Steamboat Springs Candidates for two seats up for election on the Routt County Board of Commissioners talked openly Tuesday about the perception of friction between residents of Steamboat Springs and those living outside city limits.
Public awareness of any rift was heightened Sept. 21 when a letter was circulated in Hayden advocating for the annexation of that west Routt town into neighboring Moffat County.
The candidates didn’t take the letter or the possible annexation seriously, but neither did they dismiss the tension in rural Routt County. Much of it has come from frustration over the length of the county approval process for permitting new oil and gas wells and some rural residents’ inability to see their subsurface mineral rights bear fruit in the form of royalties from energy companies.
District 2 County Commissioner Doug Monger, the Democratic incumbent, told an audience of about 75 Steamboat Springs Rotarians on Tuesday that the differences between Steamboat and rural Routt have persisted for decades.
“Living out there, yeah, there’s some frustration out there over property rights,” Monger said. “We know that Steamboat is a very much more liberal community than West Routt and South Routt. It’s been that way since I was 15.”
Some of the frustration being expressed in West Routt has been voiced by the group Citizens Supporting Property Rights. It also surfaced in July in Oak Creek during a Republican candidates forum. Some people have said they are being prevented from realizing the value of their subsurface mineral rights, in part due to what they say is a vocal minority in Steamboat that has captured the public discourse during oil well hearings.
Monger told Rotarians that West Routt could benefit from the energy industry. The county commissioners have not denied any oil well permits in 2012, but they have put in place conditions of approval, particularly with regard to water and air quality monitoring, that go beyond current state regulations.
Monger said he approached the efforts to protect water and air as a means to balance public health and safety while moving the public dialogue beyond the "fear-mongering" the industry has been subjected to.
“I’ve gone a little out of my comfort level because of what I believe the citizens wanted,” Monger said.
Monger’s challenger, Republican Tina Kyprios, said she doesn’t think the Hayden annexation letter will lead to much, but that its implications are far reaching.
“That’s my district,” Kyprios said. “It represents a critical part of the Western heritage that Steamboat likes to brand itself on. … I do understand why they chose to put that forward. They feel they are not being adequately represented.”
Kyprios added that she thinks that after almost 12 years as a county commissioner, Monger has been at the job too long.
“I don’t believe in career politicians," Kyprios said. “I don’t think anybody should have it for 16 years or 12 years, or maybe even eight years. The longer you are here, the more you fall prey to bureaucratic government-think.”
Candidates for the open District One seat, Republican Jim “Moose” Barrows and Democrat Tim Corrigan, both said they support the development of the oil and gas industry here.
Barrows said the issue of property rights goes beyond energy royalties.
“It’s a bigger issue at hand,” Barrows said. "We have to protect all the property rights, not just in oil and gas. We need to make sure people can protect their property rights through the accumulation of assets so we can afford to live in the community forever.”
Corrigan, who is the president of the South Routt School Board and has a business based in Steamboat, said he hasn’t forgotten the bitterness some of his constituents felt toward Steamboat the first time the Education Fund Board rejected South Routt’s request to share some of the proceeds of a half-cent sales tax for education.
“The people of South Routt were very bitter toward the people of Steamboat,” Corrigan said.
Since Steamboat voters and subsequently the Education Fund Board have agreed to share some of the tax revenues, South Routt’s relationship with Steamboat has improved, he added.
Other issues discussed by the candidates during Tuesday's forum:
- All four candidates agreed that the proposed casino in Hayden, if approved, would be unlikely to live up to the economic benefits touted by the developers.
- All four also agreed that the economy and the county's budget struggles represent the No. 1 issue facing Routt County. Monger said the state's budget woes will continue to have spin-off effects on counties, while Kyprios said the county should focus on economic development and attracting location-neutral businesses. Corrigan said the county must figure out how to maintain and improve existing infrastructure, and he'd like to figure out how to restore county employee pay back to pre-recession levels. Barrows said the county must be more efficient and avoid the "bureaucratic morass."
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com