Garfield County questions state’s process at Sweetwater
Letters issued to CPW, GOCO seeking information on push to create new state park
August 24, 2022
Garfield County has submitted a letter to the acting director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) voicing concerns that Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ declaration of Sweetwater Lake as the state’s 43rd state park did not follow proper protocol and necessary criteria required by both the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and CPW itself. The letter noted that the state did not communicate with Garfield County prior to making the declaration, despite Sweetwater Lake being located within its borders.
The letter to CPW Acting Director Heather Dugan questions why the state ignored parks criteria and a 2019 executive order stating that the DNR must work with the CPW commission “to identify additional landscapes that satisfy the Parks Criteria to be potentially established as future state parks in partnership with state agencies, local governments, conservation organizations, and the agricultural community.”
Under Colorado Law, state parks are considered fee title areas, of which only CPW has the authority to acquire. Currently, Sweetwater Lake is federally owned and part of the White River National Forest, and not a fee title area. The letter questions whether it can even be considered a state park, but rather managed as a state recreation area.
The county’s letter requests information from CPW pertaining to its due diligence in deciding to manage Sweetwater as a state park, including the date of a public meeting during which that decision was determined, plus any associated agendas, and documentation on how it meets the parks criteria for “the preservation or conservation of wildlife.”
It also requests the date on which then CPW Division Director Dan Prenzlow authorized a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the state, Eagle Valley Land Trust, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – U.S. Forest Service, White River National Forest, and to see CPW’s plan to protect and enforce its interests at Sweetwater, among other queries.
“We have sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service asking that it follow its rules and regulations for going into this MOU with the State of Colorado to make this a state park, were also asking the state to meet the focus criteria of the DNR, and for CPW to ensure that it conducted the necessary work for a partnership with Garfield County,” said Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. “They moved so fast, and nobody followed their own rules and regulations concerning Sweetwater Lake. We are trying to get everyone to slow down and follow the rules and regulations and give the Garfield County commissioners and residents of Sweetwater a chance to provide input in this project.”
Commissioner John Martin called for the issue to go before the state Legislature before being considered as a state park.
“That’s something that’s been bypassed for many years, but it’s still a constitutional issue that needs to be followed,” he said.
County pens letter to GOCO regarding Sweetwater loan
Garfield County has also submitted a letter to Great Outdoors Colorado Executive Director Jackie Miller regarding an interest-free loan it offered for up to $7 million to the Arlington, VA-based environmental nonprofit The Conservation Fund to purchase Sweetwater Lake.
The letter questions whether GOCO has overstepped its constitutional and statutory authority to use lottery funds in this manner.
Article XXVII of the Colorado Constitution gives GOCO limited powers to award grants or issue bonds to third parties, but not to issue loans, the letter notes. It asks GOCO to provide an explanation on how it has the authority to issue this loan, and to provide a copy of the loan agreement and its terms, and proof that The Conservation Fund repaid the loan in a timely manner, among other inquiries.
“This is questionable in regards to the distribution of lottery funds to be used by a conservation group to make a purchase from a private party,” Martin said. “That question needs to be answered, because the rules and regulations of the constitution did not allow [GOCO] to act as a bank to loan money. They did change some rules after the fact, but that still did not satisfy even its own rule changes in reference to this loan.”
Both letters were approved unanimously, 3-0.