GOP Routt County commissioner candidates face 3-way primary
June 15, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Registered Routt County Republicans are able to choose from among three candidates this month as they vie to replace longtime Republican county Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak.
Stahoviak is stepping down from her District 1 seat on the Routt County Board of Commissioners and will not seek a sixth term after almost 20 years.
The candidates include retired businessman Tony Stich, of Stagecoach; Routt County Planning Commission member Brita Horn, who ranches in the McCoy area; and businessman and Olympic downhill skier Jim "Moose" Barrows, who lives on a small ranch in the South Valley.
Only the top vote-getter in the June 26 primary will move on to face South Routt School Board President Tim Corrigan, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Speaking during a panel discussion in Oak Creek this week, all Republican candidates advocated for county government to encourage oil and gas exploration and extraction as a means of improving the local economy. And all wholeheartedly agreed with members of the audience who jumped in to say they think the personal property rights of rural landowners, who own and pay taxes on subsurface mineral rights, have taken a back seat in county deliberations about energy exploration.
However, there were some differences in nuance among the three.
Horn has been in the thick of things as the Planning Commission has deliberated about permit applications to drill new oil wells. She said she is comfortable with Routt County adding its own conditions to oil permits, though she thinks 61 is too many. Horn said her perception is that because the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission lacks the personnel to inspect every oil well in the state annually, adopting similar regulations to those of the state gives Routt County added assurance that wells are being drilled appropriately.
"The conditions are important," Horn said. "All these are is reiterating what is set in place by the state."
Stich said he thinks Routt County's rules could cost taxpayers unnecessary money.
"I don't want to see us do a redundancy of what's already being done by the state," he said. "I don't want redundancy that's going to cost county money. I don't see a need for that. There's no point in penalizing good operators when there's no need.
"We had more than 300 foreclosures in Routt County last year, and we need to get the 427 families on food assistance off," Stich said. "We've got to do something. We need this oil and gas exploration and production and everything else that goes with it."
Barrows called the county's 61 conditions of approval "over and above comprehensive."
"They're a little bit complicated," he said. "The commissioners, at the local level, should make sure those citizens of Routt County (who own mineral rights), their property rights are protected. Our job is to make sure all personal property rights are valued and protected."
Horn said no one is more concerned than she is with protection of the property rights inherent in mineral rights.
"I'm a landowner (with an extended family) of 2,200 acres," she said. "We own all the minerals underneath it. Absolutely, we want to take care of property rights and do it safely at the well pad."
Horn and Stich emphasized the need to put more telecommunication bandwidth in place in Routt County to support economic growth.
"We need to get the right bandwidth and increase our capacity, and then we've got a good chance of bringing businesses in here that will sustain us for a long time," Stich said.
"I would like to find a way we can get better prices for bandwidth and encourage location-neutral businesses," she said. "That's a nice economy. In order to attract them, we need more bandwidth.
Barrows said he thinks Steamboat Ski Area and the resort economy will continue to be critical to the economy of the county and that he wants to make sure the valley continues to welcome new arrivals. He recalled as a youngster watching a construction company from Oklahoma modernize U.S. Highway 40 over Rabbit Ears Pass.
"Forty or 50 of those families stayed in Routt County," Barrows said. "I want to make sure we continue to do that — to bring new people in."
Meet the candidates
■ Brita Horn
Brita Horn is a former Westin hotel executive who met a South Routt rancher during a temporary assignment in Vail, married him and never left.
Horn, who serves on the Routt County Planning Commission, is active in emergency services and has been the chief of the Rock Creek Volunteer Fire Department since 2008. Although she lives in Routt County, she has been an EMT with Eagle County Health Services District since 2004. She emphasized that she comes to Steamboat often to bring her two teenage daughters to sports and 4-H activities.
■ Jim "Moose" Barrows
South Valley resident Jim "Moose" Barrows was a competitive renowned skier, competing in the 1966 World Skiing Championships and in the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France.
He continued in the skiing industry, developing and managing pay-to-race skiing venues worldwide for 16 years. He has had a commercial pilot rating for 48 years and has been a Steamboat Realtor for 40 years.
■ Tony Stich
Tony Stich, who treasures memories of youthful summers on the Miles Ranch on Lynx Pass, had a diverse career in business and industry. For the past six years before his retirement, he was product manager for North America for KITZ Corp., a company that developed products for refineries, petrochemical and power plants.
He has mentored a Soroco Middle School student for the past four years through Partners in Routt County.
Q-and-A with the candidates
Do you believe the current Routt County Board of Commissioners has taken the correct approach to evaluating the growing number of applications for special-use permits to drill for oil and gas in Routt County? Why or why not? What would you, as commissioner, do differently?
Jim "Moose" Barrows: Their preservation of the property rights of the landowners and leaseholders has been correct. The problematic approval process — which is slow, complex and arbitrary, causing excessive expenses to the county and petitioner — are putting Routt County at a disadvantage in a very competitive industry. Commissioners need to have staff establish a clear, definitive permit timeline for county and petitioner compliance and adhere to it.
Brita Horn: Yes, as a current South Routt Planning Commissioner, I saw both sides of the issue at every meeting and forum. I liked the process of the working group. It took nearly 5 1/2 months to have the concerns ironed out and approved. If you have read the SUP, they're the same conditions that all state permits recommend. Routt County is just reiterating/re-establishing the conditions that are equally important to us. The state has been very clear that they are limited in resources and the Board of Commissioners is hiring personnel to ensure that the oil companies comply and keep our county safe.
Tony Stich: Routt County hasn't experienced an oil and gas play for some time. The experienced personnel have long since retired. The oil and gas committee that was set up in December also lacked experience. This inexperience has been frustrating for Quicksilver and Shell and as this is a costly process. I have 35 years' experience working with the refineries, chemical and petrochemical industries. These companies are not the enemy. I have the knowledge and experience to work collaboratively with these companies and the county.
Our state has one of the strongest rules and regulations in the country. We don't need redundancy of regulations. We need a system that assures the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is getting the job done.
The squeaky wheel always gets the "oil," especially when its knowledge based.
The economy and local jobs
As commissioner, what steps would you take to support the local economy and help employers hire more workers? Does county government have a role to play in that process? What sectors of the local economy hold the most promise to improve Routt County's economic health?
Barrows: County government must ensure that the implementation of local regulations do not put private county enterprises at a competitive disadvantage to comparative competing economies. The Yampa Valley lifestyle is our greatest asset, so preservation with integrating new technologies utilizing private enterprise is our only option. Growth without change!
Horn: 1. Find innovative ways to reduce the costs for county permits/processes. I understand that there is a "cost of doing business," however we need to find ways to provide incentives to attract new growth and drive cash into economy. 2. I believe that local county government can cultivate the landscape to attract small businesses — bringing more jobs to Routt County. 3. Our focus should be on encouraging the Internet providers and businesses capturing more bandwidth capacity and stability of the Internet infrastructure to allow more location-neutral families to join us in Routt County and live here full time.
Stich: Five percent of the families in the county are on food assistance and the foreclosures last year alone were over 300. I believe that our natural resources are the quickest way to help us out of the recession and toward economic vitality.
First, we must start working with oil and gas exploration, not against it.
Second, the coal reserves are in Routt County, so please explain to me why two-thirds of the employees working there do not live in Routt County. There are obvious reasons for the disparity but no short-term solutions to rectify this atrocity.
It can be corrected with time and a policy of controlled growth.
Routt County will spend up to $767,840 this summer to put asphalt patches on a county road system that is deteriorating. However, with little help coming from the state and the assessed valuation of the county declining, projections show that the Routt County Road and Bridge fund balance will continue to decline. What, if anything, can be done to shore up funding and do more to improve Routt county's roads?
Barrows: The system is in need of a long-term plan, financially and operationally. Allocated funds from geographically associated properties need to be established for designated specific projects. Road and Bridge fund balances have to be increased through budget dieting without raising taxes.
Horn: First, we need to continue to apply for grants and other funding opportunities. Secondly, it is my understanding that there is $660,000 positive balance for the Board of Commissioners to allocate for 2013. It would be a start, and now that Yampa Valley Regional Airport is an independent enterprise and is not being funded with capital dollars, we will be able to shore up the funds for fixing the roads and finish the projects that have already been started by the current commissioners.
Stich: First, I'd reinstate Paul Draper and give him the flexibility to do his job. Also, we don't need another level of management.
Second, I'd propose that a portion of the revenue generated from a strong oil and gas play be used to improve our roads system.
Third, I'd take a hard look at converting our county vehicles to natural gas.
Fourth, I'd work closely with the oil and gas companies to bring in a natural gas filling station.
Natural gas offers a huge potential to reduce our fuel cost, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the country's natural gas reserves will play a big part in what fuel will dominate in the future.
Someday, the national and local economy will recover and Routt County's population and the need for housing will grow. Do you think county planning initiatives have adequately prepared us to manage that growth in the best interests of existing residents and communities across the county? What steps would you take?
Barrows: The planning institution is adequate however the established implementation and the associated hassles are a deterrent to dynamic managed growth and economic expansion. The interests of the existing residents and businesses is often lost in bureaucratic excess. Housing is the result of good economic practices and should be left to private enterprise.
Horn: The priority for the county is to work with the cities/towns to be a two-way street: finding best interests for all Routt County. Currently, Routt County Planning Department really does not have set initiatives to "manage growth." The policies of the master plan provide support of local municipalities to provide diverse housing types after the zoning process. The current inventory of affordable housing in Routt County is dismal, relying on developers working with the city/towns to increase the stock. Municipalities are working with County Planning, and zoning policies are in place to reduce sprawl and equip the municipalities to create new housing.
Stich: Steamboat Lake and Stagecoach have been anchors for county planners for years. In order to correct what many commissioners felt was a mistake. Regulations have been implemented over the years that hamper the development of these areas. It's time to embrace these communities. Time has shown that these communities cannot recover alone. They need direction, help and guidance, not a heavy hand.
Information technology is the job engine of the future. Redundancy of source is the key to cheap, high-speed Internet service. Our children's future and our future economic vitality will require this utility if we are to grow and compete on the world stage.
What will be your first plan of action if you succeed in becoming a Routt County commissioner?
Barrows: The new Board of Commissioners needs to develop a specific two-year game plan for critical issues (such as Routt County Road 14) and challenge staff to implement this plan with specific timelines for completion. Avoid micromanagement by the commissioners. Keep our tax dollars in Routt County.
Horn: As a servant leader, it would be to meet with the entire county team and develop a plan of what are the future goals and objectives. Equipping all the employees with the tools and training they need to do their job and do it well. I will ask the county employees to do one thing: take care of our citizens, all citizens. Routt County has hired amazing employees that are experts in their field. I am hopeful that the three commissioners will work collaboratively with them to provide the best service possible and be a model for other counties.
Stich: Growing up, I spent every minute my parents would allow me on the Frank W. Miles ranch on Lynx pass in South Routt. I loved everything about ranching. We'd get to go fishing often, and the trail to Silver Creek took us through an aspen grove and the quakies song instantly burrows into your soul … forever.
Our first road trip with my bride was to visit Routt County.
When we started thinking about retirement, Routt County was our choice … a childhood dream.
Routt County is a warm beautiful place. She's what I want to protect for ourselves and future generations!
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com