It’s been two years since Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, sat down to talk with the Pitkin County commissioners. After a cordial visit Friday, the consensus among the commissioners was not to wait so long to talk again.
Tipton addressed several legislative bills and topics in a half-hour meeting, but what came across as even more paramount was the chance for the commissioners to hear Tipton’s own words rather than get their information through the media.
Three commissioners were present for the special meeting — Chairman George Newman, Rob Ittner and Steve Child. Newman has visited Tipton in Washington, D.C., but for Ittner and Child, it was the first time they met with and talked to Tipton in-person.
“Having a relationship with Rep. Tipton and open lines of communication with him is crucial,” Ittner said. “There are a lot of things he does that supports our community.”
Newman opened the meeting by talking about the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act and thanked Tipton for acknowledging that there are certain unique areas that should be set aside and protected from oil and gas development.
Newman asked Tipton to follow his Colorado political colleagues to sign on and support the act.
Tipton said the talks going on currently between the Thompson Divide Coalition and some representatives of private lease interests in Thompson Divide is the best way to address the issue rather than having federal legislation determine the future land use there.
Ittner said the fear in this area was that if the current leases in Thompson Divide were bought out, then new leases might be issued in that area.
“We’re open to participate in those conversations and try and seek the best solution we can,” Tipton said.
Newman reiterated that Thompson Divide is a unique area that sits in the heart of the White River National Forest, the most heavily visited national forest in the country, and needs to be protected from speculative, short-term economic gains with some long-term environmental detriments.
Newman then brought up the Water Rights Protection Act and some concerns were voiced about trans-mountain flows, but Tipton assured them the act wouldn’t impact them.
Tipton said the act works if people like the status quo and the ability of Aspen Skiing Co. to be able to have the right to the water that it pays for and the rights it developed. He also hoped that the commissioners shared his view that ranchers and farmers are just as important in that regard.
He also talked about the Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Act, which already passed through the House of Representatives. It empowers county commissioners to identify areas of imminent threat and to treat those areas.
“When we’re talking about the Water Protection Act that I just put in with bipartisan support, Aspen ski mountain is going to rely on this,” Tipton said. “When we’re looking at the Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Act, when we’re seeing the devastation on our hillsides, this is specific for Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork Valley area to be able to address those concerns.”
Tipton touched on the Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, which he’s supporting. He talked at length about immigration reform with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association earlier on Friday and briefly spoke about the subject with the commissioners.
“Virtually everyone I’ve talked to believes we have a broken immigration policy that needs to be addressed,” Tipton said. “I’ve said that for two years. We need a policy that is worker-friendly but also employer-friendly. We don’t need hotel operators being policemen for the government. They ought to be able to rely on the instruments the federal government is providing to verify that the person in question is there legally.”
When the meeting was over, the commissioners and Tipton agreed that a stronger line of communication between his office and the county was vital.
“Just getting to meet him and talk face-to-face is really important,” Child said. “My connection with him has been through the newspapers. Having him here and establishing a personal contact, I think, is the most important value to having him visit today.”