Citizen Hearing Ordinance Raises Council Concerns About Costs and Reverse Setback Notification Needs Tweaking, According to Jan 15 Study Session

 

At the January 15 Study Session, many in Council gave a cold reception to an ordinance first suggested by Broomfield Health and Safety First last spring to allow for a hearing process if citizens receive an unsatisfactory response from the City to their oil and gas complaint.  Council’s response to the latest version of a proposed ordinance to give title notice to property owners in new real estate developments living within 1,320 feet of an existing or proposed oil or gas well included suggestions for slight modifications.

 

Cold Reception for Citizen Hearing Ordinance 

Ordinance No. 2075 – Amending Chapter 17-54 to Provide for a Nuisance/Resident Hearing Process – was reviewed first during the Study Session.  It would provide that if an affected party (Broomfield resident or person within 2640 feet of an oil and gas facility) receives an unsatisfactory response to an oil and gas complaint from the City regarding a violation of an operator agreement or a use by special review permit, the affected party may file an appeal for a hearing.  The ordinance states the required contents of the appeal, a 30 day deadline for filing after the City’s response, a 30 day deadline for issuance of the decision, and usage of either a department head or hearing officer appointed by the City and County Manager.

Council Member Groom stated that citizens would not be able to provide proper evidence for a hearing as part of her reason that, “I don’t see a problem that this [ordinance] is fixing.”  Council Member Shelton cited the work of the Staff and responsiveness of Council Members to citizen emails as reasons why, “I’m happy with the ways things work and we don’t need this hearing process.”

Mayor Ahrens stated, “I wouldn’t support this at all.  If they [citizens] want another process [beyond the complaint system], they can go to the courts.”  He stated that there was more sulfur at Glenwood Springs than in northern Broomfield, referring to citizen reports of a hydrogen sulfide release to the City complaint system, and he added that the bump on Sheridan was hard to find.  He stated that, “We’re going to take the time like always” on “the real issues and problems.”

Council Members Erickson and Law-Evans both supported the idea of a citizen hearing filing fee to cover the City’s costs if the hearing ordinance went forward.  Attorney Sullivan estimated that a hearing officer might cost about $150 per hour and Mayor Ahrens estimated that the entire cost of one appeal might run about $4000.

In response to a question from Council Member Castriotta about a provision in the ordinance, Attorney Sullivan stated that citizens would not be required to state specific “chapter and verses” of a lengthy, technical Operator Agreement in order to file a request for a hearing.  Council Member Kreeger agreed that the resident should not be required to read the entire contract.  Council Member Jezerski asked that decision deadlines be clearly stated if the City decided not to investigate a citizen complaint.

Council Member Shaff stated that he thought there needed to be a process in place since the City has “an engaged community on oil and gas.”  He asked Attorney Sullivan how many appeals the City expected, and Attorney Sullivan stated that “it could be multiple or nothing.”  Assistant Manager Standbridge added, “Citizens are demanding that we take their concerns seriously.”

Reverse Setback Notification Needs Tweaking

Ordinance No. 2076 – Amending the Broomfield Subdivision Regulations to Increase Setbacks from Oil and Gas Wells – would seek to notify property owners in new real estate developments of the siting of existing or new wells nearby.  It includes “a written notice that will be recorded against the title of lots within 1,320 feet of an existing or proposed oil or gas well, when a dwelling unit or school could be built on such lot.”  It defines “proposed” as having a Form 2 or Form 2A drilling permit submitted to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is very far along in the planning process.

Council Member Tessier, who was absent from the Study Session, had requested that research be done by the Staff to determine if 1,320 feet was the correct setback based on current science.  Council Member Castriotta said she agreed that the setback in the ordinance should be based on research instead of 1,320 feet, a compromise number reached by the Task Force. Majority of Council seemed fine going forward with 1,320 feet.

Council Member Castriotta framed this ordinance as “informed consent.” Council Members Law-Evans and Groom expressed their agreement with that purpose of having the notice in the chain of title, since the ordinance did not place any restrictions on land owner usage.  Council Member Law-Evans added that she did not think it would change the value of the property to have it flagged as such.  Council Member Jezerski stated that he did not see the ordinance as very onerous on any party.

Council Member Shaff stated that the Staff should make sure that there would be no loopholes if there was a delay in real estate development after final platting by the City.  Council Member Shelton pointed to a question submitted by Jean Lim (author) if notification of a “proposed oil or gas well” should also be triggered by the City receiving a notice of an operator’s intention to drill, since this may likely occur before the operator submits the Form 2 or 2A to the COGCC.

Mayor Ahrens stated that he “liked this moving forward,” with a little tweaking.