Two seats on La Plata County’s three-person board of county commissioners are up for grabs this November. In District 2, which encompasses central La Plata County, Republican incumbent Kellie Hotter is running against Democrat Gwen Lachelt.
Lachelt is the director of Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. Hotter was appointed to the board in February 2007 and was re-elected to the position in 2008. Commissioners must live in their district, but are elected at large.
The Durango Herald sat down with the District 2 candidates to dig deeper into issues facing the county. Though she attended an interview, Hotter provided her responses by email because her mouth is wired closed because of a jaw injury.
The candidates responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
What is one action taken by former or current commissioners that you admire?
Lachelt: Many years ago, a La Plata County commission adopted what were at the time model county oil and gas regulations. Probably, the issue that came before the commission most recently where they made a balanced decision was on medical marijuana facilities. They said no, we can’t make these businesses live up to higher standards than other similar businesses.
Hotter: I am most proud of the fact that during my 5½ years in office we became a debt-free county (and) downsized county government for the first time in La Plata County’s history. I very much appreciate that former commissioners wisely used Energy Impact Grant monies for capital improvements.
If elected/re-elected, what are two initiatives you would like to tackle within the first two years of your term?
Hotter: We need to have a good land-use plan that is fair, predictable, consistent and user-friendly. We are in the process now of making much needed amendments to what we know is not working. This process needs to continue. (Second), it is essential that La Plata County becomes, and is known for being, a business-friendly environment.
Lachelt: (Passing a) comprehensive plan would be the first thing. We have to, in some respects, pick up where we left off, but we have to come up with a reasonable process (going forward) that includes public input. (Second,) I believe that we have to act quickly to reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions, that would mean taking a hard look at the recommendations from the Climate and Energy Action Plan. (For example) we can reduce emissions (from gas wells and associated facilities) by having flareless drilling and fracking and putting low-bleed valves on all equipment.
How will you address the issue of a comprehensive plan if you are elected/re-elected?
Lachelt: By having a solid process for getting public input. And also making the hard decision. The commission only listened to a minority of the residents when it made its final decision. So do you make decisions based on who is making the most noise or do you make a decision based on the majority of input? Striking a balance on the Planning Commission is critical. We need a balance of stakeholder interests, a balance of beliefs.
Hotter: We need to have good planning and a comprehensive plan is part of that. While there are good elements in the proposed plan that is currently on hold, having identified both challenges and opportunities, it did nothing to address infrastructure needs, and that is an essential part of planning for our future. I would also use the Animas Valley as an example of how to move forward. It is much better to ask people who reside in a particular district to decide their own fate than to have someone who lives in Marvel dictate what should happen on a parcel in Ignacio.
What perspective do you bring to the table when making decisions on land-use policies and changes?
Hotter: Having sat on the other side of the dais (as an applicant), I bring to the table a wealth of personal knowledge of the system and its deficiencies. With our current land-use code, one has to evaluate the impacts of a proposed development and how they can best be mitigated, (as well as the) availability of water and sewer and road access.
Lachelt: I definitely support private property rights. I fought for 25 years to pass laws to make sure that landowners have more rights. But when activity on your property affects your neighbors then that is where the role of government comes in. Government has to be able to balance the scales and hopefully be some sort of level.
What is the biggest difference between you and your opponent?
Lachelt: I want to pass a comprehensive plan, and I believe in making decisions for the long term. I have that vision and the interest to move forward and not be stuck in what is happening now, what happened in the past and thinking the way it has always been done is the way it has been done in the future. It’s a new world and we cannot afford to go backwards.
Hotter: I have a broad spectrum of engagement and knowledge of the issues. I need no on-the-job training. My opponent is a self-proclaimed community organizer with a single-issue focus. I believe we should strive for better utilization of our vast energy reserves by projects such as efforts to use our natural gas to power fleets and vehicles. My opponent condemned this effort calling natural gas a fuel source that is “dirtier than coal” and not worth pursuing.