What’s Next For Off-Grid Residents In Costilla County?

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Photo: Chloe Everhart and Hyrum Jenson lot wide
Chloe Everhart and Hyrum Jenson own this plot of land in rural Costilla County about 20 miles west of San Luis, Colo.

Last week, Costilla County officials decided to drop -- for now -- proposed regulation changes that off-grid residents worried would target them. Officials say the changes aren't major and were meant to clarify existing regulations.

That may not be the end of the story, however. They plan to take up the issue again in a few months. CPR News' Nathaniel Minor spoke with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel about what that means for the rural southern Colorado county. Audio from this story will be available after noon.

Why did some people in the community think it was necessary to put more regulations on off-grid living?

County officials say some of the new arrivals living off-grid do so in rather squalid conditions like old RVs or shoddily built structures. Officials proposed changes to the land use code that would have clarified the permitting process for new buildings.

But the county had trouble communicating what was in the proposal to new off-grid residents. They took it to mean that the county was trying to crack down on them.

So why did county leaders back off these proposed changes?

Ben Doon, the administrative officer for the county, said it was becoming a big distraction. He says the current code has enough teeth as it is. And he says the code enforcement officers are starting to focus their efforts on the most serious violations.

But it's probably not a permanent decision. Doon said he'll propose changes again later this year or early next year.

What are some other areas of concern?

Water. These off-grid lots don't have running water. So some people were filling up huge tanks at publicly owned spigots in town. Those were locked up pretty quickly. More experienced off-gridders buy their water from a now unincorporated town nearby which still has water rights.

Another big issue is camping. Some off-gridders I spoke with had planed to live in RVs while they built their homes. But the county stopped granting long-term camping permits over the summer. So now that's left a lot of folks scrambling -- and winter is right around the corner.