Amid sharp criticism for voting down vote down Elbert County’s first new oil and gas regulations in more than a decade, District 1 Commissioner Robert Rowland said the decision was necessary to keep the county from violating state law.
In a 2-1 vote July 10, the Board of County Commissioners rejected an amendment to current land use regulations that would have better defined the county’s application process for issuing oil and gas exploration permits.
Rowland, who along with Commissioner Kurt Schlegel voted against approving the documents, said the way they were written put the county at risk of not only being in conflict with state oil and gas regulations, but also of complicating the county’s ability to sit down and negotiate with potential producers.
“I did not, truly, reach my decision on the matter until less than 24 hours before the vote,” he said. “The bottom line was that we have to protect the county from issues associated with oil and gas exploration, but at the same time be open to embracing the benefits that come with it.”
According to Rowland, founder of the Elbert County Tea Party, his decision stems from the fact the all-volunteer planning commission that dedicated more than two years to crafting the regulations created more of a “political document” than it did a legal document.
“Their job was never to write the regulations,” he explained. “That’s the job of staff. The planning commission’s job was to take what staff put together, interpret it, apply the law to it and then provide recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners. To have a commission that writes the regulations and then turns around and recommends them to the board seems like a bit of a conflict of interest to me.”
But Rowland emphasized that the planning commission is not to blame.
In fact, he praised the group for accomplishing their mission in spite of difficulties he feels predate the current BOCC.
“The planning commission accomplished their goal and did so in a stellar fashion,” he said. “They went out among a diverse population, brought people together and built a consensus, and there is no way that we would be where we are now without their contributions.”
Bottom line, according to Rowland, the documents are not a waste.
“In fact, staff is finishing up the memorandum of agreement now,” he said.
As for oil and gas regulations, Rowland said the county will refer back to existing state laws and concentrate more on creating workable agreements with potential oil and gas producers.
“We are plowing new ground here,” he said. “No one ever said it would be easy, but this is something we’ve got to get right.”
Schlegel said he anticipated documents being ready by the Aug. 14 BOCC meeting.