory monitoring,” said County Board Chairman Ernie Kuhlman. “I don’t see any other way.”