Stage 1 fire restrictions, enacted for unincorporated areas of western Boulder County.

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March 4, 2021

County Commissioners direct staff to withdraw application for proposed composting facility in Boulder County 

Commissioners continue to support waste diversion and climate action goals that promote soil health, reduce carbon emissions, and provide a compost stream for local farmers, landscapers, and other end users. 

Boulder County, Colo. (March 4, 2021) -- At a public meeting today, the Boulder County Commissioners agreed with a recommendation by Boulder County Public Works director Jeff Maxwell that Public Works shouldwithdraw its special use application, SU-20-0006, for a potential Boulder County Composting Facility in unincorporated Boulder County. The site is locatedwest of the Town of Erie on the former Rainbow Tree Nursery on US Highway 287between CO 52 andLookout Road.

Maxwell was joined by Office of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience director Susie Strife who presented the basis for why Boulder County has been seeking a composting solution as part of the County Commissioners’ Climate Action and Land & Water Stewardship Strategic Priorities.

“Our community has shared its support for strong climate action,” said Strife, during her presentation to the Board. “After this past year of multiple overlapping disasters right here in Boulder County -- climate-fueled wildfires, extreme high heat, and extraordinarily poor air quality -- the impacts of climate change cannot be ignored. The county, in partnership with our cities, towns, and local and statewide organizations are deeply committed to high impact solutions that can help mitigate this crisis.”

Outcome of the Public Meeting

After careful consideration of projected costs and associated engineering constraints, presentations by staff (including a staff memo), and their own review of the proposed project, the county commissioners agreed with the staff recommendation to withdraw the application for special use review of the former Rainbow Tree Nursery. They further directed staff to continue to look for opportunities to support the county's waste diversion and climate action goals, including composting solutions, and to seek public input along the way.

Direction by the Board of County Commissioners

We absolutely need composting options in Boulder County that help meet our waste diversion goals, improve soil health, and fight climate change, and I also strongly believe we should not use open space for a composting facility. We need to continue our work with our waste diversion partners, farmers, and county residents to find effective and innovative answers to this pressing issue. I support the county’s taking a step back, reenvisioning solutions, and getting public input along the way.

-Boulder County Commissioner Matt Jones

I appreciate the support for this proposal by Zero Waste leaders who feel that a composting option is vital to our overall plan for sustainability and waste diversion. In looking at this proposal, I had questions about whether a single facility is the best way to make progress towards our goal of diverting waste from landfills and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I would like to better understand whether the compost will be usable by our Boulder County farmers. Ending this application is the best way for us to get this information and be able to engage with the community in the way we commissioners would like to. I am committed to achieving our environmental goals but we need to make sure that any decision we commit to is one that will truly make progress towards those goals and is responsive to the interests and needs of our residents.

-Boulder County Commissioner Claire Levy

After hearing from Boulder County staff today about unexpected changes during the design process that began in 2019, I feel that we need to reset the conversation and focus on an answer that will work for everyone — our neighbors, our farmers, our waste haulers, and the community at large. The status of a quasi-judicial case has been difficult for us as county commissioners as it immediately limited our ability to speak freely, as a new Board in January 2021, with the community about finding an approach that we can agree will meet our sustainability and climate action goals. I look forward to collaborating with the community in a transparent, open, and inclusive conversation as we look together to alternative opportunities for diverting organic waste from the landfill.

-Boulder County Commissioner Marta Loachamin


The parcel of land being considered as the potential site for the proposed composting facility was purchased by Boulder County in 2018 as open space “with the possibility of using the site as part of the county’s zero waste initiative.” (Note: With the withdrawal of SU-20-0006, the county also plans to withdraw Subdivision Exemption SE-20-0010 which was required by Community Planning & Permitting to merge three existing parcels into one parcel if the land was to be pursued for use as a composting facility.) Public Works applied for the special use review with the county’s Community Panning & Permitting Department in October 2020 and, in December, put the application on-hold when design development cost estimates for constructing a compost facility at that site far exceeded preliminary estimates.

Because the commissioners are the decision makers on applications for special use review, they could not form opinions about, or comment on, the application for the proposed facility outside of an official public hearing process.* That restriction put the Board in an uncomfortable position with the local community.  Additionally, the delay between the filing of the application and the public hearing process made it even more difficult for the commissioners not to be able to respond to a public that wanted to engage in discussion about the proposed project.

"Our goal is always to be open and responsive to our county residents,” said County Board Chair Matt Jones. “Because of the nature of this quasi-judicial process, we were prevented from having any real dialogue with the community about their concerns or interests in this project outside of a very formal hearing process. That is not the way we want to conduct county business.”

Meeting Resources:

* There are important rules dictating how County Commissioners, sitting in a quasi-judicial capacity, receive and consider information about land use applications they will be asked to decide. These rules safeguard the neutrality of the Board in considering applications, ensuring that the County Commissioners will only consider information that is available to everyone, they have not pre-judged the merits of an application, and their decisions will not be swayed by private conversations or information not available to the public.

Headshots of three current commissioners in horizontal alignment with their names to the right of each photo