Mesa Co. shuts down firewood cutter | AspenTimes.com

Mesa Co. shuts down firewood cutter

Sharon Sullivan
Grand Junction correspondent
Aspen CO Colorado

PALISADE, Colo. ” Jim Sterling, a Palisade fruit grower who for six years has supplemented his income selling firewood from his property at 3847 G 1/4 Road, saw his sideline shut down by Mesa County this week.

The county had charged him with land-use code violations regarding his firewood business, with a potential penalty of more than $60,000 in fines, but Sterling reached an agreement with Mesa County on Sept. 13.

Under the agreement, Sterling must close his firewood business by April 1, 2008. At that time, charges against him will be dismissed if complies with the provisions of the agreement. He gets to keep 24 cords of wood for his own personal use.

“They’re forcing me to quit my business,” Sterling said. “I’m a small working man. I can’t fight these people,” referring to county commissioners Janet Rowland and Steve Acquafresca, who both voted to deny giving Sterling a conditional use permit to operate his business.

Sterling sells firewood in the winter and fruit from his small orchard in the summer. Before he started his firewood business he worked a full-time job and tended his orchard after work. He doesn’t think he can manage that pace of work any longer and will probably have to get an off-farm job and perhaps sell his orchards.

Sterling’s fight with Mesa County began after a couple moved in next door to him and complained to the county about the firewood cutting business.

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Sterling, who claims to have spent $20,000 defending his business, argued that since the land is zoned Agricultural-Transitional Forestry he should be allowed to operate the business, which he considered agricultural. But the neighbors maintained that the business was industrial, not a farming operation.

“In all code enforcement cases, our goal is for property owners to come into compliance,” Rowland said in an e-mail. “Our goal is not criminal action. Our goal is not to fine people. Our goal is compliance. This case is no exception.”

Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis disagreed with his fellow commissioners.

“He certainly felt the heavy hand of government, that’s for sure,” Meis said of Stirling. “I thought his operation could have been appropriate use for that area, but I was on the losing end of that. I’m disappointed we had to go to this extent to address this issue.”