Lieutenant Governor Lynne visits Rifle
It took Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne less than an hour Wednesday to be impressed by the Colorado Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting at the Rifle Garfield County Airport.
The lieutenant governor, who also serves as the state’s chief operating officer, visited the center as part of her tour around the state.
The center was created through state legislation in 2014. It aims to be a global leader in aerial firefighting technology through collaborative research and development.
The collaboration is what stuck with Lynne, who was appointed to the position earlier this year and previously served as executive vice president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals.
“I don’t know if it’s a dirty little secret, but not everyone plays well together,” Lynne said with a laugh. “So I think it’s great to see the kind of collaboration between the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the state, the city, the county …”
Since the Rifle airport was named the home of the center in the spring of 2015, positions have been filled and much of the time has been spent gathering existing research.
Among the noteworthy projects underway is an air-to-ground data link that would provide firefighters access to fire information in areas with unreliable or no internet access.
Multi-mission aircrafts are capable of capturing real-time imaging and fire data, but if there is no internet access, the information cannot get to the firefighters on the ground, who need it the most, explained Melissa Lineberger, director of the center.
The project actually came about from conversations with members in the firefighting community.
“Our stakeholders said ‘we need this,’” Lineberger said.
While the team at the center is working hard, it is a fairly new program, which made Lynne’s visit an honor, Lineberger added.
Outreach to the roughly 35,000 state employees is part of the reason for the tour around Colorado.
“They’re spread all over the place and sometimes they don’t always feel as connected to Colfax (Avenue in Denver), so we’re taking our show on the road,” Lynne said.
Having visited 33 countries as of her late-morning stop in Rifle, the lieutenant governor said one of the most pressing issues in rural parts of the state is the economy.
“I think people are concerned about the economy, and that when we speak about Colorado and there’s been lots of other sources, like Forbes and CNN, who say that Colorado’s economy is fourth in the nation, our unemployment rate is third in the nation. … I think we’re very mindful of the fact it’s not consistent across the entire state. So we’re looking at how do we spend some more time and devote attention to some of our rural counties,” she said.
Part of that work involves gaining a better understanding of main economic drivers in communities across the state.
On that note, Lynn said she is aligned with Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has spoken against a potential ballot initiative that would require a mandatory 2,500-foot setback zone for oil and gas operations in the state.
The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office still needs to determine if initiative supporters obtained enough valid signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.
As a member of the business community, Lynn also joined Hickenlooper in opposing proposed oil and gas initiatives in 2014.
The reason for the opposition then, she explained, stemmed from a belief that there needs to be homogenous policy across the state, as well as concerns from members of the business community that their sector could be targeted next.
“There’s been a lot of research on both sides whether fracking is safe, fracking isn’t safe, but it is obviously an economic engine for this state,” Lynne said. “And so I think the governor … really believes in the evidence that you can do it safely and we’ve got to keep the jobs we have here that are connected to the oil and gas industry, because it’s not just those job, it’s a lot of jobs (that support) those communities.”
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