County commissioner candidates face off

Planning in rural areas again proves to be divisive issue

Hotter Enlarge photo

Hotter

The jabs are getting sharper among the four candidates running for two open seats on the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners.

The early hour didn’t soften the back-and-forth between Republican incumbent Kellie Hotter and her opponent Democrat Gwen Lachelt at a Thursday morning debate hosted by the Durango Chamber of Commerce.

Hotter, who spoke through state Sen. Ellen Roberts because her jaw is wired shut, used her opening statements to refute accusations that she flip-flopped on issues such as the comprehensive plan and the Clean Energy Action Plan, a set of recommendations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the county. Lachelt has argued that Hotter was catering to a vocal minority when she voted against both plans after the county put hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars into the two documents.

Hotter emphasized her support for continuing work on the shelved comprehensive plan and the county’s progress implementing many energy efficiency recommendations from the energy action plan without becoming “climate police.”

Meanwhile, Lachelt worked to buck Hotter’s characterization of her as a professional community organizer who works against natural-gas and oil producers.

“My opponent put words in my mouth. I have never made a statement in opposition to the oil and gas industry,” Lachelt said. “It’s like saying you’re opposed to the car industry if you believe seat belts should be a mandatory requirement in a car.”

Julie Westendorff also took aim at her opponent, Republican Harry Baxstrom, accusing him of changing his stance on zoning versus personal property rights and his opinion about what should be done with the comprehensive plan.

On other issues, the candidates were closer to consensus. None indicated they would prioritize changing natural-gas and oil regulations. Lachelt said she would consider the topic if drilling increased in the county, and Baxstrom said new regulations may be necessary if technology changes in the future. Baxstrom was the only candidate who said he does not support at least some of the recommendations of the Climate and Energy Action Plan.

On the topic of affordable housing, Lachelt and Westendorff emphasized the need make affordable transportation part of the discussion. Baxstrom mentioned zoning as one possible option while Hotter advocated working with other governmental entities to provide housing to “keep essential workers in our community.”

All the candidates opposed increasing the lodgers tax and emphasized the importance of advocating for the county on a state and regional level.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

Lachelt Enlarge photo

Lachelt

Westendorff Enlarge photo

Westendorff

Baxstrom Enlarge photo

Baxstrom

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