Wilderness debate likely topic at McInnis' town meeting

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— A visit from Congressman Scott McInnis Saturday might add fuel to the dying flame of the wilderness debate, an issue that has ignited residents of Moffat County and the city of Steamboat Springs in the past seven months.

Known for his work with protecting federal open spaces, McInnis, R-Colo., will visit the city Saturday afternoon for a town meeting. And he will most likely field questions about a proposed statewide wilderness designation that has 300,000 acres of land set in Moffat County.

In September, Moffat County Commissioners were outraged at the Steamboat Springs City Council's resolution that supported the Citizen's Wilderness Proposal. The proposal designated 1.6 million acres of federal land as wilderness in Colorado, including land in Moffat County but none in Routt County.

The council ended months of debate between local environmentalists and Moffat County Commissioners in February when it passed a revised resolution that urged the U.S. Congress to give consideration to all plans proposed for the permanent protection of public land.

McInnis will be coming to Steamboat just days after meeting with Moffat County Commissioners in Washington, D.C. Four commissioners traveled to Washington to discuss with Colorado representatives the Citizen's Wilderness Proposal along with health care, coal production and telecommunication infrastructure concerns.

During their meeting with McInnis, the commissioners talked about their proposed Northwest Colorado Working Landscape Trust. The plan devised by the commissioners would take away control from the federal government in dealing with public land and put it in the hands of a seven-member board appointed by the county commissioners and the state's governor.

McInnis' press secretary, Blaine Rethmeier, said McInnis is fully aware of the wilderness debate.

"These issues are close to his heart and he recognizes the beauty of the wilderness area and the need to preserve it," Rethmeier. "It's an issue at hand. I'm sure he'll field questions about it."

Jennifer Seidenberg, head of the local branch of the Colorado Wilderness Network, is also certain McInnis will be quizzed on the wilderness debate. Seidenberg worked to gather the support of the City Council for endorsing the wilderness proposal in September.

"I'd love to talk to him about wilderness," Seidenberg said. "I won't be (in town) for the hearing, but I'll try to get some folks there."

With April 15 two days away, Rethmeier foresees McInnis taking questions about taxes at Saturday's town meeting. The town meeting will run from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Centennial Hall.

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