Representative covers issues on Aspen visit | AspenTimes.com

Representative covers issues on Aspen visit

John Colson

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

U.S. Rep. John T. Salazar, the incumbent who represents much of the Western Slope, spent much of Wednesday with friends and supporters when he visited Aspen.Chatting with the Pitkin County commissioners in the early afternoon, he agreed with their positions on a variety of issues.He pledged to work on a number of problems the commissioners brought up, such as water grabs by Front Range communities. Another problem they discussed hinged on concerns about whether the proposed listing of a certain type of grouse on the Endangered Species Act might trigger a wide-ranging fight over how interpretation of the act would affect oil and gas exploration.Salazar, 53, grew up in the San Luis Valley as the son of a large and influential farming and ranching family. He now operates his own farm of some 2,000 acres, producing seed potatoes, alfalfa and grass hay, according to published biographies. He is fighting off a challenge from Scott Tipton, a Republican from Cortez.

Emphasizing his lifelong interest in Colorado’s water issues, first as a farmer, then as a businessman and now as a legislator, Salazar said he has been working to prevent urban development interests in Colorado Springs and Aurora from taking any more water from the Arkansas River drainage, the San Luis Valley and the surrounding region.Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland pointed out that the county is worried about Aurora’s designs on water in the Twin Lakes reservoir and the Fryingpan/Arkansas water storage and transmission project.Salazar responded that he has been watching negotiations of the Preferred Storage Options Plan, a complicated arrangement that involves Aurora’s use of federal water storage rights to take water out of the Arkansas River basin. Salazar said he has questioned the federal government’s right to grant such agreements and to enter into long-term leases associated with the agreements. He has been quoted as saying that such agreements contradict the original reasons for building the Fry-Ark Project, a series of reservoirs and diversion systems President Kennedy authorized in 1962, which Salazar said was meant to benefit users in the Arkansas River drainage, not cities on the Front Range.

“We have a fight on our hands,” he said of Front Range efforts to divert water from the Western Slope to slake the thirst of growing suburban areas, and he promised to enlist the help of Pitkin County officials in the battle.Salazar also promised to check into the status of a bill authorizing a land swap between the U.S. Forest Service and Pitkin County, known as the Ryan Parcel swap and involving a tract of land next to the ghost town of Ashcroft that the county has worked years to preserve. The bill is stuck in Congress, and the complicated swap of various pieces of land cannot be completed until the president formally signs the bill.Declaring that the “biggest challenge” facing this country is “how America is going to gain its energy independence,” Salazar said he and others are working on a 2007 Farm Bill that promotes the growing of biofuel crops, which he indicated will help keep farmers on the land and help wean the U.S. of its expensive taste for petroleum.Walking around the Independence Place neighborhood on Aspen’s north side after meeting with the commissioners, Salazar encountered only supporters, most of whom agreed with his positions on nearly every issue.

Some, such as longtime local Marcia Goshorn, urged him to look into specific programs, such as the J-1 work-study visas, which she maintained “Eastern Europeans” are misusing by coming here in the summer claiming to be students but then working clandestinely at local service jobs.”You’re pretty critical of this administration, aren’t you?” Salazar remarked with a smile after Goshorn finished a lengthy diatribe about her disappointment at the inadequate equipment issued to U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.Salazar is known as a moderate to conservative Democrat, not one of the vocal opponents of the war in Iraq. He is a member of the so-called “Blue Dog Democrats,” who have worked to steer their party toward centrist positions in recent years.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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