House District 26 candidates outline routes to job growth | AspenTimes.com

House District 26 candidates outline routes to job growth

The two candidates for Colorado House District 26 both say it’s important for the state government to try to create jobs and improve the economy. That’s where the similarities end between Republican Chuck McConnell and Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush.

McConnell, a former engineer and executive with an energy company, wants to create jobs through “responsible resource economic development.” For example, the western third of Routt County contains a large reserve of crude oil. Shell Oil Co. is acquiring mineral rights and wants to intensify drilling.

“That effort has been going on very strong in (neighboring) Moffat County,” he said. It is slower in Routt County because of the “resistance” of some local officials, including Mitsch Bush, he said.

As a Routt County commissioner, Mitsch Bush is part of a board that wants greater conditions placed on the oil industry’s drilling. The commissioners implemented conditions of approval that require pre-testing of water quality and monitoring during drilling to ensure water isn’t being contaminated.

Oil companies also have greater responsibility in maintaining the existing condition of public roads under Routt County’s rules.

Mitsch Bush defended the actions as necessary to protect public health and safety, the environment and roads. McConnell said Routt County’s steps are unnecessary. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s regulations provide the necessary balance between business and public safeguards, he said.

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McConnell and Mitsch Bush, both residents of Steamboat Springs, are trying to represent a new House District, which is comprised of Routt and Eagle counties. The district includes the Roaring Fork Valley sliver of Eagle County – El Jebel, part of Missouri Heights and part of Basalt.

The Roaring Fork Valley used to be part of the same house district, but it was carved up in the latest redistricting. Parts of the valley are now in three separate districts.

McConnell’s plan to create jobs includes harvesting timber from beetle-kill trees in the forests of Colorado and thinning the undergrowth. Eagle County was among the areas hardest hit by the mountain pine beetle infestation. The work will make the forests “more beautiful” and create the potential of using biomass as a source of energy, he said.

Mitsch Bush’s priority is to protect jobs and enhance employment opportunities related to the environment and agriculture. Maintaining water quality and quantity of the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers is vital for the tourism-based economy of the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County, she noted.

“I’ve long been opposed to transmountain diversions,” Mitsch Bush said. As a state legislator, she would oppose any efforts to weaken existing rules that allow local review of water diversion proposals.

“I think the threat is always there” for diversions of West Slope water to the East Slope, she said.

Mitsch Bush was elected as a Routt County commissioner in 2006 and ran unopposed for re-election in 2010. She would surrender her seat if elected to the State House. She labeled herself an “environmentally oriented” county commissioner.

She said she is concerned about the oil and gas industry’s potential to affect water quantity as well as quality. The oil and gas industry often buys water rights at prices that force ranchers out of the competition, she said.

She wants to boost agriculture by working with the state secretary of agriculture to promote Colorado beef in new markets, including those overseas. She also supports legislation that makes it easier for local food producers to sell their products in Colorado.

Another component of Mitsch Bush’s economic development plan is to help small businesses attract investment capital. Lack of credit is hampering small-business growth, she said. She would support legislation that would give tax credits to parties investing in small businesses.

Maintaining infrastructure is a vital part of rebuilding the economy. Mitsch Bush said Colorado’s roads and bridges are in dire need of repair. She would consider adjusting gas taxes to offset losses over the years to inflation. Tolls roads in certain parts of the state might also be a tool to raise funds. However, she said she wouldn’t support tolls where commuters to towns like Aspen and Steamboat Springs don’t have other options.

Mitsch Bush also said she supports development of high-speed rail in Colorado. It must be high-speed and it must include both Interstate 70 and I-25 to create the connectivity necessary for a successful operation. As a member of the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority from 2007-11, she supported rail from Denver International Airport to the Eagle County Airport, with eventual spurs to Steamboat Springs and Aspen.

Both candidates said they support spending public funds on promoting tourism in Colorado. McConnell said $1 of investment produces $7 in spending.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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