Disclaimer: I work for the City of Thornton.
From Colorado Community Media (Liam Adams) via The Colorado Sun:
Thornton can start building a segment of a water pipeline in Weld County, even though the Weld County Board of Commissioners told the city “no” two months ago.
Thornton City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved a resolution that overrides Weld County’s denial of a permit to build a segment of the Thornton Water Project, and authorized the start of construction.
The 74-mile Thornton Water Project will deliver water from a reservoir near Fort Collins, nearly doubling the city’s current water supply. Twelve miles of the pipeline will run through Larimer County, 34 miles through Weld County, and 5 miles through Adams County. The rest of the pipeline will pass through towns and cities in those counties…
The council was [approved the measure on June 29, 2021]…
Weld County landowners, including Hicks and her daughter, have been influential opponents of Thornton as the city moved through the permit application process. In 2019, the Weld County Planning Commission recommended approval of the project, but landowner protests caused the panel to reverse its recommendation in 2020. Residents’ complaints were also cited by commissioners as a reason for denying the permit at at a hearing on May 5.
The Weld County commissioners also said in a resolution dated June 3 that the pipeline would negatively affect future growth and that it was inconsistent with a new county comprehensive plan.
Some Weld County residents want Thornton to build its pipeline in the right-of-way, or literally underneath a county road, instead of on private land next to the road.
But since the beginning of the process, Thornton has pursued the private-land option, which was supported by Weld County staff.
Building in the right-of-way requires an easement from the county, while building outside of the right-of-way requires easements from private landowners. Thornton has obtained easements from 98% of landowners. Some were obtained through eminent domain proceedings, frustrating specific landowners and further provoking their protest.
The pipeline, which runs from Terry Lake near Fort Collins to just east of Cobb Lake in Weld County and then south to the Wes Brown Water Treatment Plant in Thornton, will be buried and the city will compensate any landowners, especially farmers, whose land and crops are damaged by construction…
City spokesman Todd Barnes confirmed that the city has already reached an agreement with Hicks’ family to construct part of the pipeline on their land…
Weld County negotiated terms with Thornton after the county recognized the city was able to override the denial. The terms still require the city to apply for road construction permits in areas where the pipeline crosses streets, to regularly communicate with county staff about the progress of construction, and to be diligent about dust management.
The city hasn’t said yet when it plans to break ground.
From The Greeley Tribune (Trevor Reid):
The Thornton Water Pipeline is closer to becoming reality in Weld County following a unanimous vote Tuesday night by Thornton City Council to override the county commissioners’ denial of a use by special review permit to construct the pipeline.
State law allows political subdivisions to override restrictions of county or municipal zoning regulations in certain cases. The board anticipated the city’s ability to override the decision, sending a letter acknowledging as much to Thornton Mayor Jan Kulmann earlier this month.
The letter, signed by Weld County Commission Chairman Steve Moreno, requested that the city council include a commitment to comply with terms and conditions set forth by the county in its override decision. In overriding the county’s decision, the city council agreed to adhere to the terms and conditions.
Commissioner Mike Freeman said the board denied Thornton’s permit for a number of reasons, including being inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive plan and going through multiple Opportunity Zones. Doing so will negatively affect development on those properties, Freeman said.
Thornton included in its resolution a response to the county’s concerns. The city responded that the pipeline and fiber optic cable will be buried so that it is compatible with the existing industrial zoned properties and heavy industrial use. It also worked with property owners to develop a pipeline alignment that would minimize impacts to those properties, according to the resolution. The city also said impacts to industrial properties will be of limited duration during construction.
Freeman said the county found that the permit application didn’t show that all reasonable efforts had been made to avoid irrigated cropland or minimize negative impacts to agriculture. Weld is the state’s leading producer of beef cattle, grain, sugar beets and dairy, according to the county’s website.
Thornton responded that the pipeline will be buried below the plow line to prevent interference with continuing agricultural and estate land uses. Effects on agricultural uses will be temporary during construction and are anticipated to be minimal after construction, according to the city. Thornton also said it worked with property owners to locate the pipeline, including minimizing effects to the operations of irrigation equipment.
Additional measures the city will take include stripping and storing topsoil separately from excavated trench materials and seeding or leaving land fallow in accordance with the property owner’s agreement for reclamation procedures following pipeline construction.
Another finding by the county that led to the commissioners’ unanimous denial of the permit was that the pipeline could have an undue adverse effect on existing and future development in areas along the municipal limits of Dacono, Firestone, Frederick, Johnstown, Platteville, Severance, Timnath and Windsor.
The city reiterated the pipeline will be buried and that impacts will be temporary during construction and are anticipated to be minimal after construction. Property owners are also compensated for any impacts to future residential, commercial and industrial development if that is the highest and best use of their property, the city added.
Finally, the county found that all reasonable alternatives to the proposal hadn’t been adequately addressed and that the pipeline isn’t consistent with the best interests of the people in Weld County. Multiple property owners have expressed opposition to the pipeline, with at least seven appearing at the Board of County Commissioners’ meeting on May 5, when the commissioners denied Thornton’s application.
The city responded that the pipeline will not have long-term impacts to continuing agricultural uses. It noted that two property owners who opposed the pipeline have since agreed Thornton accommodated their requests. For four property owners whose relocation requests weren’t feasible, the city argues the pipeline will not hinder the property owners’ future development plans.
“What we’re supposed to be looking at on applications is, ‘Is the application in the best interest of Weld County citizens?’ and obviously this pipeline doesn’t benefit Weld County at all,” Freeman said. “At the end of the day, this board did not approve an application that wasn’t in the best interest of the citizens of Weld County, but we can’t prohibit Thornton from doing what they did.”
While the council did not address Weinmeister’s concerns, Kulmann said the city remains committed to working with communities to the north. In a pointed message, she said, “We remain committed to cooperating with you on our project … we do take their concerns seriously.” She also said the city is committed to securing access to water that it bought back in the 1980s and soon will need for its growing population.