Working for La Plata

Since I was sworn into office in January of 2013, I’ve worked hard to put La Plata County on track. I have a list of accomplishments and, to be honest, I have a list of ongoing challenges.

Here are some of the positive highlights:

  • Economy & Jobs: I’ve worked with residents and local businesses to strengthen our local foods economy and build resilience through supporting community garden projects and sound food policy; promoted a solar garden development on the Boys & Girls Club rooftop; called for a county comprehensive plan to give businesses certainty and maintain and enhance property values; and, among other highlights, traveled to Washington, DC, to advocate for the passage of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act. Preserving our natural beauty attracts families and recreationists to come to visit La Plata County and it creates businesses and jobs.
  • Responsible Government & Long-Range Planning: the Planning Commission is currently working with county residents to develop a comprehensive plan; I sponsored the Public Lands Resolution, which passed unanimously, calling for maintaining federal ownership of our public lands; I supported the creation of the La Plata County Water Advisory Commission to aid the county in both planning for, and protecting, our water future. I currently serve on both the San Juan Basin Board of Health and the Housing Solutions Board of Directors. As a mother and a person from working class roots, protecting public health and fighting for affordable housing and are very important to me.
  • Energy & Climate: because of my leadership, La Plata County played a key role in developing strong state air quality standards and the Nation’s first rule controlling methane emissions from oil and gas operations; I traveled to Washington, DC, to testify in support of the BLM’s Venting and Flaring Rule, to both reduce emissions and protect the US Treasury. Gas that isn’t vented and flared and stays in the pipeline is money in the bank. I served as co-chair of Governor Hickenlooper’s Oil & Gas Task Force and fought hard to maintain the authority of local governments to regulate oil and gas operations.

In general, I believe I have been responsive to public concern on a host of issues. When a resident called about a dangerous intersection that needed a four-way stop, I was able to make that happen. When county residents demonstrated how important the Sunnyside and Fort Lewis libraries are, I supported continuing the funding for those important community resources. Barking dogs and bears in unsecured trash receptacles are big issues. I have convened work sessions to determine how we can effectively address these issues without breaking the bank and increasing the budget. Simply put, we can’t afford to add staff to enforce new regulations.

Ongoing challenges:

  • Declining Revenues: La Plata County’s declining revenues due to the low price of natural gas is a huge challenge. While revenues fall, demand for county services is increasing. More people move to La Plata County every year which has an impact on county roads and bridges, the sheriff’s office, human services, the building, planning and engineering departments, to name a few.
  • Fiscal Sustainability: I supported convening a Fiscal Sustainability Steering Committee to help the commissioners plan for the county’s financial future. Among other recommendations, such as adopting impact fees for new development (which I support) the committee suggested that the county refer a measure to the November 2015 ballot to increase property taxes. We’ve since referred a measure proposing that the property tax mill levy be increased by up to 2.4 mills to help fund the road and bridge department. The county’s current property tax is 8.5 mills, which is the fourth lowest property tax in the state. The average county property tax in Colorado is 20 mills.

 

Our challenges are great. Diversifying our economy so we are not so dependent on a single industry is critical. The La Plata County and San Juan County, New Mexico, region is the “reddest spot on the map” in the United States due to high methane emissions. We need an Apollo-like effort bringing local, state, and federal governments together with businesses and organizations to reduce emissions. This is needed in order to improve our regional air quality, both for our public health and so we continue to be a destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

 

Acid mine drainage in the Animas River is an ongoing challenge. Cleaning up the abandoned mines above Silverton in order to restore the quality of the Animas River has long been a priority of mine. Since the Gold King Mine accident, I’ve played a key role working with the EPA and upstream as well as downstream governments to address both the spill and plan for the future. I have advocated for an ongoing water quality and sediment testing and monitoring plan, a cleanup plan, and testing for a more comprehensive range of potential contaminants.

 

I have also called for the passage of H.R. 963, the Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015 which would create a fund to clean up abandoned and inactive mines by establishing an 8 percent royalty on all new hard-rock mines on public lands, a 4 percent royalty on existing mines on public lands and reclamation fees on all hard-rock mines, including those that were “purchased” for pennies under the 1872 Mining Law. Montana’s experience with abandoned mine restoration projects suggests that mine reclamation can create more jobs per dollar spent than mining itself.