Avon votes to hire federal lobbyist, liaison alongside Vail and Eagle County

The other two municipalities will soon vote to approve the contract

The local municipalities would be looking for the firm to advance and address some of the federal issues including recreation and travel management, wildfire response and mitigation, ski area fees and housing.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily Archive

Avon Town Council voted to enter a joint contract with Eagle County and Vail to hire a federal lobbyist to help move the needle on a number of federal issues of local importance.

To operate in a knowledgeable and influential way in the federal arena, it’s so much more involved than simply being an elected official and getting on to board of county commissioners or town council,” said Town Manager Eric Heil on Tuesday. “These are attorneys that practice it regularly, they have regular contacts with Senators’ offices, Representatives’ offices and understand how the congressional process works.”

The proposed contract stipulates that the three municipalities are planning to hire national law firm Squire Patton Boggs for governmental lobbying and liaison services. The firm has local representation in Summit County and Denver.

The firm will be hired on a proposed retainer of $10,000 per month — given that each municipality approves their financial contribution and the contract — with both Eagle County and the town of Vail contributing $4,000 and the town of Avon contributing $2,000.

Avon Town Council approved the contract at its Tuesday, June 14, Town Council meeting, with Council member Scott Prince dissenting and member RJ Andrade absent for the vote. Eagle County and Vail are expected to vote on the contract at upcoming meetings. Vail is currently planning on discussing the item at its July 5 meeting.

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This cost, Heil said Tuesday, is “a modest cost in an arena that’s high dollar and high importance and very complicated.”

He added this was especially true considering the value of what is at stake. As an example, he raised the issue of ski area fees, which represent around $24 million in fees from Vail and Beaver Creek alone that leave the local county.

He also emphasized that locally, having a federal lobbyist could help with addressing and bringing funding to transportation issues on forest service roads. This includes addressing challenges on Forest Service Road 779 and June Creek Road where the town is currently looking for collaboration and support for repairs for the former as well as creating emergency access on the latter.

According to Heil, Eagle County first contacted the towns of Vail and Avon about the idea of collectively hiring a lobbyist as a way to enhance the collective voice in the community on federal matters. Eagle County had already been using the firm occasionally but expressed a desire to create a more concerted effort, he said.

While the County has yet to approve the contract — and would require approval by either the board of commissioners and/or the county manager — Justin Patrick, the county’s strategic director of communications, identified the benefits that the lobbyist could bring in an emailed statement to the Vail Daily.

“Hiring a professional to represent county interests at the federal level would be a method of bringing benefits to our local constituents that we might not otherwise be able to secure,” Patrick wrote. “A partnership with the towns would reduce cost burden and allow us to pursue mutually beneficial projects efficiently.”

The three entities, Heil said on Tuesday, have similar issues, interests and goals with regard to federal funding and issues.

“We regularly have managers meetings, plus we have mayors and managers meetings so we’re well aware of a number of issues with the federal government that we all have common interests in, whether it’s wildfire management or funding for housing or ski area fees,” Heil said. “And so, to hire someone and split that cost and have that service makes a lot of sense.”

The local municipalities would be looking for the firm to advance and address some of the federal land issues including recreation and travel management, wildfire response and mitigation, ski area permitting, housing as well as funding for the I-70 corridor, multi-modal transportation and housing.

“Even if we’re just adding a voice of support to what Eagle County does — because on a lot of those issues Eagle County takes the lead — I think is beneficial for our own interests to have as strong of a voice that we can,” Heil said.

A town of Vail spokesperson said that this would be a more strategic approach for “seeking federal appropriation requests on a unified, regional level for assistance with housing, transportation, Main Street grant dollars, etc., than if we were to go it alone.”

Additionally, in the service proposal from Squire Patton Boggs, the firm identifies other priorities as electric vehicle charging stations and buses, climate initiatives and COVID.

The proposal identifies ways the firm has also supported initiatives in neighboring Summit County. Most recently, according to the report, it has helped the county and the towns of Silverthorne, Dillon, Frisco and Breckenridge secure grant funding from the House Appropriations Bill as well as advocated on behalf of the communities on U.S. Postal Service issues, affordable housing and more.

Not only would this contract help push some of these policies forward, but it could help the municipalities identify additional funding and grant opportunities.

It’s always worried me that there’s lots of money out there that we just may not have the bandwidth to be aware of and get, especially right now,” said Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes.

The firm, Heil added, would monitor and help identify federal grant funding as well as other federal funding “for community needs.”

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