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Water question carves up commission

Matt Zalaznick Assistant Editor/Local News

While his two colleagues are leading the opposing campaigns on the state’s upcoming water-storage ballot question, Eagle County Commissioner Michael Gallagher says the voters don’t also need to hear from him.

While Gallagher, a moderate Democrat, says he has problems with Referendum A – the ballot question that would allow to the state to go deeper into debt building water storage facilities – the Board of County Commissioners’s vice chair doesn’t plan to take a major public stand. That means Eagle County, unlike many other governments throughout Colorado, probably won’t take a position on Referendum A, which will allow Colorado to issue $2 billion in bonds to build reservoirs or upgrade water storage facilities.

“There are enough supporters and enough opponents. The people can decide,” Gallagher says.

But, Gallagher says, he is troubled by some aspects of the referendum, which has split political parties and bolstered traditional regional alliances. Gallagher says the referendum lacks guarantees the Western Slope – referred to in this debate as the “basin of origin” – will be compensated when new projects divert water from the High Country to Front Range metropolitan areas.

“What I’m looking for is basin of origin protection and I haven’t found it,” Gallagher says. “I want basin of origin protection and I’m also looking for a way to keep from sending the Colorado River to California.”

Referendum A also gives vast powers to Colorado’s governor to select the water projects that will be eligible for the funding made available if Referendum A passes.

“The idea that the governor picks and chooses, that doesn’t seem to be the best way to do it,” Gallagher says.

The ideal entity to choose water projects would be a board or commission that didn’t have as defined a political agenda as a state governor, Gallagher says.

Commission conflict

Meanwhile, Gallagher’s two fellow commissioners, Republican Tom Stone and Democrat Arn Menconi, have taken leadership roles on opposite sides of the issue. Stone, one of the lone Western Slope supporters of the referendum, has been a stalwart of a group called “Save Colorado Water.”

“The position of leadership is not always a majority position,” says Stone of his lack of High Country allies on Referendum A.

Even fellow Republican congressman Scott McInnis, who is based in Grand Junction, has opposed Referendum A. But Stone says he’s confident Referendum A will be passed by voters in November.

“The list of endorsements goes on for six pages,” Stone says. “By and large the average person that I speak to on the street is in favor of it. Everyone knows and understands we need to develop more water storage throughout Colorado.”

Stone also appears confident Referendum A will not receive a hearing in the county commission chambers.

“We’ve never discussed it and I don’t know that we ever will,” Stone says. “I’m in favor, Arn’s against it, and Michael sees both sides.”

Stance wanted

Menconi is one of the organizers of the opposition campaign, “Vote No on A.” Menconi says he’d hoped the county would pass a resolution against the referendum and fall in line with the many other Western Slope governments that have officially opposed the measure.

“Knowing Tom’s in favor of it and the vice-chair’s luke-warm, it would be a waste of time to try to get a resolution passed,” Menconi says. “It’s disappointing that our commissioners wouldn’t support what every elected official on the Western Slope has decided.”

Menconi has persuaded many local governments, such as the town of Vail and two local water boards, to formally oppose Referendum A. And basin of origin, in the view of opponents, continues to be the Achilles heel of the referendum.

“Both sides concede there isn’t basin of origin protection. Even the governor backed off trying to defend that,” Menconi says. “As we get farther and farther into the debate, the governor has backed off on most of the reasons for support. Most every reason has been exposed as flawed or inorrect.”

Menconi says he feels confident voters will reject the referendum.

“I think Referendum A is going to lose,” he says. “The only reason it could pass is the governor has raised $2 million and the amount of campaigning, I expect, will be so despicable in scaring people into thinking if we don’t do this the state is going to dry up.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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