Houpt, Jankovsky discuss balance, business needs
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Garfield County voters will have a fairly clear choice before them on Nov. 2, when they pick the candidate – either incumbent Tresi Houpt or challenger Tom Jankovsky – who will serve in the District 1 seat for the coming four years.
For the past eight years Houpt, a Democrat, has held the job, representing Carbondale, the southeastern portion of the unincorporated county, and part of Glenwood Springs.
Calling herself a “fiscal conservative” at a candidates’ forum on Sept. 7, Houpt said a large part of her job is to achieve a “balance” in the use of what she termed the county’s “tremendous number of natural assets.”
Specifically, she said, she was referring to the county’s wealth of natural gas reserves, and the “spectacular vistas” and natural environment that attracts tens of thousands of tourists to the area each year.
“With them comes a great responsibility to be sure all of those assets are protected,” she said.
Regarding her role as the more liberal member of a conservative-leaning board, Houpt said, “Balance is very important in a democracy. It allows all interests to be heard.”
She pointed out that she has spent the last eight years getting to know her way about the state’s levels of government, including service on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as well as on boards dealing with such topics as water and housing issues.
She noted Garfield County’s “strong budget,” with a large surplus that is expected to carry the county through the next five years or so of anticipated lean times, as an outcome of the national recession.
Her challenger, Jankovsky, is a Republican and the general manager of the Sunlight Mountain Resort ski area, where he has worked since coming to the valley in 1985.
“What I bring is a business perspective,” Jankovsky declared at the forum, though he was careful to add that his business sense includes a respect for the environment.
His main concerns, he said, revolve around the county’s unemployment rate of 10 percent or more, a rising foreclosure rate, and a resultant loss of population.
Jankovsky pledged to “create jobs and grow the economy. I’ll do what I can to cut red tape … I’ll make land-use decisions that create jobs.”
In fact, he told a packed house at the Glenwood Springs City Hall in every decision he makes, he will first ask, “Does this create jobs?”
The two were asked about the proposal by the Thompson Divide Coalition to prevent gas drilling on public lands in the Thompson Creek area near Carbondale. The TDC hopes to buy out leases held by drilling companies, or negotiate with those companies to either donate or abandon their lease rights.
Houpt indicated she supported the idea, particularly because the Coalition has focused on “not wanting to take away property rights from anyone” and is seeking to negotiate with the companies over what some say is a resource of marginal value, where gas deposits are thin and hard to reach.
Concerning the unrelated Hidden Gems wilderness proposal, she said none of the lands under consideration are in Garfield County and that she has “no opinion” on the proposal.
Jankovsky said emphatically that he opposes the Hidden Gems plan, arguing that a third of the White River National Forest is in wilderness already.
“It almost becomes exclusive,” he said, “where your lands are no longer being used for multiple use. It’s almost autocratic, how this is being done.”
He called the TDC proposal “a tough issue” and noted that there are “long-time ranching families in favor of this.”
But, he continued, he feels the mineral rights are there to be exploited, and the companies should be allowed in.
“It’s about energy for the entire nation, and jobs” for the people of Garfield County, he concluded.
Houpt, however, argued that the board of county commissioners should be “looking at all the various economic engines in our county,” including energy resources, recreation, second-home buyers and “our pristine areas,” and try to balance land uses so all interests are served.
Jankovsky countered that a century ago, coal mines and railroads scarred up the Thompson Creek area, but the scars left over from those activities have been reclaimed.
Oil and gas scars, too, can be reclaimed, he said, “and still be pristine for the future.”
Jankovsky conceded that some political observers have suggested the BOCC will lose its only claim to political diversity if Houpt is defeated and Jankovsky takes the seat.
Houpt is widely viewed as the most liberal, or progressive member of the BOCC, and often is at odds with her fellow commissioners in discussions and voting.
But Jankovsky, a self-described conservative, insisted, “I do bring diversity to the board. I’m a business person.” He said he would be the only member of the board who has run his own business – he is a part owner of Sunlight Mountain Resort.
Commissioner John Martin is a former police officer and cobbler, while Commissioner Mike Samson is a former educator. Houpt, besides raising a family, has worked in the nonprofit world before becoming a commissioner.
Houpt pointed out, however, that each of the board members has considerable business sense, given that they handle a hundred-million-dollar budget, oversee scores of employees and are responsible for a large array of buildings and facilities.
Jankovsky said in his closing remarks that in talking with out of work gas workers about the industry’s regional downturn over the past two years, he has concluded, “Some of what has happened, has happened because of the rules and regulations” that were rewritten in 2008 to keep a tighter rein on the industry.
But Houpt noted that the enactment of new regulations, which she supported, simply happened to coincide with a slump in natural gas prices and a national recession.
“It’s very difficult to know,” she said, if the new regulations contributed to the industry’s downturn or not.
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