Groups representing two of Garfield County's biggest industries, ranching and energy development, have come out in support of the countywide open space sales tax Question 1A that's on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The Holy Cross Cattlemen's Association and the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association are endorsing the proposal to create an agricultural land conservation and recreational open space program through a 10-year, 0.25 percent sales tax.
"Passage of Question 1A is crucial to the future of the ranching community in Garfield County," said Bill Fales, secretary-treasurer of Holy Cross Cattlemen's Association, in a press release sent out by the Ranchlands, Rivers and Recreation Economy campaign.
"It will give us better access to leverage state and federal sources of funding, which has become almost impossible to get without a local cash match," Fales said. "This measure will help keep working family ranches in business, protect valuable wildlife habitat, continue to provide the views and vistas that define our beloved county, and preserve our rural and historical roots."
The Holy Cross Cattlemen's Association is a local affiliate of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association. It works to promote the interests of Garfield County's beef industry and provides scholarships for ranching students.
Likewise, the Grand Junction-based West Slope COGA, which works to promote oil and gas production in the region, believes the Garfield County open space proposal is compatible with its interests.
"Our organization and its member companies believe in working with farmers and ranchers in western Colorado to enhance and conserve working ranches and special places in our communities," said Doug Dennison, president of the WSCOGA board of directors.
"We believe we can continue harvesting the mineral riches from below our ranch lands while working to preserve the natural resource treasures above," he said.
Voluntary conservation easements that would be achieved in working with landowners through the proposed open space program, while limiting surface development, do not restrict development of mineral rights on those lands, according to John Lavey with the RRRE campaign.
Conservation easements also do not restrict "temporary" surface structures related to energy development, as long as they're not permanent and can be reclaimed. Temporary is defined a structure that could be in place 30 to 50 years, he said.
Question 1A on the Nov. 6 ballot proposes to create an open lands program in Garfield County that would work with willing landowners to preserve working ranches and farms, protect lands along rivers and streams and conserve wildlife habitat through the purchase of conservation easements.
Using the estimated $2 million per year in sales tax revenues, it would also set up a local grant fund to create parks, trails, river access and other amenities intended to benefit Garfield County's recreation economy.
The proposed sales tax would not be applied to food or prescription drug purchases. According to the RRRE campaign, the sales tax would cost the average Garfield County household about $3.25 a month, while a sizable portion of the tax would be paid by visitors and those passing through.
The open lands program, if approved by voters, would also have a 5 percent cap on administrative costs. The tax would automatically expire in 10 years, unless reauthorized by voters. An independent annual audit, and a citizens review board, would also be included in the program.
"Question 1A has a broad coalition of support," Ryan Mackley, owner of Spruce Creek Media in Rifle, stated during a recent political forum sponsored by the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce. "This is truly a remarkable and refreshingly bipartisan effort to help ensure that we can maintain growth and our quality of life in Garfield County."
Other endorsements of the open space proposal have come from the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust, the area Trout Unlimited chapter, and the Bull Moose Sportsmen's Alliance and the Carbondale Board of Trustees.