Town hall with state reps centers on economic, environmental questions
Virtual town hall attendees focused on sustainable growth in Grand County, among other topics, in conversation with state leaders Rep. Judy Amabile (D-Boulder) and Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) and local officials.
Amabile and Rankin, along with Grand County commissioners Meritt Linke and Rich Cimino, Fraser Trustee Brian Cerkvenik, Granby Trustee Chris Michalowski and Granby Mayor Josh Hardy, answered questions over Zoom during the hour long chat.
The first question of the night, from county resident Jeremy Krones, about what efforts are being made to diversify local industries and build a year round community, kicked off a good portion of the discussion.
Rankin highlighted some remaining one-time money that the legislature saved from 2019-20 after COVID cuts that could be used to incentivize start-ups, remote work and technology companies to consider rural counties.
“The governor has proposed quite a bit of stimulus spending, so we in the joint budget committee in the next couple of weeks will be debating how much will be used for restoration and how much for stimulus,” Rankin said. “I and the other Western Slope representatives are pushing very hard for that to focus on rural Colorado.”
Commissioner Meritt Linke agreed that remote positions and start-ups could be potential areas for growth, but added that the county has a lot of natural resources and logging would benefit the area on multiple fronts.
“When I saw 100,000 acres go up in smoke, I thought ‘those are the two by fours I had to buy a month ago that said product of Canada,’” Linke said, referencing the East Troublesome Fire.
Talk of logging and the recent historic wildfire season led to a question about environmental efforts to combat climate change.
Local officials highlighted recent efforts to become more sustainable, including West Grand School District’s electric buses, the solar farm in Fraser, electric car chargers in many towns and Wolford Reservoir’s future hydroelectricity capabilities.
Linke added that going forward forest management and clearing available fuels will be key to creating a sustainable environment.
Amabile and Rankin differed on how the state should address the question, with Amabile voicing support for the state’s efforts to regulate oil and gas developments, as well as increasing forest management capabilities.
“Everybody has to do their part and … Colorado is being a leader in the challenges that are out there,” Amabile said. “I totally agree that we have to do forest mitigation, but wildfires are a symptom of climate change, so we have to do both.”
Rankin argued that the state should support the natural gas industry as a cleaner energy than coal, which other countries still rely on. However, he agreed that fire mitigation efforts are important and something he plans to focus on during the legislative session.
In a shift from the majority of the town hall, the discussion ended on a question about what Grand County officials could do to better communicate information about COVID-19.
Linke and Cimino both said the county was doing its best to keep people informed, with Linke noting it can be difficult when not the state or federal government can’t provide clear answers.
“I know that our public health team is diligently working on this and it’s very frustrating for them too,” Linke said. “I’ll make a note for public health to do more outreach.”
Both commissioners also highlighted the county’s progress in vaccination so far.
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The Grand County Sheriff’s Office fielded 166 calls from Feb. 14-20 while dispatchers answered 417 calls for all first-responder agencies in the county.