Commissioner candidates talk destination management, wildfire mitigation, electrification at environment-focused forum

Yampa Valley Sustainability Council hosted forum with candidates on Wednesday, Oct. 19

Republican candidate for Routt County Commissioner Kathi Meyer said she believes Routt County should financially support the Steamboat Springs Chamber’s destination management efforts at a forum centered around the environment on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

Meyer’s opponent, Democrat Sonja Macys, responded to the same question saying she would continue current efforts to mitigate issues that accompany visitors to the county, such as improving limited parking along popular snowmobile destinations near Routt County Road 129 in the winter.

The question, asked on behalf of the Steamboat Springs Chamber at a forum hosted by the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, noted destination management is included in the updated Routt County Master Plan, a guiding document that each candidate says they fully support.

“It’s been very interesting to see the evolution of destination management, starting not just at the Chamber, but at the state level,” Meyer said. “I think (Routt County) needs to financially support the Chamber.”

“I think the county has taken some really good steps that I would continue to support,” Macys said. “I think it’s a really good start to recognize, we’re bringing these people here and they’re using our roads, they’re going to need to be a place to go.”

The question comes as Steamboat Springs City Council has approved the first steps of a significant cut to the Chamber’s funding and has put funding toward adding two additional community service officers to help patrol the Yampa River. Routt County hasn’t committed any money to the Chamber for destination management at this time, according to County Manager Jay Harrington.

Both candidates said they thought destination management was important, though Macys’ answer noted it was more a city issue and didn’t mention financial support for the Chamber. Macys said partnerships like the Routt Recreation Roundtable are important for the county when considering the impacts of visitors.

Meyer said she didn’t feel the county needed to create its own destination management programs, but should instead fund programs that already exist, such as the Chamber’s “Kindness floats the ‘boat” campaign.

Another question focused on the management of wildfires, more specifically what role the county will play in funding wildfire mitigation.

Meyer pointed to an oft-mentioned hazard as a top priority — Fish Creek Canyon, which serves as one of two main water supplies for Steamboat.

“That’s our watershed,” Meyer said. “We need to continue to work with private property owners and collaborate and bring together federal funds and state funds that are currently available.”

In addition to that, Meyer noted that about half the county is public land and the county needs to work with state and federal partners to mitigate for wildfires in these areas throughout the county.

Macys said collaboration is key as well, and that the county has worked for years to build strong relationships in this realm. She pointed to “payment in lieu of taxes” funding — money paid to local governments to offset loss of property tax dollars not paid on federal lands — to help pay for mitigation.

“(It’s) mostly on or around federal lands, but can be extrapolated into something that could protect communities off of federal lands,” Macys said.

Another idea Macys mentioned was biomass, which has been part of the discussion around repurposing the Hayden Station. Biomass could be a solution that helps replace that energy loss and remove wild fire risk, Macys said.

Electrification was a question that the candidates largely agreed on. Both said the county should continue to work to electrify its vehicle fleet as technology allows and look into renewable power sources in county buildings.

“I’m a big proponent of beneficial electrification,” Macys said. “(The airport installed) a pretty large-scale renewable project, there may be opportunities to do something like that as well at the fairgrounds.”

“I think that it is very important to lead by example,” Meyer said. “When we look to retrofit or develop new buildings I think we should be looking for opportunities to be energy efficient, and of course included in that is a cost analysis.”

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