County commission debate shows rifts

Baxstrom Enlarge photo


The second debate between two La Plata County commissioner candidates served to parse out some of the differences between Julie Westendorff and Harry Baxstrom, both of whom tout their moderate political views.

The candidates for the District 3 seat, cited similar stances about the need for a business-friendly environment and the need for policies crafted locally. But they differed on how they would address planning issues, oil and natural-gas regulations and their views on the now-shelved comprehensive plan.

The candidates also highlighted different types of experience that prepared them for the job. Westendorff, a real estate broker, a former Southern Ute Tribal prosecutor and a former Bayfield town judge, focused on her regular attendance at local government meetings and her discussions with county staff and elected officials. Baxstrom focused on his experience as a property owner and the owner of a Bayfield veterinary practice.

“Running the county is indeed like running a business,” he said.

Westendorff said the county should pursue collaborations with schools and nonprofits when tackling issues such as job creation and the future of health care in the county. Baxstrom advocated for a more hands-off approach to those issues, emphasizing that government should create an environment where private industry is encouraged to fill those needs.

Both candidates said the county should scrap the neighborhood compatibility standard that is a key component of the county’s planning process, arguing it is too arbitrary.

Baxstrom emphasized the need for zoning changes to come “from the ground up” and hesitated in supporting the county’s work to craft transitional standards in the Grandview area. Westendorff supports that work.

In discussing the oil and gas industry, Baxstrom initially took a strong anti-regulatory stance.

“We need to increase production and decrease regulation so (businesses) can make a return on investment,” he said. Later, he backpedaled, saying the county is a leader in its protection of landowners and denied supporting decreased regulation.

Westendorff defended La Plata County’s regulations and their protection for property owners’ rights.

“I’m not willing to let our county suffer what happened in Pennsylvania and Ohio with water-well contamination and earthquakes,” she said. “I don’t want our county to sacrifice itself just for oil and gas revenues.”

Westendorff Enlarge photo