By Naomi Hatch
During the call to the public at the April 9 Snowflake Town Council meeting, a group of citizens expressed strong feelings regarding Snowflake committing to the Small Communities Environmental Compliance Assistance Program offered by Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). At that time they asked that the public be heard on this issue and encouraged the council not to participate in this program.
The council cannot discuss anything brought up during the call to the public unless it is on the agenda, and because there was not a representative present from ADEQ to answer questions, Town Manager Paul Watson had the item placed on the April 23 council agenda and asked Byron James, northeastern Arizona community liaison for the Northern Regional Office of ADEQ to attend to answer questions.
The program assists communities with a population less than 10,000 people in complying with state and federal environmental regulations, and that promotes the development of management tools to monitor and prevent future environmental problems. A significant benefit of participating in the Program is special consideration by ADEQ for waiver of non-compliance penalties if violations occur. As part of the program, participants agree to develop a Small Community Environmental Protection Plan, which is a continuous improvement process that provides a framework to ensure environmental compliance.
The town would evaluate the processes and procedures relating to the operation and maintenance of infrastructure systems that affect the environment as part of the program.
The end result would be an evaluation and recommendations to reduce environmental impacts. The council would perform an annual review of the program with the goal of ensuring continuous improvement and environmental performances.
Watson said that participating in the program and discontinuing participation in the program are voluntary, noting, “Even though we said we were going to participate, we haven’t come up with the plan.” The process would include public hearings.
“This program was put into place because there were environmental regulations that are already in place by ADEQ,” explained Watson, as well as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements. He said that the ADEQ could come in and evaluate the town facilities that fall under their guidance and there could be violations that could require penalties.
“The program says that through self-regulation you sit down with your council and the public,” said Watson, explaining that they would come up with the amenities that the town had that needed to meet environmental requirements. If there are issues, they can call on ADEQ to help them. “They become a partner, rather than an enforcer, and they work with us to help you implement that plan.”
“I consider myself to be a resource to the council to address questions and help with this issue,” said James. “It’s voluntary, it’s a way for small communities to increase their compliance with existing environmental laws.” He went on to explain that there is a template on the ADEQ website that small towns can use to write their plan.
In response to a question posed by Councilman Tom Poscharsky, James explained that other states have this program and that if the EPA came into the community, that community would have some protection, because it would have been following EPA guidelines through the Small Communities Environmental Assistance program.
“I encourage every member to go and do their own study, and go into the documents and see what they are saying,” said District III Navajo County Supervisor Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. She asked the council why they couldn’t work with ADEQ without becoming a partner, noting, “It’s a political agency,” and depending on who is governor, the politics could change.
Allen said that one thing that jumped out to her was that they brought up recycling and CO2.
James pointed out that is part of the template examples, and that the town would decide what is necessary for the community.
“I don’t know why there’s a need to go to another level,” said Allen. “They shouldn’t say, ‘You didn’t do our program, so now we’re going to fine you.’”
James responded that the program is voluntary and stated, “The whole goal is compliance. We’re not an agency that wants to fine everyone,” but pointed out that one of the benefits of the program is to avoid fines.
Town Engineer Rob Emmitt was asked his opinion of the program by Mayor Kelly Willis. He said that when he first looked at the program, he had some trepidations. One of the reasons Emmitt decided to recommend this is that it helps with compliance and development of management packages, plus there is a network. He said he felt if they were going to use standard operating procedures, they should also take advantage of the program in case they did have problems.
Mayor Willis then asked, “You personally would have no fear in working with ADEQ?”
Emmitt responded, “We do it all the time,” and noted that town activities are directed by regulations.
Kent Gibson said he would like decisions made locally, that they want people who they voted on and that they trust and look up to, to have input on how the community is run. “We have a good track record now, we don’t need to feel like we’ve been doing anything that’s illegal,” said Gibson. “I think it’s important that we have some confidence in our own abilities.”
Gibson said that they brought this question of who is going to come up with our community plan to the council and they don’t know who is going to take that responsibility. It had been previously pointed out that town staff would come up with the plan, that they would have public hearings where citizens would have an opportunity to voice their opinions and it would be approved by the council.
Mayor Willis said, “As far as I know, no one has ever been kicked out of our meetings…If you want to be involved in this, have at it,” advising Gibson that they could come to every meeting and have their say.
“Here’s the other situation,” said the mayor, “How big of a group do you represent? How do I know that what you’re saying here tonight is what every citizen of Snowflake wants?
“Why should I take your word any more than I should the engineer?” asked the mayor, pointing to others such as James and the town manager.
Councilman Chris Brimhall pointed out that people had the idea that they already passed this and stated, “We have not implemented it. We were looking at it to see what it is so we can make decisions. The citizens are welcome to come in and make a suggestion and express their concerns.”
“I want our community to have some control over what happens here and I don’t feel like just because someone says, ‘I’m your friend’ or that ‘I’m not going to fine you,’ means they have the town’s best interest,” said Gibson.
James explained that the planning process will be what the town feels is important.
Most citizens present did not want more government involvement, and it was pointed out that the ADEQ website lists Snowflake as a participant. Several expressed concern about the agenda of ADEQ and were concerned about their individual rights.
“I think everybody has to realize that for the community’s sake we have to abide by the law, whatever the law is,” pointed out Mayor Willis.
This item did not require action. It was on the agenda to give citizens an opportunity to express their opinion.
By Naomi Hatch