Ecology Commission

Telluride Town Planning Director Ron Quarles presented plans for updating the town’s building codes. (Photo by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

It’s not enough to talk. That’s the message Telluride Town Council heard from members of the town’s Ecology Commission at a Tuesday morning work session in Rebekah Hall. The commission’s yearly work plan, an ambitious six-point list of goals, was later approved by council in the afternoon portion of its meeting.

Ecology Commission Chair Kiersten Stephens said the commission members sought more collaboration and direction from council.

“We felt like we didn’t have too much interaction with council,” she said.

Commission members Jonathan Greenspan, Jen Groves, Kathy Green and Joanna Kanow were of a mind, saying they felt frustration at the group’s inability to take meaningful action.

“We’re a little frustrated,” Groves said. “We’d like to see more collaboration (with council). How can we move to take more action and not do the same old thing we’ve always done?”

Kanow agreed and said the town’s large influx of seasonal visitors presented an opportunity to educate and to show that Telluride is “leading the way to sustainability. We’re asking for more room to act.”

Kathy Green, who has served on the commission since 1996, expressed disappointment that the town’s two newest housing projects — Longwill 16 and Silver Jack — did not have composting systems built into those buildings’ infrastructure.

“Help us walk our talk,” she said.

According to the town’s website, the charge of the Ecology Commission is to, “… address human-wildlife interactions of concern, as identified by the Town Council. Such work shall address mechanisms that reduce or eliminate interactions, which may pose a threat to wildlife and the safety of the general public.”

The 2020 work plan expands beyond the central mission of wildlife-human interactions (educational outreach programs such as the annual Black Bear Awareness Week fall under that directive), and includes efforts to have more students walk or bike to school, taking measures to improve water and air quality, and working toward a sustainable community.

Eliminating single-use plastics is one of the commission’s top goals. Currently a state law (Colorado Revised Statute 25-17-104) limits local governments’ efforts to enact single-use plastics bans of any kind, under threat of legal action. Town attorney Kevin Geiger said that if Telluride moved forward with any regulations right now, as the commission urged, they would “not (be) easily defensible.”

But, as the Colorado legislative session begins this week, it is hoped that statute will be overturned. If the process moves to the governor’s desk without a hitch, Geiger said at the very earliest any new law would not go into effect until June. He cautioned against enacting any new laws until, or if, the state law changed.

“It’s not as easy as some would like it to be,” Geiger said. “You cannot rush to the guillotine.”

Members of the commission and Town Council directed Geiger to start working on a local ordinance so that if the state law is passed, town’s ordinances could go into effect immediately.

“Let’s have it in place, ready to go,” Council member Lars Carlson said. “I’d like to see that.”

Greenspan said that in conversations he’s had with state officials he was confident they were “all in.”

Commission chair Stephens said members of the group have spent hours canvassing and talking to businesses owners to let the town’s intentions be known and said they were largely onboard.

“We wanted to give businesses a heads-up and give them time to prepare,” she said. “They were amenable. We didn’t get a lot of pushback.”

Council support for the commission’s agenda was evident in a letter from Mayor DeLanie Young to state lawmakers that read, in part, “CRS 25-17-104 limits local governments’ ability to set reasonable limits on single-use plastics in our communities. This undermines our ability to meet local sustainability goals. We call on you to prioritize eliminating restrictions on our ability to manage single-use plastic waste in our communities in the 2020 legislative session.”

The letter, which was part of Tuesday’s consent agenda and dated Dec. 18, was approved unanimously.

Council member Geneva Shaunette said she wanted to see water conservation regulations strengthened and suggested the group work toward those measures.

“I’d like to get people in the habit of using less water,” she said. “That’s something I’d like to see.”

Council vowed to meet with the commission more often — quarterly at council member Tom Watkinson’s suggestion — and that future action items or any pertinent discussions be placed on council agendas in an expedient manner.

In other council business, in an update from the town’s building department, building and safety codes will be brought up to date for the first time since 2003. While the building trades, architects and contractors are generally up to speed with the latest codes, updating the numerous codes will serve to get those in the industry on the same page.

“This would institute the most current codes and replace outdated codes,” town planning director Ron Quarles said.

Typically, local governments amend building codes to align with local goals such as sustainability and designs to deal with a specific climate such as Telluride’s long winters. Other local considerations include Telluride’s historic character and its objective of energy efficiency. Updating the codes will, “get us back on track with the rest of Colorado,” said building official Sam Samuelson.

Watkinson wondered why there was such a long span between updates. Samuelson said that the process involved, coupled with small departments, has lead to delays, and that sometimes, “politics is involved.”

Town building inspector Rich Tombolato said that “most local contractors are way ahead of the curve,” and that town offers a six-month grace period for any new codes. “We don’t want to blindside them,” he said. “But most everyone is up to speed.”

Young delivered her first State of the Town address since being sworn into office last year. The full text can be read on page 8 of this edition of the Daily Planet.

Council also unanimously passed a new ordinance that raises the legal age to purchase tobacco and other nicotine products from 18 to 21 years of age, despite a new, similar federal law. The town’s prosecuting attorney Lois Major recommended the local law go on the books.

“Keep going forward (with it),” she advised council. “This gives you local control, and I doubt the feds will come here and enforce it.”

Council also appointed two members to the Historic and Architectural Review Commission on Tuesday. Current alternate member Charles Dalton was appointed to a regular seat, while Zach Hampton was tapped for the alternate seat on that board.