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Pitkin County OKs water advisers from outside county line

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Pitkin County this week adopted a set of bylaws for the newly created Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund, setting up an advisory board with between five and seven members, up to two of whom can live outside Pitkin County.

And at least one county commissioner is not happy about it.

The board will make recommendations to the Pitkin County commissioners about how best to spend the proceeds of a new sales tax, equal to a tenth of a penny, approved by county voters in November.

As proposed to voters, the fund was projected to raise up to $1 million a year, to be used in a variety of ways aimed at protecting the quality and quantity of water in the rivers and streams of the Roaring Fork River watershed.

County officials conceded the target of $1 million per year in proceeds from the tax may not be reached right away given the ongoing recession.

“Even with the current economic uncertainties the successful passage of this ballot question affords the county many options … for protecting our rivers and streams,” says a memo to the county from staff members John Ely, Cindy Houben and Dale Will.

The approval came over the objections of county Commissioner Michael Owsley, the sole dissenter in the vote because of his unhappiness that members of the advisory board could live outside the county.

“I just don’t think it’s appropriate,” said Owsley, reiterating his argument about the advisory board’s makeup.

He has argued that, because the tax is levied on sales within the county and is to be used to protect the Roaring Fork River, which originates in Pitkin County, the board should comprise strictly county residents.

Commissioner Patti Clapper noted that the board could only meet officially if there were a quorum present, and that a quorum would be based only on those members who live within Pitkin County. She also said that the two out-of-county members would be given the shortest terms on the board in the initial set-up.

The board members serve four-year terms, under the bylaws, but initially two of them will have two-year terms, three will serve for three years, and the remainder will serve for four years, in order to avoid having all the board seats come up for reappointment at the same time.

In addition, said Commissioner Rachel Richards, Eagle and Garfield counties have vested interests in the water issues that fall under the fund’s jurisdiction, such as the lower Roaring Fork and the Fryingpan rivers.

“I am very comfortable with this,” Richards said. “It is going to be the strength of our coalitions … that is going to protect us” from being shoved aside in what many experts predict will be intensifying battles over water in the future.

Owsley held firm, arguing that the voters were not aware that non-Pitkin County residents would be allowed to advise the county on use of the fund, and may not have approved creation of the fund had they known it.

But the other commissioners also remained firm, and the bylaws were adopted by a vote of 4-1.

The county will soon be advertising for applicants to serve on the board.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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