Child, Young outline their views
October 19, 2012
Editor’s note: The following story is part of an ongoing Aspen Times series focusing on local candidates and issues in the Nov. 6 election. The series runs through Oct. 29.
ASPEN – Two longtime Roaring Fork Valley residents seeking election to the District 4 Pitkin County commissioner seat both consider themselves environmentalists. That said, voters will find differences to weigh between the two at the polls Nov. 6.Steve Child and John B. Young are vying for the post in the only contested race on the county ballot. Incumbents Michael Owsley in District 3 and George Newman in District 5 are running unopposed; in District 4, term limits prevent incumbent Commissioner Jack Hatfield from seeking re-election. Commissioners are elected at large by county voters, though candidates must reside within the district for which they’re seeking election.Both Child and Young have roots in the community that go back decades, and both are registered Democrats, though Child is the local party’s designee. Young said he didn’t decide to run for office in time to seek the designation when the Pitkin County Democratic Party conducted its caucus this spring. No party affiliation appears next to Young’s name on the ballot.Both men tout environmental protection as part of their platforms, but within that overarching goal, there are differences. They recently outlined their positions in conversations with The Aspen Times.The potential for gas drilling in Pitkin County has emerged as the biggest single issue in Young’s view. “It’s the No. 1 issue I’m asked about,” he said. “Obviously, it’s on a lot of people’s minds.”While Young and Child agree that natural gas is a needed transitional fuel as the country develops domestic/alternative energy sources, Young said he opposes any drilling in the county. Child allows that there could be a place for it.”There are places where they could drill where they don’t have to build a road; that’s not to say that they should do it,” Child said, voicing support for efforts to extinguish drilling leases in the Thompson Divide area and withdraw it from further leasing. He also advocated adoption of county regulations that hold the energy industry’s “feet to the fire” to ensure best practices if drilling does occur, and he said he opposes fracking – a process of injecting water into the ground to release the gas – if it employs any chemical additives.But, Child said, if the county is asked to review a drilling proposal, the lease holder has the right to expect a fair review.”As a county commissioner, I feel it’s incumbent upon me to listen to the proposal with an open mind,” he said. “I would look at it on a case-by-case basis.”That, Child added, would be his approach to any issue.Young voiced no qualms about blanket opposition to drilling in the county.”This is not what, I think, our county is about. We sell tourism and the environment,” he said.Some gas-rich areas have embraced drilling for the jobs it provides and the financial boon it brings; it’s OK for Pitkin County to fight for other priorities, Young reasoned.
While neither candidate endorsed the city of Aspen’s Castle Creek hydroelectric facility as proposed, Child didn’t suggest the city drop the hydro dream entirely. He suggested increasing the size of an existing hydroelectric plant on Maroon Creek and perhaps building a smaller facility on Castle Creek. He said he doesn’t want to see water from Maroon Creek diverted to Castle Creek, not to be returned.Young said he opposes impacts to both creeks for a relatively small amount of power generation and would rather see a significant solar-power array built in the midvalley, perhaps through a public-private partnership. The installation could be in either Pitkin or Eagle County, he said.”We have some outstanding locations in the midvalley to do some solar arrays,” Young said.Child, too, advocated solar power and said the county must do what it can to foster the move toward renewable energy.”What we can do, we need to be doing. We need to get a (solar) project up here in Pitkin County someplace,” he said, noting that the Clean Energy Collective, a Carbondale-based venture that has built solar farms elsewhere in the area, didn’t get much traction when it approached county government about potential sites a couple of years ago.
The newly elected commissioner in District 4 might see the construction of several government projects in the coming years – at the county library, at the airport and in the worker-housing realm.Both Young and Child have voiced support for the proposed expansion of the Pitkin County Library (a decision that is also before voters next month) while admitting they’re not enthusiastic about the outdoor canopy that is part of the design.An updated master plan for the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport might already be adopted by the time the new commissioner takes office in January, but specific development proposals driven by the plan are still to come. Both candidates acknowledge the need for a larger commercial terminal – something in the range of 60,000 square feet rather than the 80,000 square feet proposed in the master plan. Child alone said he remains torn between improving the existing terminal and building an entirely new one.How to spend more than $10 million in accumulated funds dedicated to worker housing is a decision the District 4 commissioner will have a hand in making, and the two candidates have differing opinions on the matter.Child said putting county money into the construction of housing at a couple of city-owned properties, Burlingame Ranch and the former BMC West parcel near the Aspen Business Center, could be a good place to start.”Both of those properties are good because they’re close to Aspen,” he said.Child also voiced support for investing in a planned continuing-care facility in Basalt if that’s doable with the restricted funds and if it would open up worker housing in Aspen where retirees might otherwise remain.”I’m not crazy about going out and picking off a house here and a house there,” Young said, referencing the commissioners’ recent move to purchase a townhome in Basalt. At the very least, Young said he’d advocate deciding how such units would be used before putting them under contract.Young also said he believes there’s more demand for additional rental housing rather than units that are sold to workers.”You could do a fairly significantly sized rental project, and it would fill up right away,” he predicted. “We’d be moving people from downvalley rentals to upvalley rentals.”If it could be done with the restricted housing funds, Young said he’d also consider a downpayment-assistance program that could help workers qualify for a mortgage and might help stimulate sales in the housing program. And he said he’s open to public-private partnerships to build housing.
Child and Young will square off in a Squirm Night debate from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the GrassRoots TV studio, located in the Red Brick Arts and Recreation Center in Aspen. It will be broadcast live and rebroadcast later.In addition, Probe Line interviews of both candidates by Reid Haughey are airing on GrassRoots. Go to http://www.grassrootstv.org to check the station’s daily broadcast schedule.