February 27th, 2013 by Thomas Wills
State Senator Gail Schwartz held an open house meeting in Hotchkiss on February 10 and heard from a group of about 30 local constituents. Topics included historic preservation, the possible closure of the Delta prison, marijuana, industrial hemp, water issues, gun control and facilitation of micro-hydroelectric projects.
Schwartz began the meeting by introducing Bob McHugh of the local effort to save and restore the Enos T. Hotchkiss barn at the edge of town. The project gained additional attention recently when it was acknowledged at a Denver luncheon as being one of the most endangered historical structures in Colorado. Schwartz had also been present at the awards luncheon.
The Western Slope Interpretive Society is currently raising money to conduct an evaluation of the structure and write a plan to restore it.
Lottie Hellman of Delta was very concerned that the Delta prison might be closed and pointed out that the facility provides some 140 local jobs. It has a capacity of 500 inmates and currently houses 384. Schwartz expressed support for retaining the prison.
Dixie Luke of Rogers Mesa worried that with recent large government grants to pipe ditches and install lower water use sprinklers that the government might be preparing to ask that the area give up some of its water.
Mayor Wendell Koontz of Hotchkiss said he would like to see a push to encourage the Front Range to conserve more water.
He and another constituent asked about a possible Mt. Emmons molybdenum mine near Crested Butte. It was proposed that the mine use Kebler Pass as a mine haul route and would thus impact the North Fork. Schwartz suggested that the mine might not be approved since it was in the Crested Butte watershed.
“I don’t support it,” she said. She said that there was strong opposition to the plan in the ski area town.
Then came the issue of the BLM gas leases with Schwartz saying that the BLM deferment of the leases was positive.
“I think it was the right outcome,” she said.
On the issue of gun control Schwartz said that she had a solid record of defending the second amendment right to bear arms. She then tempered this by saying that she also supported requiring backgrounds checks on all firearms sales.
Susan Raymond of Powell Mesa and the Delta Conservation District inquired about support for micro-hydroelectric installations. Schwartz was very enthusiastic about the growing trend in installing micro-hydro on canals and ditches. The piping of local ditches would make such uses easier.
She said there was a federal initiative underway to allow states to regulate such installations under 5 megawatts rather going through the onerous federal FERC process.
Schwartz gave a general report and listed her main issues as education, getting reliable broadband Internet service to rural areas, facilitating methane capture from the coal mines, and promoting forest health.
Schwartz spoke briefly of the hemp and marijuana issues saying that “our state is in a unique position in that Colorado is only one of two states that have passed this.” She said she was particularly interested in sorting out the specific issues regarding industrial hemp as viable farm crop separate from marijuana.
The North Fork Merchant Herald