Pitkin County leaders catch up with Sen. Gail Schwartz | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County leaders catch up with Sen. Gail Schwartz

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times
Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, wearing yellow, discusses an issue with commissioner Rachel Richards.
Michael McLaughlin/The Aspen Times |

The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners had a one-hour meeting with Sen. Gail Schwartz on Tuesday, giving the board a chance to hear and discuss the issues the Snowmass Village Democrat is currently facing.

The meeting also allowed the commissioners an opportunity to reiterate some of the issues they’re dealing with locally.

One of the first topics brought up was the issue of trucks longer than 35 feet crossing Independence Pass. Schwartz said the issue would be on the transportation committee’s agenda this fall.

“What a shame that we continue to have this problem where truckers seem to feel the fine is not sufficient to deter them,” she said. “It puts our citizens and our economy at risk.”

One possible solution being discussed is to increase the fines to make them significant enough to deter this abuse of Independence Pass.

“We’ve had these conversations about Independence Pass, and it’s time to do something,” Schwartz said. “These trucking firms need to recognize there will be consequences.”

Schwartz then spoke about the potential uses for hemp. She’s been a strong supporter of the Hemp Bill as an opportunity for Colorado to take the lead in producing the drought-resistant crop.

“Hemp has a whole spectrum of uses,” Schwartz said. “Besides fiber and food uses, hemp is great for mitigating contaminants in soils. It’s an economic opportunity, and we’re one of the first states to take advantage of that.”

Water issues and water conservation were also discussed. Schwartz said with all the fires and droughts Colorado has dealt with recently, it’s time residents started thinking about water conservation differently.

She pointed to Senate Bill 19 as one tool that will help water conservation in the long run.

Senate Bill 19 corrected the old issue that penalized water users because it reduced the consumptive rights of those that conserve. The bill now allows the diversion of water for conservation purposes in a five-out-of-10-year period without reducing water rights.

She also talked about the issues around watersheds and fires.

“We have 4 to 6 million acres of standing dead timber in this state,” Schwartz said. “We have fire behavior issues we need to address. We can do work to mitigate the impacts of fires to our communities and watersheds. We’ve all seen the impact with the rains and the flooding on the Front Range and the Rio Grande, that this will also impact our water quality, water quantity and water infrastructure throughout the state.”

Schwartz was asked if there would be any extra money left after funds are distributed to the Front Range.

“Be patient,” she said. “We need to sort this out. I don’t see this broad undercutting of state programs as a result. I think there are plenty of solutions available to us. In terms of undercutting education or any of these other funding areas, I think we’re on pretty solid ground. We had a windfall of almost a billion dollars last year as a result of the capital gains tax. The revenues of the state are rebounding so we have more flexibility than we did during that three-year period of the downturn where it was just so unfortunate how much we had to cut.

“We are rebounding and catching up, so I think there’s more resilience there now than we’ve seen in the past to cope with these tragedies.”

County Commissioner George Newman started the discussion by congratulating Schwartz for receiving the first Randy Udall Award on Sept. 6 at the University of Denver School of Law. The Randy Udall Award was instituted in memory of Udall and it is given for leadership in sustainable energy and climate change policy.

“Randy Udall was a great mentor of mine,” Schwartz said.


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