Eagle County leaders set new post-pandemic priorities | VailDaily.com

Eagle County leaders set new post-pandemic priorities

Annual State of the County address brings county staff together in a packed room

Eagle County’s leaders delivered their annual State of the County presentation to a packed room Tuesday, readily acknowledging that for the past two years a proverbial elephant filled the space where county employees were seated.

It’s an elephant we all recognize — the COVID-19 pandemic. From the smallest details of daily life to the largest issues of global well-being, the pandemic has colored human experience since its emergence in 2020.

“The past two years may prove to be some of the most memorable of our lifetime,” noted Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney. She declared that the pandemic knocked around the county and its residents, but ultimately, the organization and its citizens withstood the beating.

“Whatever the definition of excellent public service was in 2019, we have surpassed it by leaps and bounds,” McQueeney said.

The past two years tested the county’s resilience with challenges that included not only the pandemic but actual fires and floods.

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“These past couple of years have certainly been tough,” offered Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll. “Eagle County is a resilient organization. We remained approachable, adaptable and responsive.”

Now, as pandemic experiences recede and daily life becomes less dependent on nimble response to shifting conditions, county leaders debuted a new set of strategic priorities for 2022. These new goals hearken back to the county’s previous priorities and have been enhanced by the life-altering experiences of the past two years.

Supporting the local workforce

“We all know the challenges of housing, child care and transportation come together to make living here difficult,” McQueeney noted. Entering 2022, the county is reemphasizing its commitment to address those issues for community residents.

With the December sale of the Lake Creek Village Apartments property, McQueeney noted the county has roughly $50 million stockpiled to address workforce housing needs. She added that by 2023, the county and its partners hope to bring 400 new units into the county’s housing market.

Along with its ambitious housing program McQueeney cited county efforts to support residents, pointing to the information technology department’s logistical organization of local vaccination clinics and the road and bridge department’s efforts to keep Cottonwood Pass open during the extended Glenwood Canyon closure. In the thick of the pandemic, ECO Transit kept buses rolling and human resources kept county employees informed about changing regulations, she said.

Protecting the mountain ecosystem

Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry introduced the second strategic priority — protection of the county’s mountain ecosystem.

“It’s why we are here. Our natural resources have always been the bedrock of our economy,” she noted.

In August, the county sold certificates of participation that generated $22 million toward completion of the Eagle Valley Trail — a project that has been decades in the making. When completed, the trail will cover 63 miles through the county from the top of Vail Pass to the mouth of Glenwood Canyon.

“You will be able to ride your bike from Breckenridge to Aspen,” Chandler-Henry noted. The remaining trail segments are slated for competition by 2024.

From left, Dick Cleveland, Tim McGuire, Jeanne McQueeney, Matt Scherr, Peter Lombardi, Shoshana Lew, Will Kearney and Kevin Sharkey cut the ribbon on the new section of the Eagle Valley Trail on Tuesday, Oct. 19, in EagleVail.
John LaConte/Vail Daily archive

Looking ahead for 2022, Chandler-Henry said the county will work to protect the area’s natural resources through sustainability efforts focused in three primary areas:

  • Reduced greenhouse emissions
  • Resource safeguards
  • Reducing impacts to wildlife and drought conditions

She noted the county will work with partners locally and statewide to achieve the goals of protecting the environment that is so vital to the residents of Eagle County.

Resilient local economy

Commissioner Matt Scherr addressed the final strategic priority — creating a resilient local economy. Like his fellow board members, Scherr applauded the work of various county departments during the past two years. Specifically, he cited the $4.5 million pandemic impact grants the county awarded to local businesses, groups and individuals.

Scherr noted the county expected a gradual return to pre-pandemic financial conditions, but the county’s economic recovery has been rapid and robust.

“But for many community members, economic indicators are a poor reflection of quality of life,” he said. Looking ahead, the county wants to create better economic opportunities for all community members. That work will include a development of a comprehensive economic development plan for Eagle County — work that will commence this year.

“Eagle County is committed to creating a path to opportunity for every member of our community,” Scherr said.

Above and beyond

In her concluding remarks, McQueeney applauded the efforts of the county’s emergency management and public health departments over the past two years.

“Can anyone picture how we could have survived the past two years without our emergency management team through floods, fire and COVID?” she said.

Steve Simonsen administers a COVID-19 vaccination to a passenger in a car at the Eagle County Fairgrounds in March 2021.
Courtesy Eagle County

“I truly believe our public health department stepped up to save lives,” she added.

The commissioners also singled out Shroll for special recognition. Last year he was named Colorado County Manager of the Year.

“I didn’t enjoy COVID over the past two years,” Shroll noted. “I also can’t fathom being part of any other organization going through this.”

“We have tried to lead every step of the way, wherever we could,” Shroll concluded.

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