Public input sought for monumental deliberations

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

Scott Tipton, US Congressman
Scott Tipton, US Congressman
Mark Udall, US Senator
Mark Udall, US Senator

U.S. Sen Mark Udall vowed to take into consideration local concerns in legislation that would change the Colorado National Monument into a national park.

During a recent meeting at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Udall was flanked by members of a committee formed to draft language for proposed legislation even as he encouraged  public participation in the process.

While Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, discussed what he sees as the benefit of turing the monument in what would be the 60th national park in the United States, he acknowledged there’s opposition in the community. Udall is working on the issue with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican whose 3rd Congressional District includes the monument.

“This is not without challenges,” Udall said. “Let me and Tipton know what you think.”

For the next hour, many of those attending the meeting did just that in presenting arguments for and against the change.

Terri Chappell of the Grand Valley Regional Citizens for a National Park said the Colorado National Monument qualifies for park status and the change would benefit the community economically.

“Currently, people fly into our airport and drive down I-70 on their way to visit parks in Utah without even knowing the monument is there,” Chappell said.

The added national and international recognition associated with a national park would bring more tourists and their dollars to the Grand Valley, in turn boosting the economy, she said.

Others at the meeting saw things differently, though, and voiced concerns that having a national park in such close proximity to a cuty could impede local industry and economic development.

Grand Junction resident Sandy Peeso said that while she believes a bill initially would include protections for agriculture, energy and other industries, but the final version could be much different. “If the final version does not include the protections that the people need in it, will you pull the bill?” Peeso asked Udall.

Udall said if a bill doesn’t clear the Senate fundamentally intact, he wouldn’t support it.

He doesn’t expect that to happen, though. “With both Representative Tipton and I introducing the bill, it will not change much. The product we introduce will be the product that you help us build.”

There could be differences, though, in bills introduced by Udall and Tipton, Udall added. “The draft is a compromise of various points. I can’t speak for Rep. Tipton. He will have his own analysis.” “We agreed that we would support the committee, but I may submit a bill different from Tipton,” Udall said.

But he added: “Without the two of us behind the initiative, it would not go anywhere.

Fruita Mayor Lori Buck raised concerns over the future of industrial property near proposed park boundaries.

Duncan McArthur, a member of the Grand Junction City Council, said John Otto’s pioneering vision of a national park a century ago doesn’t mesh with present-day realities. “One hundred years ago, no one could possibly conceive of the regulatory nature we are in today.”

McArthur said he’s worried about the possible effects of a national park on development in an energy rich region as well as as the threats environmental lawsuits associated with parks. Jobs that would created by a park would pay far less than those in the energy sector, he said. “This is not a silver bullet.”

Bennett Boeschenstein, another member of the Grand Junction City Council, supported the change. “There are many things about a national park that monuments don’t have.”

Reiterating the concern that people pass the Colorado National Monument on their way to national parks in Utah, Boeschenstein said the change would increase visitation and prestige.

In a statement, Tipton said the proposed change to the monument should be determined by a bottom-up process driven by community support and broad consensus.  “Changing the monument to a national park is not as simple as renaming it and putting up new signs,” Tipton stated. “It involves complex legislation that, if not written correctly, could mean more stringent regulations on air and water quality, restricted access to the site or an expansion of its boundaries. This could inadvertently cause adverse effects on the local economy, cost jobs and take away the ability of residents to access the monument as freely as they’ve done in the past.

“That’s why it’s so important to be deliberate and thoughtful in this process and to allow residents to be involved at every step so they have the opportunity to play a direct role in deciding the outcome for the monument and their community.”

Tipton said he has not yet drafted a bill to change the designation of the monument to a national park. “To help determine what the next steps will be, we will be putting forward the recommendations made to our offices by the five members of the monument working group for public review and comment.”

Scott McInnis, a former congressman who now serves as executive director of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, also urged a cautious approach during the meeting with Udall. “This is not a simple name change,” McInnis said. “Protect us, protect our jobs.”