Candidates for county commissioner, statehouse spar over government’s role | SteamboatToday.com

Candidates for county commissioner, statehouse spar over government’s role

Voters and candidates attend a candidates forum Thursday night at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs.

— Government's regulatory role over natural resource policy was a recurring theme Thursday night as candidates for the state Legislature and the Routt County Board of Commissioners squared off in one of the last candidate forums of the political season.

"This great state is absolutely rich in natural resources — oil, gas, water and forests," Republican candidate for House District 26 Chuck McConnell said.

"We could turn that biomass into wood pellets that can be used as a biofuel," he continued, "(but) the regulation from federal, state and local levels for anybody to do any development is absolutely outrageous. The opportunity to do it in an environmentally friendly way is rich in our state."

The candidates were speaking before a gathering of more than 100 people in the new auditorium on the campus of Colorado Mountain college in a forum moderated by Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Brent Boyer and co-hosted by the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, the Routt County Republican and Democratic parties, and the newspaper.

McConnell's opponent, Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, told the audience that she and her fellow commissioners felt vindicated early this month when they learned that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had agreed to a new rulemaking process that could see it adjust its regulations with regard to monitoring groundwater quality around oil rigs.

Asked by Boyer if she thought existing COGCC regulations are satisfactory to protect the environment, Mitsch Bush said "no.”

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“COGCC rules are not adequate to protect public health, safety and the environment,” Mitsch Bush said. “They have a voluntary program designed by the industry. They do not have an actual regulatory function (with regard to water quality testing). … Our responsible operators like Shell Oil are very interested in moving that bar up. Once you pollute the water, it's very difficult to clean up."

McConnell responded to the question by saying: "Yes. I have followed what the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has done. I am convinced that they have put together an excellent set of rules and regulations. Some of them have been a guideline in the nation, for example, the disclosure of fracking fluids."

The candidates for state Senate District 8, Democrat Emily Tracy of Breckenridge and Republican Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs, also split on the role of local government in regulating the oil and gas industry.

"Colorado has a long history of local control," Tracy said. "People feel they have the strongest voice with local government. Our laws provide for a lot of power in local government when it comes to land-use planning."

Baumgardner said he agreed with the position of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

"We can't afford to have 64 kinds of patchwork regulations (one set for every county in the state) on top of what we've already got," Baumgardner said. “We're going to stay with input from the counties, but not add any more county regulations."

County Commissioner District 2

When asked what the biggest issue facing the county that most residents don't know about:

Republican challenger for the Board of Commissioners District 2 seat Tina Kyprios said: "The disparity between outlying areas of Routt County and right here in Steamboat Springs. I heard voices all over Routt County in the rural areas (that) they don't feel they're represented. If you look at our county roads or outlying roads, it's a key issue."

Incumbent Democratic commissioner Doug Monger answered: "The potential budget shortfall that could be coming down from the state or federal governments. Currently the county receives $2 million in payments in lieu of taxes. And the continuation of the bad economy and the consumer price index. We're using 100 gallons of fuel a day on a road grader and we've got eight of them going out there, so we're burning a lot of gallons."

Monger said the commissioners have accomplished major projects during tough times, including construction of a new airport terminal that makes first and lasting impressions on tourists, and a new justice center.

"We must make sure we have healthy communities and take care of our infrastructure. That brings families with children here."

Kyprios said her background as a certified public account and budget auditor with the Army would help her scrutinize county finances to find new efficiencies.

"We need a government that is of the people. The more you sit in this job, the more you forget who brought you here."

County Commissioner District 1

The candidates for the Board of Commissioners’ District 1 seat were asked to describe the biggest issue facing the county budget.

Democrat Tim Corrigan of Yampa said: "Coming up with a way to restore the pay cuts our employees have taken and find a sustainable way to do that. Second, addressing the shortfall we have in our reserves to complete the county overlay program for roads and bridges, and how to maintain reserves in the future."

Republican Jim "Moose" Barrows of the South Valley said: "The biggest issue is the division between the urban area of Routt County and the more cosmopolitan things happening at the ski area. I grew up understanding the participation of agriculture and mining as peripheral entities to support the big engine, the ski area, that drives our economy."

When asked what issues divide residents of Steamboat Springs and county residents outside the city, Barrows said: "I think one of the most important things is that we have so many people who live in rural Routt but maintain businesses in Steamboat, and we've found we are not getting the representation we deserve.”

Corrigan said: "Seven years ago when I came on the (South Routt) School Board, the issue of the half-cent sales tax (for education) really stuck in the craw of South Routt. The residents, they come to work here (in Steamboat) every day, shop here — we felt we were contributing our hard-earned money to support Steamboat schools at the expense of our school. … Over a period of years, we found a way to participate in a share of the half-cent sales tax." Corrigan said his leadership on that issue would be representative of what he could accomplish at the county level.

House District 26

Mitsch Bush said the biggest challenge to small businesses is the lack of credit. She is interested in expanding on the 2011 Angel Investor Act and providing tax incentives for venture capitalists that invest in small local businesses that create jobs.

McConnell said one of the first things he would do in office would be to sponsor legislation that would lead to ridding Colorado's forests of much of the beetle-killed timber, creating jobs and reducing the danger of wildfires in the process.

Senate District 8

Baumgardner said that during his four years serving House District 57, he's learned that it's essential to work across the aisle. In the state Senate, he said would work to make sure Northwest Colorado continues to get the funds it needs for transportation.

Tracy challenged Baumgardner’s claim of working across the aisle, saying that in May he voted with partisan interests on the Front Range to block votes on 30 bills in a move that was not driven by his constituents. Tracy said her training in mediation and conflict resolution would help her bring people together around common interests at the state Legislature.

CU Board of Regents candidate for the 3rd Congressional District Jessica Garrow also attended Thursday’s forum. Local surrogates representing candidates for the presidency, Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District to the U.S. House of Representatives, and the CU Board of Regents’ at-large seat each addressed the audience for 2 minutes Thursday.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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