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A history of environmental activism part 7

by Bob Kennemer

HUERFANO-A myriad of environmental issues have emerged over the past 10 years in or area.  Some smaller, some larger.  Some are related and some are not.  One common theme among all of the issues I am about to discuss is “The Commons”. The idea of a group of people all sharing an interest in local resources and/or in issues that affect the overall quality of life in an area is not a new idea; it is literally hundreds of years old and spans all cultures around the globe.

    Many people chose to move to our area for its scenic beauty and relatively pristine environment.  Probably just as many choose to remain here for the same reasons.  The vistas, clean water, lack of noise/air/sound pollution not only enhance our quality of life, they make the Spanish Peaks area unique.  I don’t think it is going too far to say that the very things we hold “in common” are also the very foundation of our local economy e.g. tourism and agriculture.

    Thus when public road closures, wind farms, cell towers, high impact developments, or mineral and timber extraction are proposed, various levels of concerns arise.  Frequently, crucial resources like clean air and water are at the forefront of these concerns because they are more than “quality of life issues,” they can literally be “life or death” issues.  Of course, quality of life issues can result in some rather heated debates when they bump up against private property rights or one person’s right to make a living over someone else’s right to do the same.

    Obviously when waste water from nearby oil and gas wells is destroying someone’s crop land or poisoning their drinking water, which is a more serious issue than when your neighbor’s light trespass, from their five or six floodlights, diminishes your ability to see the night sky.  The big issues, like nuclear waste dumps or the Pinon Canon Maneuver Site expansion, tend to readily attract widespread concern primarily due to their immediate and widespread impact.  But it is the incremental loss or damage to the commons that has to be watched the most.

    One irony that has perplexed me since I first arrived in Huerfano County 23 years ago is the following phrase from so called old timers, “You newcomers move here because you liked what you saw and then you try to make it just like where you came from!”  I’m perplexed because, for the most part, I find the opposite to be true.  Most of the folks I know, who have moved to the area in the past 20 years tend to want to preserve what attracted them to the region in the first place!

    Recently, when I and others were protesting a proposed 180’ cell tower, which would have scarred La Veta’s view of the Spanish Peaks, an elderly lifelong area resident pulled up in her car and yelled, “You newcomers just want to stop progress!”  Another irony because I knew of no one who was opposed to cell towers in general, just opposed to locating them where they damage the commons.

    To be sure, there have been successes: County Road #363 remains open, no cell tower blights La Veta’s view of the Wahatoyas, and currently no wind farm will obscure the scenic corridor near Silver Mountain.

    Unfortunately the slow steady march, of what some call progress, continues to chip away at the commons.  Ugly power lines are stopped in one location, only to pop up again in another – and more (even larger ones) appear to be on the way.  Not unlike a mustache on the Mona Lisa, each year our picturesque views are vandalized.

    If you are interested in learning more about the commons, you can pick up your copy of The La Veta Commons Report at the La Veta Public Library or at the Ryus Avenue Bakery in La Veta.  The free report is the result of over four years of hard (unpaid) work by local residents, Judy Sims Barlow, Chip Kraynyk, and Barb Kowalik and has value for any county resident.