West slopers rip Rippy for water vote
State Rep. Gregg Rippy remains under fire from Western Slope interests for his role in advancing a bill that would fund $2 billion in dams and water project.
Rippy, a Republican from Glenwood Springs who represents the entire Roaring Fork Valley, cast a critical vote in the closing week of the legislative session that allowed Senate Bill 236 to survive.
He cast a tie-breaking vote in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to let the bill advance to the Finance Committee and, ultimately, the House floor.
Because Front Range legislators control the Finance Committee and full House, the bill breezed to approval. Foes felt the only chance to stop it was in the ag committee.
The bill proposes creation of a funding mechanism for up to $2 billion in water storage and conservation measures. The issue will be decided by state voters in November.
Officials with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, considered the voice of 15 Western Colorado counties on water issues, expected the bill to lose by at least one vote in the ag committee, according to spokesman Chris Treese.
District officials thought Rippy would cast the deciding vote against the bill. His vote for approval was “unfortunate and shocking,” said Treese.
While the vote was “significant,” the river district still considers Rippy a “staunch supporter” of Western Slope water interests, Treese said. And the district will continue to work with him.
Other groups that tried to defeat the bill weren’t as kind to Rippy – even though he was a vocal opponent of the bill when it was debated before the full House.
“We think he went back on his word,” said DeAnna Woolston, an organizer with the Western Colorado Congress in Grand Junction. “We think he was more loyal to homebuilders than to his constituents.”
Woolston explained that the bill would allow more Front Range development since it would supply more water. That’s why the group views Rippy as friendly to homebuilders.
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“His token vote at the end meant nothing,” Woolston said.
Rippy defended his committee vote as a fair way to ensure the bill received full debate. It was passed by the ag committee by a “super motion,” meaning it was brought to a vote before it was even debated. Advancing the bill was approved by a 7-6 vote.
Rippy also explained that the issue was going to make it to the ballot one way or another. A citizens proposal could have spurred a ballot issue proposing spending up to $10 billion on water projects.
Rippy felt the question approved by the Legislature was better than what the citizens group was promoting, but it still wasn’t the best question. He wants legislative oversight of the spending.
Rippy said he also favored more clout for the Western Slope in case transmountain diversions are proposed.
Groups like Western Colorado Congress and the River District oppose the measure, in part, because it could result in transmountain diversions that suck water from the Western Slope to the Front Range.
Treese said it provides a “blank check” for big projects that aren’t necessary. Any water storage projects must benefit both the Western Slope and Front Range, and multiple uses such as agriculture, recreation and development, he said.
Woolston said voters are being asked to approve $2 billion “for who the hell knows what.” If approved, the projects would be earmarked by the governor. There would be no legislative oversight.
Every Western Slope legislator in the House voted against the bill, but it passed 36-29. In the state Senate, the bill passed 18-17. Jack Taylor, a Steamboat Republican who represents Eagle and Garfield counties, opposed the bill. Lew Entz, a Republican who represents Pitkin County, supported it.
When asked how he would advise his constituents to vote on the proposal, Rippy said he would tell them to do their homework, but he wouldn’t tell them how to vote.
“I will be voting `no’ on it,” he said.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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