If he defeats incumbent Gwen Lachelt at the polls in November, District 2 challenger Lyle McKnight said he wants to see the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners pull back on spending and stop over-regulating the oil and gas industry.
“Several people have been asking me over the last couple years to run, but I was working full time and couldn’t timewise,” McKnight said. “We sold the business last April. Now I do have the time, and I want to make some changes. I don’t necessarily agree with the way things are done, and you can’t complain about it if you don’t jump in, right?”
A Republican, McKnight is the founder and former owner of Fun Center, an outdoor recreation and bike company, and said he identifies with the struggles of the small businessperson.
One of his goals is to streamline the commercial land-use permitting process, which he said is overly complicated and inhibits small business growth, and prevent further regulation on oil and gas.
“I’m very pro-business, and that includes oil and gas,” McKnight said. “My opponent has definitely gone into aligning us with places like Boulder and Bloomfield that have nothing in common with us in terms of oil and gas production, and we already have some of the strictest codes on natural gas.”
The Bureau of Land Management is considering a master leasing plan to regulate about 3,000 additional gas wells in La Plata and Montezuma counties, which has been a divisive issue between those who believe the leasing plan is an overreaching layer of regulation that cripples economic growth, and those who maintain the resource management plan is too broad to responsibly govern oil and gas activity.
“Areas like Mesa Verde, I definitely think that kind of stuff needs to be protected and closed to leasing,” McKnight said. “We already have a resource management plan, but there are some things it misses. That’s where the MLP would help. But I can see where it can be taken too far, and we have some of the strictest regulations already, so I hope we don’t place a further hindrance on the industry.”
In 2017, La Plata County will feel the pain of oil and gas being on the downturn, which means the board will have to address revenue shortfall as it grapples with needed improvements to roads and bridges.
“There’s a lot of unnecessary spending that could be curtailed,” McKnight said, referring to several recent real estate purchases including the 1101 East Second Ave. building that houses county offices. “I would look at selling some of that.”
Commissioners are weighing a measure for the November ballot asking voters for a maximum 2.4 mill levy increase for the road and bridge fund. Separate ballot items may ask for other tax increases for schools and expanding the Durango-La Plata County Airport.
McKnight said he’s not a proponent of raising either sales or property taxes and hoped the county could explore alternative routes, but he said road and bridge needs are pressing.
Lachelt, a Democrat, announced her re-election bid in September and promised to continue working toward handling gas-pollution issues and simultaneously looking for alternative revenue sources for the county.