SM Commissioner Candidates Square Off Over Environment and Other Issues
by Gus Jarvis
Oct 25, 2012 | 1308 views | 1 1 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print

TELLURIDE – With just two weeks to go until the ballots are counted, the five candidates vying for two available seats on the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners squared off Tuesday evening at Rebekah Hall, finding plenty of disagreement, particularly over the two incumbents’ recent agreement to settle a lawsuit challenging the state’s approval of a proposed uranium mill in the Paradox Valley.  

Hosted by the environmental organization Sheep Mountain Alliance and moderated by SMA Director Hilary White, a total of 25 questions were asked. Each candidate had three minutes to respond, and each also had two rebuttal cards to use throughout the evening.

While the intent of the forum was to give candidates an opportunity to discuss environmental issues, the discussion covered a spectrum of topics, becoming at times contentious and awkward.

Differing Views Over Settlement Agreement With Energy Fuels

“It is our job to protect the health and safety of the public first,” incumbent Art Goodtimes (Green, District 3) said, defending his vote to settle the county’s lawsuit, in conjunction with the Town of Telluride, challenging the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s handling of the application from Energy Fuels for a uranium mill near Paradox, along with a radioactive materials license.

“We feel that [the CDPHE] is going to rubber stamp the license,” he added. “We ended up going into a settlement and now we have inspection rights. We now have that right. Do we want that mill built? No. Uranium is the wrong way to go and its too bad that both Democrats and Republicans champion that.”

District 3 Democratic challenger Dan Chancellor used one of his rebuttal cards at that point to offer his view of the settlement.

“It’s one thing to be able to monitor and measure something and inspect it,” Chancellor said. “It’s another thing to have enforcement capability. The town [of Telluride] retains the right to sue the CDPHE. The county has relinquished that opportunity. The county has no ability, as far as I understand it, no ability to sue the state health department. If they say they are not keeping up with part of the agreement, the county has no recourse.”

The volley between Chancellor and Goodtimes continued following the next question when Goodtimes used his second and final rebuttal card to dispute Chancellor’s contention that the county has relinquished the opportunity to sue the health department.

“We didn’t make an agreement with the health department, we made the agreement with the Town of Telluride and Energy Fuels,” Goodtimes said. “We have a lot of rights that we would never have had…Energy Fuels is not a responsible company. The ore from this mill is going to be shipped off overseas. We want to stop the mill but our job as county commissioners is to protect the health and safety of the public, and when we saw the opportunity to get regulations we can enforce in court, we did it.”

District 1 Republican candidate Steve Kennedy also jumped into the fray, arguing that the agreement removes the county from getting its voice heard during the upcoming radioactive license hearing beginning Nov. 7.

“The settlement with Energy Fuels is unprecedented,” Kennedy said. “If it is the county’s job to protect its environment, the county just took themselves out of the picture before licensing was even done so they could enable Energy Fuels to move forward with licensing. Nothing in the agreement protects our water, it only allows the county to monitor it.”

In response, Kennedy’s opponent, incumbent Elaine Fischer (Democrat, District 1), said the agreement is better than going forward with nothing.

“We at least have the ability to impose certain regulations,” Fischer said. “This is nothing we entered into lightly. We really looked at all sides of all the issues surrounding this and we all felt this was in the best interest of serving our county in the long run. We felt it was important to go after what we thought we could get. Getting it was something rather than getting nothing.”

Republican District 3 candidate Kevin Kell said that the overall issue of uranium development in the region is “one that will be with us for a long time” and that if the east end of San Miguel County continues to say “no, no, no” to uranium without alternative job solutions for the west end of the county, the commissioners are not looking out for everyone in the county.

“The job of the county commissioners is to protect the public, and I think we need to work with close cooperation with the CDPHE with uses regarding mining, uranium and its transportation.”

Statements on a Mix of Environmental and County Issues

Kell, in response to a question about how he believes the county can reduce its carbon footprint, said that despite the “R” behind his name, he supports endeavors to reduce the community’s carbon footprint and specifically, he said that more could be done at the county level to support recycling.

“As a Republican in Telluride I get a lot of grief,” Kell said. “No, I don’t drink fracking fluid and no, I don’t sprinkle uranium on my cereal. I believe in good stewardship of the environment. I understand the ban on plastic grocery bags. I understand the need to reduce them in landfills but I might not agree on the law banning them. Most plastic bags are made from petroleum products and reducing our use of them will reduce the amount of barrels of oil we purchase overseas. For me, that’s the same goal coming at different angles.”

Kell went on to say that he’d like to emphasize that the S.M.A.R.T.S. community recycling park in the Ilium Valley needs support and the county should do what it can to give its support.

“We need to come up with solutions to help with funding and really try to get that program going,” Kell said.

In response to a question about the use of magnesium chloride for winter road de-icing and summertime dust control, Fischer said the county will continue to seek other methods of dust/ice control but agrees that the use of the chemical is a difficult decision.

“This has been a conversation we have had for many years; its very difficult,” Fischer said. “We have instructed [Road and Bridge Supervisor] Mike Horner over and over again to look for new ways. In our heart we want to see a change. If it is available and cost effective we would use it. Nothing else so far has worked or has been effective.”

Chancellor, when asked how he would balance budget reductions with environmental protections, said you don’t need to destroy the environment to stimulate the economy. He suggested that the county could do more on its website to promote tourism and diversify the types of visitors who make not know what the county has to offer.

“As I stated earlier, you don’t need to destroy the environment to stimulate the economy,” Chancellor said. “If you go on to the county website right now, there is nothing there to entice people to come here to San Miguel County. There are a lot of people who would love to come here but don’t know about it.”

When asked what he would do to improve the relationship between the Telluride Ski Area and the county government, Kennedy said that a good relationship between the two is essential for the success of Telluride.

“One of the major jobs of the commissioners is to reach out to businesses and other taxing districts to make sure there are no obstacles in promoting environmentally healthy growth,” Kennedy said. “That is sometimes lacking here in District 1. We really do need to reach out to businesses to make sure we can continue on in our current path in growing the ski area and the number of skier days.”

Goodtimes was asked what the most immediate and threatening impact of climate change is to San Miguel County and what can the county do about it? Goodtimes said his biggest concern is water and the future of water in the region.

“This community is dependent on solid water and we are going to have a heck of a darn time to have a ski area without it. Water will have a huge impact, not to mention our west end.”

Goodtimes suggested ideas tied to “new agrarianism” where the county could enact programs that promote wiser uses of water with organic farming that will enable better sequestration of carbon in the soil.

“I want you to know, water is going to be the big issue,” he said.

Awkward Moments

There were several instances during the forum where candidates made inferences that other candidates were or were not toeing the party line. In once instance, Goodtimes was attacked for supporting incumbent Republican State House District 58 candidate Don Coram.

Goodtimes later replied that Coram had done a lot for the people in the west end and that he would not vote for Democratic District 58 candidate Tammy Theis, who was in attendance, because of a previous shoplifting charge.

Several times after that, Chancellor demanded that Theis be allowed to defend herself at the forum, to which Goodtimes asked if the forum was in place to debate the candidates for San Miguel County Commissioner or debate the two candidates running for District 58. (Theis was afforded the opportunity to speak to the group after the forum was completed.)

In another instance, after White opened up questioning to the public, Telluride resident Brian Ahern took the podium and asked if each candidate had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the past. As Goodtimes began to answer, Ahern demanded only a yes or no answer, to which Goodtimes answered yes. The rest of the candidates answered no.

While the question itself may not have been inappropriate for candidates seeking office, the way it was delivered by Ahern sparked a heated back-and-forth, in particular about whether his demand for a yes or no answer with no opportunity for clarification was in keeping with the rules of the forum.  

Ahern ran against Goodtimes in a previous election, when he made an issue of Goodtimes’ bankruptcy, which Goodtimes discussed in detail.


Twitter: @gusgusj

Comments-icon Post a Comment
October 26, 2012
Regardless of who wins, I hope San Miguel County will finally start taking climate change seriously. Climate change is not a distant threat, its related impacts are here now as reflected in dead lodgepole pines on our mountainsides and the 2012 Colorado wildfire season. Back in May of 2009, our County Commissioners passed a climate change resolution pledging to develop a community-wide plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 2005 levels by 2020. During the past three and a half years, we have had countless meetings and spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars – and yet we still don’t have a community-wide climate plan which will actually be implemented. What matters are not meetings but the answer to a simple question: how much have we measurably reduced greenhouse gas emissions? If you do the math -- look at taxpayer dollars and time spent compared to results achieved -- you realize there’s a huge problem. Planning to continue doing what we’ve been doing in the past is planning to fail. What’s required to turn things around is a majority of County Commissioners who care enough about climate change to do what other counties have done across Colorado: develop and implement a community-wide plan, measure progress, expect measurable results annually and require accountability from those spending public funds. Other Colorado counties have been doing this for years. With the right leadership, we could too.