Voice of the Western Slope | VailDaily.com

Voice of the Western Slope

Tom Stone

The Western Slope of Colorado is uniquely different from the rest of our fair state.

Because of the way our Legislature is arranged, we have a very small number of state senators and representatives when compared to our geographic size. What we lack in number we must make up in voice.

The self-proclaimed “Voice of the Western Slope” is a very effective and non-partisan group called Club 20. This initial coalition of 20 counties (hence the name) was formed in 1953 to increase highway funding to the Western Slope. The group was helpful in just a few years in paving most of our major highways.

After this initial success, Club 20 moved on to working on other issues of mutual concern, including natural resources, economic development, air service, tourism, telecommunications, health care and higher education, which now all have their own committees. Club 20 now has two main meetings each year that provide forums to discuss current controversial and complex issues of concern to all Western Slope communities.

A review of our recent spring meeting offers an insight into what issues are hot today. The Saturday meeting opened with nostalgic remarks by U.S. Sen. Ben Campbell and U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis. Campbell and McInnis were members of the same freshman class in our state Legislature.

The positive impact of these two great men on Eagle County cannot be overstated. The $2 million appropriation for an instrument-landing system at our airport and the passage of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act are the two most recent examples of Ben and Scott’s direct help to Eagle County. I was honored to thank them and their wives directly for their joint sacrifice to our state and our nation.

Next was a primary candidate forum for the 3rd Congressional District. Sporting four Democrats and six Republicans, the discussion was spirited and divergent with all 10 candidates on stage together. Standing behind podiums arranged in a row prompted candidate Greg Walcher to quip, “This looks like it could be the mass hanging for the Lincoln conspirators.”

Attendees had a choice of two concurrent sessions in the morning and afternoon sessions. Our first options were “Homeland Security: What does it mean on the ground?” Or “Tapping Colorado’s Oil & Gas Potential: Balancing the Role of County Governments with State Oversight of Oil & Gas Permits.”

It was enlightening to learn that in spite of a record number of new well permits, the national output of natural gas has been reduced by 1 percent. This fact, coupled with rising demand, will cause us to import expensive natural gas from Algeria and other countries for electrical generation needs in spite of the fact that western Colorado and Wyoming gas reserves far exceed any other location in the world.

Over our noon lunch, we received a legislative update from five of our West Slope members. It’s great to see our area legislators generally in accord and working together to address our unique issues with a common voice.

Options for the afternoon were “The Changing Face of Western Colorado: Demographics, Economics, Health Care and Housing” and “Does the Forest Management Appeals Process Work? & What’s Right and Wrong with Forest Management in Colorado?”

With the recent passage of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act by a strong bi-partisan majority in both the House and the Senate, opponents of sensible forest management were hard-pressed to make their case convincingly.

Jeff Berman, representing Colorado Wild, debated Josh Penry, the former staff director of the U.S. House Committee on Forests and Forest Health. After the debate ended, LaPlata County Commissioner Cheryl Ayers stated that Mr. Berman had lied during the discussion about her county being opposed to a salvage timber sale on the Missionary Ridge Fire that they were in fact in support of. You learn quickly at Club 20 to use facts and not fiction.

The final general session was titled, “Satisfying the Big Gulp: Front Range Water Solutions for the 21st Century.” With panelists like Chips Barry from Denver Water Board and Frank Jaeger from Parker Water and Sanitation, the insights one can gain about the future demands on Western Colorado water are meaningful. Denver Water, for exampl,e considers water use reduction by limiting lawn sprinkling as a temporary response to drought and not as a permanent solution for our long-term crisis.

The annual fall meeting this year will occur on Sept. 10 and 11. Anyone can attend, whether you are a member of Club 20 or not. I will be sure to be there, as the debates between our federal and state candidates for office are always fun and informative to watch. Club 20 truly is a great “Voice of the Western Slope.” Perhaps you would like to become part of that voice. Contact me for more information.

Tom Stone, an Eagle County commissioner, can be reached at 328-8605 or tom.stone@eaglecounty.us

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