Tresi Houpt, who recently lost her bid for re-election to the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners, feels her presence on the board during the past eight years made a difference in how the commissioners conducted themselves and in the policies they generated.
"I will miss it," she admitted in an interview with the Post independent. "It's been tremendously challenging and rewarding to serve as a commissioner. And it's certainly been mixed. There have been disappointments, but I've loved the people that I've met and worked with."
Houpt, who has lived in the county since 1994, was elected in 2002 and served two four-year terms. She lost her third try for office last year, defeated by Tom Jankovsky of Glenwood Springs.
Looking back, she said, "I feel really good about what I've accomplished."
Houpt, a Democrat, replaced Republican Walt Stowe and joined two other Republicans, Larry McCown and John Martin, on a board that had been not seen a Democrat for years.
At first, she said her goals "were more geared toward residential and commercial development than toward oil and gas, because the oil and gas boom hadn't really started yet. ... We needed to look at cluster development, and the potential for open space, and partnerships with municipalities, and I was hopeful we would secure a partnership with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority," which at the time sent buses into Garfield County but was not being paid much for the service.
At the time, she said, "we were paying them, what, $5,000 a year?" she recalled.
Currently, the county pays more than half a million dollars a year for service to Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and the Hogback Route to Rifle and points in between, thanks in large part to her advocacy of mass transit for the county's workers.
But things changed quickly, as oil and gas became a primary focus for the commissioners, on top of the historic issues of land use, roads, administration and other matters.
Houpt recalled working with State Rep. Kathleen Curry on legislation "to really begin to address the issue of a more fair deal between those who don't own their minerals and who stand to lose a great deal when energy development comes into the neighborhood."
And in the summer of 2007, she was appointed to a seat on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees gas and oil development in the state.
Houpt was instrumental in rewriting the COGCC rules and regulations, an effort she said "created a stronger mission for the oil and gas commission to better balance energy development with the public protection of health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife."
Throughout that period, she said, her role on the board "evolved. I know that I wasn't welcomed with open arms when I was elected," but she felt her presence "created a different atmosphere on the board, one that they hadn't had for a long time. I've been told that, before I arrived, commission meetings were much shorter." She said decisions were announced after little debate, leaving the impression that the meat of the discussion had taken place outside of public scrutiny.
"I really felt it important that those decisions that we were making should be in public, decisions that were impacting every person in Garfield County," she mused. "So, although it was an annoyance to my colleagues, I really felt it was important that I push it, so I did." She advocated "more transparency, more detailed discussions, to make sure that there wasn't any sense of rubber-stamping on the part of the commission. It was a goal of mine to make sure that we had open discussion and that we were transparent in the work that we did."
In general, she said, "It was really interesting to me to be in a position of a minority leader on a commission of three," but she noted that "most of the decisions that we made, all of the commissioners agreed on," though there were exceptions.
For example, she said, a group of bicyclists asked the commissioners to "stop putting huge rocks in our chip-seal" that paved county roads.
Commissioner Larry McCown's response, Houpt recalled, was to tell the cyclists, "People want to get into their trucks and drive on our roads. We shouldn't be pandering to a few bicyclists," while she pushed for a compromise and, with Martin's vote on her side, ultimately prevailed.
"That sounds so basic," she said, "but it was a real dilemma for people. And the notion of working with RFTA has been a challenge. Garfield County residents were benefiting from that challenge, but we weren't investing in that partnership."
Other issues, she said, included the fact that prior to her election, the county had no environmental health department, no oil and gas liaison, and no Energy Advisory Board.
"All three [are] incredibly important to a county like ours," she said, adding, "The one mistake I think that some of the commission have made over the years, with those two departments and that one advisory group, is that they've allowed their own politics to enter into how those departments function."
In particular, she said, have been board reactions to the environmental health department's Health Impact Assessment regarding gas drilling at Battlement Mesa, and some of the work done by oil and gas liaison Judy Jordan.
"I'm thinking of ... the importance of making sure that we have those departments in place ... in terms of protecting the health, safety and welfare of the people of Garfield County."
Evaluating her tenure overall, Houpt pointed with pride to her work on former Gov. Bill Owens' Blue Ribbon Panel on Housing; the county's partnership with Colorado Animal Rescue and other organizations to deal with the matter of abandoned pets; and the Childhelp River Bridge, a private/public partnership with Garfield County Department of Human Services to work with local child sexual abuse victims, among other efforts.
But for the future, she stressed, "I'm not retiring. I'm working on a few things that I'd rather not discuss here," a hint that the community she has served for so long has not seen the last of her.