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There are only so many questions that can be asked in a candidate forum of 90 minutes, with four candidates. Such was the case Thursday evening, Oct.1 during the Chaffee Commissioner candidate forum sponsored by the Truth Has a Voice Foundation and Ark Valley Voice.

The link to see the entire 90-minute forum is available here. As promised, the questions that came in from the public live during the candidate forum that we couldn’t get to were given to all four commissioner candidates, with the request to provide their written answers by Saturday afternoon, Oct. 3.

By the deadline, answers were received from Keith Baker, candidate for re-election to District 1, and Greg Felt, candidate for re-election for District 2.

As promised, their answers to these questions are below:

Q: What is your plan for managing waste in this community, specifically plastic that cannot be recycled? What is the long-term plan for the landfill?

Baker: One of the four laws of ecology is “everything has to go somewhere.” Whatever its source, waste has to be dealt with one way or another. Our landfill has a projected life of up to 100 years but will eventually fill up and we’ll have to find another place, prepare it, and rehabilitate and monitor the current landfill. That will be expensive so we should maximize the lifespan.

Recognizing this, the responsible thing to do is to move toward zero waste. We’ll probably never achieve that goal but it’s a worthwhile vision requiring education. The general strategy has been the “three Rs” of reduce, reuse, and recycle. Two more Rs have been added in recent years – “refuse” at the front, and “rot” at the end.

Commissioner Keith Baker is running for reelection to represent District 1. This and all images in this story are screenshots from the video of the candidate forum.

“Refuse” eliminates waste at the beginning by not accepting or buying things that become instant waste. Refuse single-use plastics, cups, swag bags, promotional items. “Rot” as in composting and establishing community-based and HOA composting programs.

The BoCC purchased a large grinder for the landfill to reduce the bulk of many items and turn brush and slash into useful mulch. This grinder and others like it come from Europe where governments realized years ago they needed to reduce the bulk of items going into their landfills. The grinder also helps with our Chaffee Chips healthy forest/wildfire mitigation program.

The world realizes we must come to grips with plastic waste, and that will help us reduce the plastic going into our landfill – or worse, onto the countryside. As recycling markets have collapsed, the urgency of finding alternative, biodegradable products and eliminating lots of packaging altogether has increased. We are always looking for ways to reduce and manage plastic waste but some measures – such as eliminating single-use commercial plastic bags – require legislation permitting us to do this.

Felt: The recycling markets in the United States have declined dramatically during my four years in office. Plastics other than #1-2 have no economically viable pathway for recycling at this time. I have suggested that we bale non-recyclable plastics and bury it in a specific part of the landfill, with the hope that we could excavate them for later recycling if markets ever develop. This has not been met with enthusiasm by the landfill management – apparently managing large bales like that would be difficult. However, it makes more sense to me than simply mixing it in with general trash and losing control of it. Short of banking it like that, I am not aware of a good option.

Regarding the long-term plan for the landfill, our current facility has a very long lifespan. We retain a consulting engineer for the landfill and he estimates the remaining space will cover the next 90 years of use. There are strategies for prolonging the [landfill] life, further by reducing the volume of material being deposited. Recycling is one strategy and we need to make the most of it.

We also purchased a tub grinder through the landfill enterprise fund ($850K) for processing tree limbs/slash. Our engineer did a cost-benefit analysis on this investment and determined it would save us over $2 million in air space within the landfill over the next 20 years. Not only is the produced mulch of value to the community but it has been approved for use as “alternative daily cover” on the working face of the landfill.

Q: What is your approach to evaluating land use applications and what, in your view, are the factors that are most important to consider when doing so?

Commissioner Greg Felt is running unopposed for reelection to represent District 2.

Felt: Land use applications need to be evaluated in the context of our land-use code (LUC). There is ample language within the LUC that addresses the common impacts of development. This allows us to create conditions for approval that mitigate identified impacts or to deny the application if the impacts cannot be adequately mitigated.

The bigger question is whether the Land Use Code adequately addresses the desires of the community and reflects our long-range goals and objectives. Without concurrence between those, the LUC becomes less effective at protecting the community’s interests. The current Comprehensive Plan revision is an attempt to create a coherent picture of those desires and long-range goals and objectives. Envision Chaffee County provided a significant headstart on this effort. With a completed Comprehensive Plan, it should be easier and more defensible for the county to then update the Land Use Code.

Baker: The fundamental reference, regulatory document, and my first criterion in evaluating land-use decisions is our land-use code (LUC). The LUC is the law as far as land-use decisions are concerned. Where the LUC is silent or ambiguous, I look to the comprehensive plan for guidance and give due regard to the recommendations of the Planning Commission and staff. We also have statutes and other legal requirements. Not to be discounted, I always try to go out to walk the land, doing a little terrain analysis, and exercise common sense.

The four laws of ecology are never far away from my thinking. These are:

  • Nothing occurs in total isolation – everything is related and connected to everything else
  • Everything must go somewhere – nothing is ever thrown fully “away”
  • Nature knows best – natural forces will ultimately prevail
  • “TANSTAAFL” – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch – nothing comes from nothing – everything has a cost

Whether deciding a specific application, evaluating a project, or enacting new regulations, land use decisions are always a balance of private property rights and community need. They are always done deliberately and with intention.

Q: What do we need to do to bridge the political divides that plague our government from local government to the national level?
Baker: As the commissioner who conducts most liaison with our state and federal administrations and legislative delegations, and working with other commissioners in regional organizations, Colorado Counties, Inc., and the National Association of Counties, I always try to avoid ideology. At times that is difficult – not for me to avoid it, but for me not to get frustrated or lose my focus when others do. I always try to be friendly, cheerful, and treat everyone with equanimity and maintain my objectivity. I am probably the least “political” and ideological politician you’ve ever seen but that doesn’t mean I’m anyone’s doormat. Because of this, I frequently receive the backing and enjoy the camaraderie of members of other parties. We can’t control a lot of the events in the rest of the U.S. or the world, but I always do my utmost to properly represent the people of Chaffee County with honor, integrity, and dignity in a way that makes them proud.

Felt: I think the political divide at the national level cannot be repaired at that level. Our two major political parties have brought us to the place where there are significant segments of the electorate that will not be able to reconcile themselves to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. I believe there is a good chance of political violence, particularly in the case of a close race, and that will only deepen the polarization of the major parties and their national leaders. They are part of the problem. I do not see how they will be able to generate the solution.

If there is to be a solution, it will need to start at the local, grassroots level. I believe it can begin there and good examples will be replicated in other communities and eventually scaled to the state level. I believe Chaffee County has the people and the track record to be one of those good examples to other communities. We have proven that with the Envision Chaffee County project, our passage of the 1-A ballot measure in 2018 and the creation of Chaffee Common Ground, and our Community Leadership Roundtable and collaborative problem-solving during the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to tell our story and provide leadership to other communities. This is very difficult amidst the many stresses and demands we currently face, but it is a project worth pursuing.

Q: What is your stance regarding reports of those planning to poll-watch and in effect participate in voter suppression? Do you condemn such activity, and would you do so immediately so that voters can be assured of the safety of the Chaffee County election process?

Dan Smith Photo

Baker: County Clerk and Recorder Lori Mitchell and her elections team encourage and welcome members of the public who want to visit the Elections Office and learn about their processes before an election and by prior arrangement. They can show how voter-accessible, voter-friendly, and secure their system is.

Certified poll watchers, whether appointed by a party or an issues committee, must go through a training and certification process and be properly appointed.

Intimidation by self-appointed “poll watchers” will not be tolerated and it will be stopped when seen. Law enforcement cannot be routinely stationed in a polling place, but they will be summoned if needed.

We have electioneering laws and the 100-foot limit. These will be strictly enforced. The best practice: vote early, deposit your ballot in a secure dropbox, or return your ballot by mail. You can track the status of your ballot every step of the way via BallotTrax. Sign up at https://colorado.ballottrax.net/voter/

Felt: We already have “poll watchers” – they are an entire crew of volunteer election judges that have been trained by our County Clerk. Furthermore, with an all-mail ballot, I think the opportunities for voter suppression are minimal. Very few people vote at the polling places. They can drop their ballot at the secure boxes or they can mail them in. Any attempt to harass or intimidate voters dropping their ballots will not be tolerated. Period.

I am glad to communicate that message to Clerk Mitchell and to provide whatever support she needs to enforce that, including standing out by the ballot box myself. Colorado has the best voting system in the country. We are glad to demonstrate the security of our election system to anyone. We will not tolerate people using fabricated concerns about our system as an excuse for harassing voters or suppressing votes.