Public lands topic among candidates at county forum

Debate over how to tackle social problems in the Grand Valley spilled outside the lines during a Thursday night forum sponsored by the Community Impact Council.

Commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman injected disagreements with federal management of Western lands into discussion of Mesa County’s environmental health. Pugliese took issue with a Bureau of Land Management move to cancel oil and gas leases in Mesa County in the Thompson Divide area, saying that lack of respect for private property rights threatens all property owners.

Justman blamed federal mismanagement of far-away forests for smoke filling the Grand Valley during the summer fire season.

“I couldn’t see the monument or the mesa” for smoke filling the valley this summer from fires in the Pacific Northwest.

That prompted a riposte from Mel Mulder, running against Justman, that federal lands ought not be privatized.

“If they privatize my public lands, that’s a taking on a massive scale,” Mulder said.

“It’s not about ownership,” said Pugliese. “It’s about management.”

Mulder, a Democrat, and unaffiliated voter Jim Doody, are challenging Justman, a Republican, for his spot on the commission.

Pugliese, a Republican, is challenged by Dave Edwards, a Democrat.

Mesa County’s sluggish economy caught much of the blame for many of the community and social problems the county is now encountering.

Mesa County, however, could do more, Edwards said.

“Raising people out of poverty is the role of the county,” Edwards said, calling for an environment free of bigotry and racism, which would allow individuals to pursue their dreams and desires.

Doody, as he has done before, stressed his desire for partnerships among the county and other organizations, and said the county has to be drawn together.

“Our community is woven together by a thin thread from Collbran to Gateway and to the state line,” Doody said. “We have to come together to make Mesa County the most livable community” west of the Rocky Mountains.

Mental health issues drew the candidates together. High jail populations, drug abuse, and suicide all have connections to mental health issues that frequently play out in painful public detail.

“You almost cringe when you see the paper” each morning, with stories about crimes such as child abuse and molestation, Doody said.


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