The Albany County Planning Commission has scheduled a 3 p.m. Monday special meeting to decide whether to advance stricter regulations for development atop the Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone, which encompasses 79 square miles east of town.
If the planning board signs off on the new rules crafted by County Planner David Gertsch and County Attorney Peggy Trent, the revisions to the Casper Aquifer Protection Plan would then go to the county commissioners for consideration.
Earlier this year, the commissioners limited temporarily development atop the aquifer zone while Trent and Gertsch worked on regulatory revisions.
That partial moratorium is currently set to expire at the beginning of January. If the proposed regulation changes were to be finalized by the time the moratorium ends, Gerstch said the planning board will likely need to make a decision Monday since a 45-day public comment period is also expected.
Specifically, the most recent version of the proposed rules would require a site specific investigation for most development requiring a zoning certificate, a subdivision preliminary plat or a conditional use permit.
The only exceptions to that rule would include accessory buildings not connected to a septic system, buildings on property zoned residential prior to August 2012, and any building in a subdivision whose subdivision permit was approved prior to August 2012.
Those site-specific investigations would need to be completed by a licensed engineer, geologist or hydrologist, and would also need to include a variety of information geared toward determining whether the proposed development would increase the contamination risk to the aquifer.
Under the drafted regulations, the holder of an aquifer development permit would also need to notify the planning office about any proposed modification to the permit.
The language would also prevent any pre-existing nonconforming use from being expanded.
Under the existing regulations, a grandfathered use — like Tumbleweed Express — can be expanded if the developer undergoes certain mitigation work and a site-specific investigation is “completed showing no increased hazard to the aquifer.”
The proposed regulations were prompted by this year’s renovations and reopening of Tumbleweed, the only known “non-conforming use” atop the aquifer zone.
Gas stations are typically barred within the APOZ, but Trent reluctantly determined earlier this year that Tumbleweed retains grandfather status, in part because the current regulations are too poorly written to be enforceable, she’s said.
Some residents, like those a part of the local advocacy group Albany County Clean Water Advocates, have disagreed with Trent’s conclusions and contend that Tumbleweed’s history of noncompliance with state regulations, coupled with the business’s mere seasonal operations, provides enough legal weight for the county to determine Tumbleweed has lost its grandfather status.
Trent did say at a planning commission meeting earlier this month that she’d like the proposed APOZ revisions to incorporate issues of violations of state regulations.
“One of the things I want to do is that when we have a violation of a state or federal regulation, that we have the authority to incorporate that in our enforcement process,” she said Oct. 9. “Right now, the state (Department of Environmental Quality) enforces state DEQ regulations, but right now we have no way to incorporate that into what we’re doing. I’m not saying I’d become the primary enforcer, but if there’s a clear violation, we can use that. ... The problem is, (the state) isn’t enforcing their own regulations.”
The proposed regulatory changes would require that “violation of any state or federal regulations within the APOZ shall be reported to the Albany County Planning Office within 30 days of receipt of notification.”
Trent said the county could seek an agreement with the DEQ for the county to enforce state regulations, but also said she doesn’t believe the county has adequate staffing to enforce the violations she said the state is ignoring.
“Believe me, they’re getting complaints, but they’re not following through,” she said.
Tumbleweed’s single-walled underground storage tanks, first installed in 1969, were identified by the Casper Aquifer Protection Plan as one of the top risks for contamination for the aquifer, which provides about half of the drinking water for the city of Laramie in addition to well-water access for numerous households east of town.
A site specific investigation of Tumbleweed Express conducted earlier this year by Weston Engineering found “no evidence of hydrocarbon contamination” in the vicinity of those three storage tanks, which hold a total of 33,000 gallons of fuel.
A May 6 site visit that examined the exposed steel fuel tanks found “minimal surficial rust or bare steel where pressure washing and no corrosion.”
“No odor of fuel or indications of fuel leakage were observed,” the SSI states.
Maura Hanning, a local geologist who spent 12 years working for New Mexico’s environmental department, told commissioners this month that after extensively studying DEQ’s data on Tumbleweed’s tanks, she doesn’t believe the state has adequate data to determine whether the tanks are leaking.
“Looking at the file, I’m having a hard time time seeing that anybody has ever taken these tanks and put them up at pressure and tested them following the various tank-testing approved methods that are out there. I think that would be a reasonable request for the county to make,” Hanning said.
Hanning also expressed frustration that DEQ hasn’t shown interest in testing residential water wells atop the aquifer zone.
“That is for me is the part that bugs me the most,” Hanning said. “They need to see if people are drinking safe water.”