Candidates: Eagle County must be green |

Candidates: Eagle County must be green

Melanie Wong
Eagle County, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Each week, the Vail Daily publishes a Q and A with the four Eagle County commissioner candidates.

Democrat and incumbent Commissioner Peter Runyon is running against Republican and former Commissioner Dick Gustafson for the upvalley seat. Democrat Jon Stavney is running against Republican Debbie Buckley for the midvalley seat that’s being vacated by term-limited Arn Menconi. All Eagle County voters will vote for all the seats, regardless of where they live.

The questions will cover local election issues. This week’s question pertains to the county’s role in promoting environmental sustainability.

Some of the county’s recent initiatives include capital improvement projects, such as plans for a new recycling center costing $5.6 million. The center will allow the county to process and sort all recyclable materials instead of shipping them elsewhere as it does now. Also a planned solar farm at the regional airport would produce enough electricity to power the facility, county officials said.

It would more or less completely offset the airport’s carbon footprint, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide produced each year by about 2,000 tons, and a deal with the utility company would give the county a set deal on the cost of the electricity produced, said County ECOBuild Specialist Adam Palmer.

Another initiative is the ECO Build program, which requires a certain number of points for environmentally friendly features for new buildings. Buildings and homes that don’t meet the standards must pay a fee.

Some have supported the county, saying the county should be the leader in environmental stewardship. Critics have said that some of the programs and decisions cost too much, or are more “symbolic” actions rather than actions that will make a tangible difference.

Q: The county has taken-on several “green” initiatives in the past couple years, such as buying wind power, purchasing a fleet of Priuses and xeriscaping the county campus. Should the county continue pursuing projects like these? What’s your philosophy on how the county should approach environmental stewardship?

My philosophy is very simple. As a community, our very economic foundation is based on the natural environment. Therefore, it is totally appropriate for the county to take a leadership role in environmental stewardship.

It is also good economics. Ask Vail Resorts. Ask Aspen Ski Co. Show me a company that doesn’t market their “green” record, and I’ll show you a failing company.

These programs are not just “politically correct” ” they often save money.

– We saved almost $60,000 in fuel this year due to the Priuses.

– The no-cost, five-acre, solar farm planned for the airport will guarantee that we will never pay more for electricity than we do no.

– Our Eco Build standards typically give the homeowner a two-to-three-year pay back.

– Our new recycle center is paid for entirely by the restricted “landfill fund,” paid with dedicated fees that can only be spent on landfill projects.

Do some “green” initiatives cost more? Yes… for now. For example, our wood-pellet heated Hazardous Materials Recovery facility was initially more expensive but, over time, the cost of beetle-kill pellets will go down compared with the cost of gas. And, we help mitigate the beetle problem by encouraging private enterprise.

It is important to be environmentally sensitive. Foolishly spending taxpayer money to “attempt” an ill-conceived “green” policy is irresponsible.

The commissioners bought too many hybrid cars (selling others before their time). They are now considering selling some, while providing “out-of-county” employees commuter cars.

Xeriscaping ($240,000) was done at the expense of safety, while sidewalk connections in Blue Lake ($200,000) were ignored. Sod, rolled up in the pretext of saving water, was given away so citizens can water it instead of the county. It will take over 100 years to recover the cost by saving water. A specific administration building architectural feature, given to the county by the architect, was violated during the replanting.

If the citizens of Eagle County wish a green initiative, the commissioners should seek their input. After receiving a consensus, they should adopt a “green” plan. Continuing “knee-jerk” reactions to randomly tossed-out suggestion is illogical.

The environment must be preserved. uring the Homestake II water preservation hearings, I was often accused of being a “tree hugger” by officials from Colorado Springs and Aurora. Spending tax money for spending’s sake is not being environmentally sensitive. Without a well-conceived plan, random spending is only irrational behavior.

The future must be greener than the past. Sustainable decisions should also make good economic sense.

I applaud the leadership Eagle County (and the state) has shown in green initiatives, from building a recycling-transfer station, to purchasing wind power and considering solar installations at the airport. Eagle County should position itself into the new energy economy.

The time for largely symbolic gestures is over; ideas also need to bankroll. Xeriscaping the county building is one of those marginal, example-setting decisions that leans towards symbolism, that will not have a pay back for generations.

That said, I thought the same of the Prius-fleet purchase, and with the price of gas, that suddenly looks wise.

I applaud the hiring of a director of sustainability, as long as that job brings in tangible savings in our facilities management. s we build facilities such as the Justice Center, the county, as a public entity, should plan for pay back over a longer term window for capital improvements that reduce future operating costs.

To be clear, our most important environmental footprint is written into our land-use code, through our high expectations for future development, and through what lands we choose to preserve.

I believe that we should do all that we can reasonably do to protect our environment. We should focus on where we can have the greatest impact for the most people and the greatest effect on reducing our impact on our world.

Recycling needs to be easier for Eagle County residents and it has to be curbside to work effectively. The county needs to work cooperatively with the towns of Eagle and Gypsum to make curbside recycling available in those communities.

I supported the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability ( as an Avon Town Council member, support them as a private citizen and will continue to support them as a county commissioner. The Alliance is a community organization that promotes sustainable practices and programs in recycling, renewable energy and green building.

Sustainable solutions that really work will come from nonprofits, individuals and businesses. Taking care of our environment, locally or globally, just makes sense, and does not have to be overly complicated.

Sustainable choices make economic sense in the long run. We need to add flexibility to the Eco Build regulations so people and developers have the freedom to come up with new, creative sustainable solutions.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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