The San Juan Basin Farm Bureau hosted a forum Oct. 6 featuring the candidates for the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners.
Republican Joel Stevenson and Unaffiliated Rebecca Samulski are seeking the District 3 seat. Candidates gave opening statements, then answered questions from the audience about economic development, water, county land use and public lands.
Stevenson introduced himself as a fourth-generation resident whose great-grandfather homesteaded the land he lives on. He is a brand inspector for the Colorado Department of Agriculture and a rancher.
“I’m running for county commissioner because I want the people of Montezuma County to have the same opportunities I have had, and I want the younger generation to be able to stay here to support their families.”
He has served on the Southwest Colorado Livestock Association board, the Montezuma County Fair board and is on the county planning and zoning board.
Samulski grew up in Montezuma County and has a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from Fort Lewis College and a master’s in political science from the University of Denver.
She worked on planning projects for the towns of Cortez and Mancos, founded the Dolores Watershed Resilient Forest collaborative and is the executive director for Fire Adapted Colorado organizing wildfire mitigation projects.
She is running for commissioner because “I enjoy public service, and am good at finding opportunities and bringing people together.”
On the economyStevenson: His priority as commissioner is to restart the local economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Right now, our biggest challenge is getting this economy back up and running,” he said.
He said it was unfair that smaller businesses were forced to close under Colorado governor orders but that big-box corporate stores remained open. Stevenson’s goal is to support agriculture, tourism and the economic benefits of area natural resources such as water, timber, oil and gas and outdoor recreation.
Samulski: “We need to plan ahead and pay attention to the growth that is happening to us, and to the economic hardships that people in our community are enduring.”
A key component of economic development is informing visitors about local businesses.
“Businesses need an internet presence that is where people look when traveling. At recreation areas, there should be signs that connect people stopping here to local businesses.”
On public lands and waterStevenson: He would fight to prevent local water from going outside the area, and wants to review whether there are ways to store more water in McPhee Reservoir.
On logging, Stevenson wants the National Forest to conduct more salvage logging in beetle kill and wildfire burn areas.
“There is a lot of dead standing timber in our mountains that need to be taken care of,” he said. “Before cutting green trees, they ought to work on the dead standing.”
Samulski: On public lands, she has advocated for a revived timber industry for forest health, and said the larger logging projects of live timber will help reduce the spread of the beetle kill hitting Montezuma and Dolores counties.
Regarding water issues, Samulski said the commissioners’ main influence is in land use decisions.
“How we grow and where new homes and business are put based on water availability. It is basically a giant mapping exercise and is really important to figure out,” she said. “Right now, it is unclear.”
She wants to work more closely with wildlife and public land managers to improve hunting opportunities.
“It is becoming challenging to hunt on public lands. It used to be this time of year everyone was wearing an orange vest. Now all you see are campers with bikes,” she said.
County issuesStevenson: He opposes a current land use code proposal to drop the minimum residential lot size from 3 acres to 1 acre in the county. He said there are already ways for developers to get to a 1-acre lot through the subdivision process.
“Work needs to be done to figure out where the water will come from to support new development and homes,” he said.
On governing, Stevenson said he “is the type of person that always will educate myself before making a decision. I will go out and talk to the people, and I am here for the people.”
Major changes to the land use code should be put to a vote of the people, Stevenson said.
Samulski: On the land use code, she is against reducing the minimum lot size from 3 acres to 1 acre, as proposed. She encourages more planning for the future for the county.
“It is time for long-term visioning for Montezuma County. I want to get the community engaged in revising the 25-year-old comprehensive plan so we are not a ship without a rudder,” she said.
As far as challenges the county faces, Samulski said she wants to keeping up the level of current county services in the midst of tightened budgets because of the pandemic.
“I look forward to serving the county and working on all the complex issues we deal with,” she said.