City Council candidate profile: Russ Arensman
Ward 1 candidate
Occupation: Public relations writer and editor; previously was a magazine and newspaper journalist for 25 years.
Family: Married for 32 years to Debra Crawford; two daughters, Cailey, 22, is studying music education at the University of Northern Colorado, and Erica, 20, is attending Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where she is enrolled in the college of social studies.
Education: Graduated from Colorado State University in 1981 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in technical journalism.
Previous/current civic involvement: Glenwood Springs City Council, 2007-11; city River Commission, 2013-present; Planning and Zoning Commission, 1998-2002; city liaison to Glenwood Chamber Resort Association, 2009-11; Transportation Commission, 2007-09; ad hoc energy commission, 2006-07; ad hoc geothermal energy commission, 2007-10; board member, Garfield County Kids Voting, 2005-07; School Accountability Committee, 1997–2011.
Editor’s Note: The Post Independent continues its series of Q&A responses from the candidates vying for two contested seats on the Glenwood Springs City Council in the April 7 mail-ballot election. Ballots are to be mailed to all registered city voters on March 16. Today and Friday, we introduce the candidates vying for the open Ward 1 seat, Russ Arensman and Steve Davis. Previously, we featured Q&A responses from the three candidates vying for the At-Large seat, Kathryn Trauger on Monday, Tony Hershey on Tuesday and Kathy Williams on Wednesday. We conclude the series on Saturday with incumbent candidates Todd Leahy and Mike Gamba, who are running unopposed for their ward seats.
How long have you lived in Glenwood Springs?
Seventeen years, since July 1997.
If not a native, where are you from originally and what brought you here?
I was born in Denver, and lived there until age 7, when my family moved to suburban Detroit. After high school, I moved back to Colorado and attended college at CSU. My first job after college was as a reporter for the Rifle Telegram newspaper during 1981-82. I fell in love with the Colorado and Roaring Fork valleys during that time and, although I left for another job shortly after the oil shale bust, I vowed to live here again when circumstances allowed. Fifteen years later, when my wife and I were relocating back to the U.S. after living and working in Hong Kong, my freelance writing business allowed us to live virtually anywhere. We chose Glenwood Springs because of its location on the Western Slope; its unrivaled quality of life; its vibrant, small-town character; and its strong sense of community.
In 50 words, describe your feeling for Glenwood Springs:
Glenwood Springs will always feel like home to me because it’s where my wife and I raised our two daughters. This community welcomed us and gave each of us opportunities to learn and grow. We’ve received so much here, and it’s an honor to be able to give something back.
What prompted your decision to run for City Council?
I’m running for City Council because Glenwood Springs needs experienced, responsive leadership. I love this city, and I want to help shape its future.
We’re lucky to live in a beautiful community that attracts visitors from around the world, but we need to make smart decisions to keep and enhance the qualities that make this such a special place. That will require leaders who can stay focused on what’s really important, and help us to agree on goals that we can all work together on.
Glenwood Springs is a great place to live and to visit, but I want to make our city even more family-friendly, with neighborhoods, parks and business areas that are safe, clean and green; a transportation system that works; and a strong, diversified local economy that generates well-paid jobs, and opportunities for our kids to stay here, or return.
Do you support the Colorado Department of Transportation’s current plans to replace the Grand Avenue Bridge? Why or why not?
Although there are still design and construction staging details to be resolved, I support the basic concept for the proposed new bridge and expect it to provide significant benefits to Glenwood Springs. The current bridge is outdated and too narrow to safely carry current traffic loads, much less future growth.
Building a new bridge will not foreclose the option of realigning Highway 82, if we eventually choose to do that. But by taking Highway 82 traffic off of Sixth Street, it will give us a chance to redevelop the corridor from hotel row to the Hot Springs Pool into a more pedestrian-friendly area.
The city’s key task over the next year will be to ensure that we get the best bridge possible, while minimizing the negative impacts on our local businesses and residents, and making sure that the traffic and construction disruptions are kept to a minimum.
If a separate Highway 82 bypass is to be studied, what are your thoughts on how best to accomplish that, and what is the city’s role?
Over the past 40 years, the city has completed numerous studies of possible alternate Highway 82 alignments through and around Glenwood Springs. Much of that work is still relevant, although subsequent development has made many of the proposed alignments too costly and complex to pursue. We should start by screening out routes that are no longer feasible, and developing preliminary cost estimates for the remaining options.
Next, after hopefully identifying a preferred route, we’ll need to consider whether to conduct an environmental impact study, which is likely to cost upwards of $10 million.
I’m doubtful whether the city – even with significant federal, state or county funding – can afford any of the proposed alternate alignments. I’m also opposed to routing a new highway through the Confluence area. But we owe it to our residents to find out whether building a new highway through Glenwood Springs still makes sense.
In what other ways can the city address the impacts of traffic congestion in and around Glenwood Springs?
Traffic studies suggest that local residents and workers generate two-thirds of our traffic. And that traffic is aggravated by our constantly having to drive out of our way to cross one or both of the rivers that divide our community.
I’d like to see us improve connectivity by building additional bridges, near the high school (14th Street), between Devereux Road and Midland Avenue and, when funds are available, at the proposed South Bridge.
We should invest more in public transit that serves the entire city, and makes it easier for visitors and locals alike to get out of their cars and walk or bicycle. To encourage people to leave their cars parked, we should be building more bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets.
We also should explore the possibility of initiating a regional planning process to develop a coordinated, long-range transportation strategy for the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.
Is the proposed South Bridge connection to Highway 82 needed, and why?
Yes, it’s needed to provide another route in and out of south Glenwood Springs and the Four Mile Road corridor in the event of emergencies such as fire or rockfall, which could make Midland Avenue impassable.
The South Bridge could also lessen the pressure on Midland, 27th Street and South Glen Avenue from increasing traffic volumes by allowing south Glenwood Springs and Four Mile Road residents heading upvalley to directly access Highway 82, without having to drive several miles out of their way.
With an estimated cost of more than $40 million, the South Bridge is currently unaffordable. But that cost could be significantly reduced if RFTA agrees to allow a less elaborate crossing of the rail corridor.
What are your thoughts regarding the potential for redeveloping the Confluence area?
The Confluence, with its proximity to both the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers and downtown Glenwood Springs, is a jewel in the rough, just waiting to be polished into a one-of-a-kind riverside gathering place. With the city’s sewage treatment plant now relocated, we can finally begin the area’s long awaited transformation.
I envision the area along the river being reserved for park and public use – perhaps including a small pond that becomes a skating rink in the winter. The rest of the property is ideal for mixed-use development, including restaurants, retail and housing, possibly even a small hotel. Parking, a shared loading area and RFTA transit center could be grouped within the existing railroad “wye,” with most other areas reserved for pedestrians.
The city and DDA can set the stage for this redevelopment, but we’ll need to work closely with private investors to translate our plans into reality.
Does Glenwood Springs have a need for new housing development? If so, what types of housing and where should that occur?
People deserve a chance to live close to where they work. There are many benefits of doing so, including reduced traffic, energy use and pollution, as well as increased community involvement. Currently, however, Glenwood Springs “imports” a large percentage of its workforce.
If we don’t want to end up like Aspen or Vail, and if we want growth to occur within established urban boundaries, we need to encourage at least some new housing here to accommodate our growing economy and employment base.
Glenwood Springs needs more housing, especially “affordable” homes costing $300,000 or less. Affordable rentals are also scarce.
But with the exception of Glenwood Meadows, which has several large tracts zoned for housing, there is very little suitable land available. Longer term, we’re probably going to either have to consider higher-density development, and redevelopment or annexing additional land, possibly along the lower Four Mile Road corridor.
Should the city build and operate its own power plant to help make the city electric utility more self-sustaining? If so, what’s the most attractive generation source?
Glenwood Springs sits atop a vast resource of geothermal energy, which could be tapped to heat many of the city’s homes and buildings for years to come, at a relatively low cost. Unfortunately, studies suggest that our underground heat reservoirs don’t reach high enough temperatures to efficiently generate electricity.
The cost of generating electricity from photovoltaic solar energy panels has dropped by more than half in the past few years, leading Carbondale, Rifle and other neighboring communities to invest in solar farms. We should consider doing the same.
Glenwood also has potential to generate electricity from natural gas reserves, and ongoing coal seam fires, on its property in South Canyon. These energy sources could potentially produce electric power at a lower cost than solar energy. Both options, however, are likely to require significant up-front costs, and may benefit from the expertise of an operating partner. Further, careful study is needed.
Name one other key issue facing the city, and how would you address it?
We need to ask voters to reauthorize the city’s 1 percent Acquisition and Improvements (A&I) sales tax, which provides about $4 million a year to important community projects but is expiring in three years, at the end of 2018.
City voters initially adopted the tax in 1983, then approved a 20-year extension in 1998. Over the years, the A&I tax has been used for a variety of projects, including building a river trail system, and for operating the Frontier Historical Museum and the Glenwood Springs Art Center.
After the 1998 election, A&I tax proceeds were used to build the Community Center and to replace the city’s aging raw water delivery system. More recently, A&I funds paid for extending the river trail from the Sunlight bridge to south Glenwood Springs.
The A&I tax has been an invaluable tool for improving our city, and ought to be extended for another 20 years.
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Citing employee safety and cost effectiveness, the city will soon relocate the five departments currently housed in its Municipal Operations Center (MOC).