Pitkin County commissioner candidates Steve Child and John Young on Wednesday argued over how elected officials should deal with natural gas drilling in the area, but agreed that county officials are unreasonable in enforcing policies during the debate known as “Squirm Night” held at the GrassRoots TV studio.
Young pushed Child on his positions on natural gas drilling and his willingness to meet with the companies that hold leases on public lands. Child has said he would give applicants wanting to drill a fair and impartial hearing and review.
Child argued that as a county commissioner it would be his job to give anyone who comes before the board a fair chance prior to making a decision.
“It would be mandatory for me as a county commissioner to hear their side,” he said.
Young said if elected the first thing he would do is push to enact a moratorium on drilling in Pitkin County. He would look to counties and municipalities like Colorado Springs and Boulder, which have existing policies regulating drilling in the areas, for ideas and advice in drafting similar documents, Young said.
The county should have water and air quality standards, which could possibly slow down gas companies from drilling, he said.
“I don’t think there’s time to wait,” Young said on drafting those policies.
If the county doesn’t do something, gas companies could start drilling as soon as the spring or summer, Young said.
The county already has regulations governing gas drilling activity and most of the current leases is on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which the county can’t control, Child said. Child is opposed to fracking and would want to study the potential effects the process would have on the area, he said.
“I’m really opposed to using any toxic chemicals and injecting it into the ground because we don’t know the consequences,” Child said.
Young argued that the county has jurisdiction over access points to BLM land and could regulate the kind of traffic allowed on those roads in an effort to prevent drilling, he said.
“It’s worthy of an attempt,” he said. “... It’s not the time to be bashful, this is on our doorstep.”
While the two were at odds over how to deal with natural gas companies, both candidates agreed that county staff enforces confusing rules unreasonably.
Child cited an example of a friend who was required by the county to spend money hiring people to remove trees from the river bed on his property instead of doing it himself so that he wouldn’t damage the riparian zone, Child said. Young agreed with Child’s assessment and described a situation where a friend spent over $20,000 to get an approval to build a two-car garage on his property.
“I think on those kinds of projects we lose sight of common sense,” Young said.
Young, an affordable housing consultant, proposed a faster, easier process for projects that incorporate environmental efficiency upgrades, and Child said he would use the county manager as a resource to help solve and correct enforcement issues.
Other notable comments during the debate included Young’s claim that he had met with over 7,000 county residents since he began campaigning this summer. That number is up from 6,000 when he last answered the question over the weekend.
When pushed about his perceived technological ineptitude, Child, a rancher who lives 7 miles off of the highway, said it isn’t likely he will get the Internet connected anytime soon, because the technology isn’t available near his home. As for a cell phone, he currently shares one with his wife, who has it 95 percent of the time, but that will change if he wins on Election Day, he said.
“If I’m elected, I will get a cell phone immediately,” Child said.