State House redistricting meeting focuses on which district Routt County will join
Which counties Routt County is grouped with for its state house district was the main focus of a joint Independent Redistricting Commission meeting Friday, with nearly every one who spoke sharing their thoughts on the makeup of the potential district.
One of the parameters for creating these districts says commissioners should try to group together communities of interest, or areas that share unique characteristics that make collective representation important.
Much of the discussion focused on what interests of the community are important, with some saying the tourist economy should be the focus, while others stressing that the extraction and energy production interests of the county were just as important.
On staff maps released last month, Routt County’s district changed from being with Eagle County to a district grouped with Moffat, Rio Blanco and much of Garfield counties to the west. Much of the meeting focused on this key change, with people advocating for both visions of the district.
Many members of the public speaking said they felt the district as proposed would force a representative to pick and choose which issues to represent which counties on, rather than representing the entire district.
Several of the commenters said the district as proposed would leave Steamboat Springs, the largest city in the proposed district, without representation on issues that are vital to a ski town and it’s tourism-based economy. Others said the district should include neighbors to the west that share agricultural and energy industry interests.
Some speakers came armed with statistics to show how different Routt County is with neighbors to the west, pointing out the county has far fewer natural gas and oil wells, higher median incomes and higher costs of living.
A handful of people pointed to Routt County’s decision to leave the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado earlier this year because commissioners felt the group did not adequately represent the interests of Routt County. Steamboat has already left AGNC and belongs to the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments instead.
“In contrast to these other Western Slope counties, we have a climate action plan. We are protecting our natural resources to attract visitors,” said John Spezia, who has lived in the county since 1973. “We have an economy that primarily relies on year-round tourism … and we will have little to no extraction economy in the very near future.”
But others said the district needs to acknowledge the energy interests and provide representation for coal miners and power plant employees who live and work in the county.
“Excluding us from counties that rely on fossil fuel jobs would eliminate our voice and right to representation and would deny that a large industry in our county even exists,” said Savvy Wolfson, an Oak Creek resident.
Gary Burkholder, a third-generation Colorado resident, said people saying that Routt County had shared interests with Eagle County were wrong. Instead, he said it is Steamboat has interests with Eagle County.
“Steamboat is an island that the rest of the county tries to avoid,” Burkholder said. “The rest of the county identifies more closely with Moffat County, which is historically part of Routt County.”
But others said the shared ski industry related interests between Eagle and Routt counties should be a large consideration in what the district looks like.
Sarah Jones, director of sustainability and community engagement for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., speaking on behalf of Steamboat Resort, asked commissioners to group Routt with Eagle, Summit, Grand and Pitkin counties.
“The ski industry and outdoor recreation industries are key economic drivers at the state and local level and should be allowed a collective voice,” Jones said.
Cecilia Escobar-Ceballos, who said she was there representing the group Latinx Alliance, said that while she is close with the Latino community in Moffat County, she felt Routt County more closely aligns with Latino communities in Eagle County because of the tourist economy.
“Latinos are a big part of the driving force behind the economic recovery, and our representatives must ensure that all voices are heard,” Escobar-Ceballos said, adding that integrated Community saw an 18% increase in clients since 2019.
“We have issues in our community that are affecting our most vulnerable Latino populations that have been overlooked for years,” Escobar-Ceballos said. “We hope to make the needed change in the near future by advocating for policies that will support diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Eve Partridge, who has lived in low-income housing for 11 years and works as a massage therapist, said she has witnessed a “mass exodus” of artists, musicians and cultural leaders in town because of the lack of housing and felt that issue needed to be considered when drawing a district.
“State policy will be a large factor in finding solutions and addressing this crisis,” said Cole Hewitt, president of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority board of directors. “The next 10 years will be critical at the state level for housing policy, and Routt County needs a strong, districtwide housing voice in Denver.”
Routt County resident Rachel Jacobson argued that Routt County should be grouped with counties to the west because many people who work in Steamboat live in Moffat County. Others said there is affordable housing available in the region in Craig, and high housing costs are just part of living in the valley.
“You might have to drive an hour to go live in affordable housing, but it’s a sacrifice,” said Laura Hetrick, who said she moved to the Yampa Valley from California because of the open space. “If you don’t want to drive an hour to get the affordable housing, and you don’t have it here, then for me, it’s time to move on.”
In terms of the congressional district, most of those who commented sought to ensure that whatever the 3rd Congressional District looks like, it should exclude Front Range communities.
As currently devised, the district would include western parts of Boulder and Larimer counties, but not population centers like Boulder, Loveland or Fort Collins. Many cited the inclusion of Boulder specifically, pointing to issues like wolf reintroduction that they blamed voters on the Front Range for.
A dividing issue was water, with several people saying that putting communities on both sides of the Continental Divide in the same district didn’t make sense because their water needs conflict.
Similar complaints were made about the State Senate District, which stretches far enough east to include part of Larimer County but not any population centers.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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