Oil & gas concerns dominate Garfield County commissioner candidates debate
Incumbent Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky tried to paint challenger Michael Sullivan as “anti-oil-and-gas” at a Tuesday evening debate, while Sullivan said Jankovsky is putting the interests of energy companies ahead of the concerns of county residents.
“My opponent has not even been to western Garfield County or been on a rig or talked to the people who work in the fields…He is just opposed to oil and gas,” Jankovsky charged during the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association’s annual Issues & Answers Forum held at City Hall.
“If you don’t agree with me, you need to go and read [Sullivan’s] website,” Jankovsky said.
Sullivan countered that he does understand the importance of oil and gas development on the county’s economy and the tax base that the industry provides. But the county also has an obligation to protect the health and safety of its citizens, he said.
“But my biggest complaint is there is nowhere for local citizens to turn when oil and gas knocks on their door, or when they object to a well in their backyard,” Sullivan said of his support for some degree of local regulation of the industry, including impact reviews for oil and gas facilities within residential areas.
Jankovsky, 65, the longtime general manager and part owner of Sunlight Mountain Resort, is the Republican candidate seeking re-election to a second four-year term on the three-member county board.
Sullivan, 60, who works in the hotel industry and has been an alternate member of the county planning commission for the past six years, is the Democratic candidate for the District 1 seat, representing the southern portions of Glenwood Springs and the Carbondale area.
Although county commissioners represent a specific geographic area within the county, they are elected by voters countywide.
Sullivan said District 1 deserves a commissioner who is more representative of the constituent concerns in that part of the county.
“There’s a voice in Garfield County that’s not being heard, and it become obvious in every decision my opponent makes,” Sullivan said. “That voice is being ignored now, and it needs to be recognized and appreciated at the table.”
Jankovsky argued that there are diverse opinions between he and fellow Republican commissioners John Martin and Mike Samson that often result in split votes.
Most of the questioning from audience members and those submitted beforehand related to the various issues around oil and gas development.
When the question came up about how to balance consumer demand for oil and gas while keeping public lands in the largely untouched Thompson Divide area south of Glenwood Springs pristine, Jankovsky said he agrees the Thompson Divide should be viewed in a different light.
“My opponent doesn’t have a plan, other than to just say no [to drilling],” Jankovsky said.
“The Thompson Divide is pristine… but you have leases that have been let, and you have an operator who owns them and has a property right,” Jankovsky continued. “You also have a community that does not want to see any kind of development, so there’s no social license to operate.”
That means the various interests, including lease holders, the Thompson Divide Coalition and federal land agencies, need to work together on some kind of settlement, he said in reference to a BLM review of 65 previously issued leases in a larger region, about a third of which are located in the Thompson Divide area.
Sullivan said Jankovsky has not taken a strong enough position to protect the area.
“A county commissioner should listen to the people of their district, and all throughout Garfield County, and stand up and say no drilling in the Thompson Divide,” Sullivan said.
The two also sparred over the county’s efforts to steer decisions related to the possible federal listing of the greater sage-grouse as an endangered species, which also could impact energy development in what’s known as the “Big Jimmy” play northwest of Parachute.
Sullivan criticized the county commissioners for spending around $212,000 on consultants to dispute reports from federal wildlife officials regarding sage-grouse habitat.
He said the county seems more concerned about oil and gas leases and the potential for development, than protecting the sage-grouse.
Jankovsky said some level of protection for the sage-grouse and other species is necessary, but it has to be based on accurate science. That’s what the county is disputing, he said.
Sullivan said the county’s economy needs to be better diversified, and “not necessarily all about oil and gas.”
He suggested the county establish an economic development commission to look at ways to enhance recreation and tourism.
“We have to get away from the boom and bust cycle of energy, and to some different avenues and an infrastructure that supports bringing more tourism and recreation here,” Sullivan said.
Jankovsky said those sectors are already important. But the reality is Garfield County is also home to vast oil and gas reserves that will be part of the county’s economic security “for the next 40 to 100 years,” he said.
No other candidate debates were included at the chamber forum, as those running for statewide offices including the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates, were unable to make it.
Republican state Rep. Bob Rankin, who is running for re-election to a second two-year term, did make a statement.
Pro and con representatives for Amendment 68 (expanded racetrack casino gambling) and Proposition 105 (GMO food labeling) also debated those two statewide ballot issues. Look for more on those and other election issues in future editions of the Post Independent.
The Issues & Answers Forum was recorded for rebroadcast on Cable Channel 10 at noon, 7 p.m. and midnight on Oct. 18, 19, 21, 24 and 31. A video of the forum will be available online at http://www.glenwoodchamber.com.
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