Despite the diversity of interests in the Durango area, there are a number of unifying values that influence many residents decisions to live here in the first place. Broadly, these can be defined as an appreciation of the regions natural surroundings, and as the discussion narrows to a particular topic, the associated values become more clearly articulated. Deciding how to protect, preserve, enhance or capitalize on those shared values is no cakewalk, though, regardless of how much agreement exists around values, as was witnessed through two recent local discussions.
While both the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup process and the conversations surrounding the northern extension of the Animas River Trail centered on how best to address consensus around a commonly treasured feature the Hermosa Creek watershed and Animas River corridor, respectively the similarities end there. Certainly the goals diverge greatly: The Hermosa process centered around preservation of a natural area, whereas the Animas River Trail discussion focuses on developing an amenity, albeit one with a natural feature as its focal point. But the processes by which each of those discussions took place say much about the current state of their outcomes.
The Hermosa Creek process was one structured around consensus as the ultimate goal, within the context of expressing recommendations for protecting the shared values that the stakeholders in the group articulated. With consensus as the framework, the divergent players at the table and there were many: environmentalists, mountain bikers, water developers, agricultural and mining interests, land managers, to name a few each was by definition committed to giving something up. It required lengthy and often contentious negotiation, and ultimately produced a set of recommendations for legislation that would protect the Hermosa Creek watershed in a manner that everyone could live with but that no one loved unabashedly. In the policy process, the workgroup fulfilled the initiation and most of the estimation components. The workgroup did much of the necessary analysis of issues and alternatives in the development of any policy, and in delivering these pre-vetted recommendations to Sen. Michael Bennet, has made the remaining stages of the process less onerous. That is a relative term, though, given the divided Congress that his measure must navigate before it becomes law, but a bipartisan consensus-based bill has a far greater chance of success than the alternative.
While it was a long and at times difficult process, the Hermosa Creek workgroups effort honored the consensus it was designed to embody.
As such, all those who wanted a voice in the process had one, were heard and could ultimately accept whatever sacrifices they had to make in exchange for a sticking point they could not abandon.
This qualitative approach considered the unique positions of each stakeholder and included that in the discussion and, ultimately, the recommendations.
Conversely, the Animas River Trail extension process was not designed to achieve consensus but rather to achieve an outcome that city residents had expressed as a priority.
In naming a fully constructed trail along the river through city limits as a common desire, Durangoans defined the problem and provided the resources through a sales tax increase to solve it. The details were left to be sorted out later, and as is their role, city staff members were charged with presenting a range of solutions.
This estimation phase has been staff-led but done with a hefty dose of public input. No fewer than 13 public meetings were held to gather that input, and the staff then fed it back to the citizen advisory board that is charged with making recommendations to the Durango City Council.
The staff was responsive to input, but because the model was not one based on finding an outcome that everyone could embrace, however dispassionately, and was one set on solving the problem of how best to extend the river trail, the estimation phase was more quantitative than a consensus-based process.
Staff members work, as is typically the case in the estimation phase, was to develop alternatives and analyze them based on the costs and benefits of each.
In such an equation, the costs can include disgruntled property owners. That is unfortunate but does not fundamentally flaw either the process or its outcome. In fact, it is often a far more expeditious approach to policy development.
What remains in the Animas River Trail extension saga is the most political phase of the process, the beginnings of which have already unfolded.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board bucked staff recommendations last week when it made its own recommendation to the City Council to run the trail on the east side of the river until 32nd Street.
That move on the boards part will make the City Councils ultimate selection all the more interesting.
Councilors will have to balance city staffs analysis against board recommendations all in a crucible of lively public discussion.
As in the Hermosa process, everyone who wants a voice has had and will continue to have one. How each is incorporated into the final outcome will require another consideration of the costs and benefits of each alternative. Doing so is likely to produce a result that, as with a consensus-based process, everyone can live with.
Megan Graham is a Herald editorial writer and policy analyst. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.