Will the Colorado National Monument ever get park status? That's still up in the air. And, Grand Junction city council members will likely remain neutral on the push for an upgraded designation.
"I see no benefit for city council to be for or against it," councilman Tom Kenyon said at a work session held Monday.
Kenyon's desire for neutrality comes on the heels of a Colorado National Monument/Park Study Committee update to the council presented by Ken Henry. Henry, former Fruita mayor and county commissioner candidate, co-chairs the volunteer research group created by Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Scott Tipton. An upgraded park designation needs congressional approval to take effect.
Last June, 16 community members "of divergent experiences and opinions" were appointed to research relevant issues, gather public opinions and report their findings, Henry said.
"I think there was an assumption that there was widespread support, and it turned out that it's not the case," he added.
Henry, along with Grand Junction Area Chamber Director Diane Schwenke, told city council members that people who were surveyed were split equally on the issue - 40 percent were for a national park status, 40 percent were against it, and 20 percent just didn't care.
"That's not what you call overwhelming public support," Henry said.
Roughly 400 comments were gathered from an online survey, and approximately 200 comments came from open houses held in the area.
"People are either pro or con, but there's been no shift," Schwenke said.
And, no minds were changed, as far as she knows, after public informational meetings, Schwenke noted.
With only 600 comments gathered, however, there's still a huge cross-section of untapped opinions in Mesa County. In Grand Junction alone, the U.S. Census Bureau said 58,566 people were residents in 2010.
"It was my recommendation that we postpone any decisions (about moving forward on a park designation) until after elections in November for additional studies," Henry said.
According to Henry, the Colorado National Monument/Park Study Committee is now waiting for further direction, but he also said the group accomplished what it set out to do.
"The purpose of the current committee was to reach out to every possible aspect of the community to gather input and concerns," Henry said. "We brought in experts and studied the issues for a year."
Monument vs. park issues include: Glade Park traffic, traffic congestion in general, water, light pollution, air quality, and a public concern that a park designation would mean Monument expansion.
Schwenke said all matters were researched thoroughly to avoid "unintended consequences."
With traffic implications a big concern for many, Henry weighed in, saying he thinks congestion will happen no matter what over time, with or without a park designation.
"The reality is that we're entering a political season," Schwenke said. "It's unlikely we'll see anything happen in 2012."
Udall spokesman Mike Saccone said the senator plans to meet with the Colorado National Monument/Park Study Committee in early July.