Beetle, snow-chain, drilling bills signed |

Beetle, snow-chain, drilling bills signed

Bob Berwyn
Vail, CO Colorado
Mark Fox, AP Photo/Summit Daily NewsColorado state Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, left, and Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, right, applaud Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter for signing a batch of bills into law during a ceremony at the Frisco Peninsula, Tuesday.

FRISCO ” A pine beetle bill signed by Gov. Bill Ritter at the Frisco Peninsula Tuesday morning should help local communities move forward with critical wildfire mitigation and forest health projects, said Democratic state Rep. Dan Gibbs, who sponsored the legislation during his first year as a lawmaker.

“It’s crucial we have success, measurable success, that we can show the number of acres treated,” Gibbs said.

While there will always be potential for damaging wildfires, Gibbs said, it’s important for communities to do as much as they can to protect schools, hospitals, water supplies and other important facilities.

Ritter’s short stop in Frisco was the first time anyone could recall a governor visiting the local area for a bill-signing. The local community along with state and federal forest service officials, Colorado Department of Transportation executives, industry representatives, local town council members and county commissioners attended the ceremony.

The Frisco Peninsula was Ritter’s first stop on a day-long visit to the Western Slope, with other bill-signings set for Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction. Ritter said his instructions from staff were to “sit, sign and skedaddle,” but he gave Gibbs and state Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald both a chance to make remarks on the legislation.

Calling it a pestilence, Fitz-Gerald said the pine beetle issue is not only important to residents of the hard-hit counties in north central Colorado, but to the entire state, with water supplies and Colorado’s natural heritage at issue.

Along with the pine beetle measure, which provides $1 million in funding, Ritter also signed bills that will help pay for more and better chain-up areas along I-70, and increase fines for truck drivers who flout the chain requirements. Under the measure, the State Department of Transportation will spend $2.5 million for new chain-up stations, as well as better lighting and signage.

Regional transportation director Jeff Kullman said it’s not just a one-time fix, but the first step in a sustained effort to make the highway safer and reduce congestion. He praised Gibbs for his persistence in finding widespread support for the bill, including winning the support of the trucking industry.

Gibbs also worked with hunters, anglers and the oil and gas industry to adopt a measure that aims to balance energy development with protection of natural resources in the drilling fields of western Colorado.

“The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission should not be controlled by industry,” Gov. Ritter said, explaining his support of a law that changes the make-up of the panel to represent a wider range of interests.

Under the previous structure, industry representatives held three of five seats on commission. Now, oil and gas companies will have three of nine seats.

“We share this land with wildlife … We can drill responsibly in a way that doesn’t have negative impacts,” Gibbs said, praising the industry for coming to the table and working to craft a balanced bill.

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