The Sopris Sun

County commissioner candidates lay out their views

Jankovsky versus Sullivan

John Colson

Sopris Sun Correspondent

In the contest to become the next Garfield County commissioner for District 1, incumbent Tom Jankovsky and his challenger, Michael Sullivan, both are essentially running on Jankovsky’s record.

The difference is that Jankovsky feels his record has been exemplary and justifies keeping him in office, while Sullivan feels Jankovsky has not represented his constituents in District 1 and should be kicked out of office.

District 1 encompasses the Garfield County portion of the Roaring Fork River Valley, including the town of Carbondale and most of Glenwood Springs.

Jankovsky, 65, is a Republican, and is running for his second term in office, having ousted the two-term former incumbent, Democrat Trési Houpt, four years ago. He moved here from Stirling, Colo. 29 years ago to take the job as general manager and part owner of the Sunlight Mountain Ski Area, a position he held until being elected to the county board. He is married and has five grown children.

Sullivan, 60, is a Democrat. He moved to the Roaring Fork Valley 25 years ago and has worked in various media-related positions and other jobs, including a stint as director of marketing and public relations at Sunlight Mountain Resort. He has served on the county’s planning and zoning commission for six years.

Each of the candidates sat down with The Sopris Sun this week to discuss their positions on a variety of issues.

The Comp. Plan

A leading area of contention among supporters and critics of the county government is how it deals with development, concerning everything from industrial development to housing projects just outside municipalities, commercial developments to equestrian facilities, to name only a few.

Over about a year of hearings, informational meetings and other events in 2009 and 2010, the P&Z and staffers with the community development department revised the outdated comprehensive plan.

The plan ultimately was adopted, but where the P&Z intended for it to be a “mandatory” document, requiring compliance with the plan’s provisions before a proposed development could begin the county’s review process, the county commissioners changed it to an “advisory” document.

“It’s a tool that’s used in every land use application,” said Jankovsky, who voted with the other two commissioners, John Martin and Mike Samson, to make the change from “mandatory” to “advisory” as a way to make the county more development friendly.

“It’s a vision for the future, but it’s not absolute,” Jankovsky told the Sopris Sun. “The way it was set up (under the old plan) it was mandatory, and if you didn’t met the comp plan you couldn’t get to first base.”

The rules required that, if a development proposal did not meet the plan’s requirements, the only way to go any further would be go through an amendment process to actually change the provisions of the plan, then resubmit the development application.

That meant the plan, which was supposed to be a tool for the county’s use, “would become, well, a barrier,” Jankovsky said. “And you couldn’t appeal it to the county commissioners.”

Sullivan, who was deeply involved in the rewrite of the comp plan, said of the process, “The process, in my opinion, was … hijacked.”

He said a team of consultants, appointed P&Z members and volunteers from the community worked slavishly to produce the revisions, in the expectation that the overall document would be just as “mandatory” as its predecessor.

And the result, he said, reflected earlier comp plans going back to the 1960s, in which such values as open space, quality of life, community character, health and safety, a vibrant agriculture sector, economic diversity and other “broad subjects” were identified as top priorities.

But the county commissioners, Sullivan said, were eager to make the comp plan and its companion, the unified land use code, more “business friendly” and so made the plan “advisory.”

A similar process, Sullivan said, undermined efforts to revise the land use code to reflect the new comp plan, when the county commissioners appointed a special committee of “like-minded individuals” to make recommendations about the code revisions.

“They eliminated every regulation that they could possibly find, that was legal, Sullivan said. “They tried to dump the entire section on affordable housing until they found out they couldn’t do that legally.”

The result, he maintained, is a watered down version of what the P&Z and citizen planners wanted, and is largely why he is running for office.

“The comp plan is my platform,” he declared in an interview. “Across the board, the code revisions took away our tools (for controlling development). I voted against it, and I fought them every inch of the way.”

Thompson Divide

Both candidates said they favor some kind of negotiated solution to the question of whether there should be gas drilling in the controversial Thompson Divide region southwest of Carbondale, though Jankovsky specifically noted that any solution must safeguard “the private property rights of the company that has gas leases up there.”

He noted that the county commissioners five years ago “recognized, I guess, the beauty of that area” and approved a resolution in basic support of the efforts of the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC) and other participants, who (among other possible strategies) want to buy out the leases held by energy companies, and sterilize the roughly 220,000-acre area from any future consideration for oil and gas exploration.

As an added example of the county’s independence from the wishes of the industry, he said the commissioners have firmly opposed the use of Four Mile Road as a haul route for industry trucks.

Sullivan said he has opposed drilling in the Thompson Divide area “since the beginning” when it popped up as a public issue more than four years ago, arguing that there is a “limited amount of resource up there” to be produced by drilling.

He questioned Jankovsky’s statements about supporting the TDC, declaring that “he (Jankovsky) hasn’t signed a single piece of paper that says that” while serving on the county board. The resolution Jankovsky refers to, Sullivan said, was signed by his predecessor, Trési Houpt.

The main issue, according to Sullivan, is that “Tom is not listening to the district he represents. Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, everybody is unanimous in their support of protecting the Thompson Divide,” and Sullivan doubted whether Jankovsky is considered to be on the same side.

Regarding oil and gas issues in general, the two men differed on how much local control should be exercised over the industry.

Sullivan said he strongly supports legislation, introduced by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, that would prevent the Thompson Divide area from being considered for leasing in the future.

Concerning the broader issues involved with oil and gas development in the county, Jankovsky said the “down-hole” aspects of the industry are governed by the state, and that “Colorado has the most stringent rules and regulations in the United States.”

As for local control of surface development, which can be subject to county controls, Jankovsky said the county does review such things as “lay-down yards” for mapping out pipelines and other facilities; settlement ponds; injection wells; transformers and pipelines, which he believes is sufficient.

“I think we have a good system right now for regulating oil and gas. I think we have one of the best in Colorado,” he said.

Sullivan disagreed, and pointed to one area that he particularly tried to affect — the impact of surface facilities on residential neighborhoods.

The P&Z, Sullivan said, put forward a proposal that surface facilities be “consolidated,” so that compressor stations, holding ponds, tank farms and other facilities can be in a central location.

“Put ‘em all in one place, and put a handful of bore-holes (gas wells) around that,” as he described it.

During the debate, he said, it came up that “there is no local appeal for anybody affected by oil and gas development. Zero. They’ve taken everything off the books, the county commission has thrown away all of our tools.”

So the P&Z concluded that “we should have a limited impact review for any oil and gas development in residential zones,” a review to be conducted by the P&Z and the BOCC.

“That way,” he continued, “if you get that knock on your door by the industry, you have somewhere to go, somebody to talk to,” other than going to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which meets in Denver and has fairly strict rules for allowing public comment at its meetings.

But two members of the BOCC — Jankovsky and Mike Samson — held a brief discussion of the idea and then summarily killed it, according to Sullivan. Commissioner John Martin was out of town, Sullivan said.

Another oil and gas related issue on which the candidates differ is whether the county has done all it can to protect citizens from the potential for toxic emissions from oil and gas facilities.

Jankovsky maintained that the big issue, for him, is air quality, and said the county’s air-quality testing program has shown improved air quality in the past year or so, which he takes as a sign that the state’s rules regarding methane emissions are working.

He also pointed to an ongoing $1.8 million study by researchers with Colorado State University into the same issue, which is expected to be done and open to public inspection in 2015.

Sullivan, though, felt not enough is being done by the county.

“As time goes by, more and more information is coming out about the dangers of fracking and the dangers that are involved in the natural gas (extraction) process,” he said.

But in Garfield County, he said, industry operations are viewed as a “use by right” in most circumstances, or are “exempted” from review under the county’s land-use codes, which Sullivan feels leaves citizens more exposed than they should be.

He maintained the county has either ignored or “given away every tool that we had” for safeguarding “the health and safety of the citizens of Garfield County. I really believe that we need local controls and we need local standards for our air, for our water, for the basic rights that everybody in Garfield County has.”

Growth of County Government

In recent years the county government has acquired a number of properties in Glenwood Springs, which has prompted questions about how big the county government will get and how extensive its expanding facilities and buildings ultimately will be.

Jankovsky, questioned about this, pointed out that the only actual new building purchased and now occupied by county personnel is the old Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association A-frame at Grand Avenue and 11th Street. The other two acquisitions were of buildings in the same neighborhood as the county courthouse and administration building, centered on 8th Street and Colorado Avenue.

“As far as expanding its facilities is concerned, we haven’t done that,” Jankovsky said, adding that the property acquisitions of the so-called Durrett and Worrell buildings (now leased to attorneys’ offices) “were forward-thinking moves that were made when the price of real estate was down.” And the Worrell building, he said, was essentially a “clean-up measure” and a trade with Valley View Hospital, which partly sat on county-owned land along Blake Avenue on the south side of town.

In general, he said, “I think it’s best to have limited government,” but he added that the county’s population has grown from roughly 25,000 in the 1990s, to more than 56,000 today, and the county has had to respond to that growth and a consequent increase in demand for services.

Sullivan, on the other hand, questioned Jankovsky’s rationale, and particularly expressed concern that the county reportedly paid about $1 million more than the appraised value of the Durrett building.

“As far as I can tell, those buildings serve no county purpose,” Sullivan said. “The county has no business being a private landlord. What are we going to use them for, why did we buy them?”

Another area of growth that Sullivan questioned is the county’s budget, which last year was projected at revenues of more than $100 million and expenses of more than $125 million. Some 80 percent of the county’s property tax revenues, which make up more than half the county’s overall income, come from property taxes paid by oil and gas companies.

Jankovsky noted that the county has consistently balanced its budget over the years, and that recently, when oil and gas revenues dropped, the county cut its expenditures by seven percent to match the revenue decline. And in 2010, he said, the county axed about 40 employees due to revenue instability, staffing cuts that have been maintained, he said.

(Editor’s note: Due to space restrictions, the final half of this story will appear in the Oct. 9 edition of the Sopris Sun).