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KSJD Local Newscast - July 9, 2024

Critics of a planned biochar facility at the former Ironwood plant southwest of Dolores voiced blistering criticism of both Ironwood and the Montezuma County commissioners at Tuesday’s commission meeting. They spoke during the public-comment session, since a scheduled hearing on a high-impact permit for the biochar operation had been cancelled. County attorney Ian MacLaren said the county planning director had determined that the operation needs no permit because it won’t exceed threshold standards in the land-use code. Seven local residents expressed dismay at that decision and reiterated complaints about lights, noise, dust, and piles of wood produced by Ironwood’s now-closed plywood mill. Melissa Valdez pointed out that some of the same people involved with Ironwood are part of the Palaterra company that is launching the biochar operation. She asked who besides the neighbors will monitor whether the new operators comply with standards. Ingrid Ward called the county’s action in green-lighting the proposal “outrageous” and “irresponsible.” Sheila Wheeler said the county had made numerous mistakes, including granting permits to Ironwood in the first place, then accepting Palaterra’s application. She said, “My own dog is smart enough to not fall into the same hole twice.” Commission Chair Jim Candelaria said the board’s hands are “tied in a lot of ways” by statutes and regulations and that the commissioners are genuinely concerned about the issues raised.

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Gail Binkly is a career journalist who has worked for the Colorado Springs Gazette and Cortez Journal, and was the editor of the Four Corners Free Press, based in Cortez.