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Crowder/Lewis Town Hall Covers Economics, Landfill, Easements and Hemp

 

State Representative Kimmi Lewis, District 64

Southeast Colorado residents who attended the PEP Town Hall Meeting at Lamar Community College this past Thursday, August 17, expressed an interest in economic development, landowner rights, hemp production, conservation easements, landfill regulations and the potential development of Camp Amache under the guidance of the National Park Service.

State Senator Larry Crowder, District 35

 

State Representative Kimmi Lewis, House District 64 and Larry Crowder, State Senator, District 35, answered questions from their constituents during the ninety minute session, with about 50 persons attending including the Prowers County Commissioners, Baca County Commissioner Peter Dawson, former District 64 Representative Wes McKinley, as well as farmers, ranchers and business owners.

Senator Crowder and Representative Lewis had some brief opening statements on finance and the legislature with Crowder noting his 60% success rate on introducing from 30 to 35 bills a year and said he opposes raising taxes on gas sales in Colorado, preferring to do that through income and sales taxes.

Lewis said the House sees much more traffic over its 120 days with close to 681 individual bills acted upon while the senate deals in blocks of bills. She said she’s a stickler for detail and will cast an almost automatic ‘No’ vote if presenters cannot provide a satisfactory answer to her questions.

Craig Loveless, Chief Executive Officer for Prowers Medical Center, asked Crowder to identify what he considered prime economic drivers for southeast Colorado. Both Crowder and Lewis said that after tourism, the state’s prime economy was agriculture which was a $60 billion business in Colorado. Crowder noted that various facets of the community can gain economic leverage by pooling their resources such as working with programs offered by the state and federal government and engaging the local colleges, such as LCC.  He did not that the aging and declining population base of the region is a drawback and more should be done to get people to locate here.

Despite the thriving agricultural economy, some local farmers that are attempting to raise hemp are being stymied by the federal regulations that classify the product as a controlled substance akin to marijuana. Several farmers complained that the restrictions prohibiting cultivation of hemp are punitive and efforts from the state level, directed to the federal government, would go a long way to help educate national representatives on the benefits of the crop.

Local farmer, Jillane Hixson, noted that persons who have loans with the USDA lose them if they begin to grow hemp on their property. “The USDA’s policy is that if you raise hemp, they will throw you out of all USDA programs.  The designation of a scheduled substance is something that throws you out of the whole works,” she explained, adding, “If I raised hemp, they would call my note.”  Prowers County Commissioner, Wendy Buxton-Andrade, stated that if you have a federal loan, you are prohibited from growing hemp on your acreage.  Senator Crowder stated that there are farmers in the state, who do not have federal loans who are not restricted in growing the crop.  A Baca County farmer related how he leased two circles to hemp growers willing to expand their project, “And it’s given me nothing but trouble.  I’ve had to hire a fleet of attorneys to change things.  They kicked me out of the Equip Program, and other kinds of programs.  You’d think I was some kind of major drug dealer,” he stated.  The farmer added, “We need something on the Farm Bill now, not two or three years later.  It’s costing us money.” Representative Lewis told the audience her son is trying to raise hemp in Fowler and she supports it’s growth in the state and said some bigger players are needed to take the word to Washington for changes.

The subject turned to the cost of maintaining landfills in rural communities in southeast Colorado, a mandate that is becoming more punitive through the costs of compliance with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations. Representative Lewis said gaining support on fighting these measures has not been easy and suggested a new governor as a way of easing the health-oriented restrictions that are imposed on communities.  In response to Commissioner Buxton-Andrade’s request for assistance, Lewis said she and Senator Crowder will script a letter to the state legislature and try to gain additional support.

Lewis was critical of the conservation easement situation in the state, saying it has cost millions of dollars of wasted funds and has punished landowners by devaluing their property once an easement had been granted. She said the problem continues to grow as landowners are being urged to take advantage of the initial benefits of an easement, but encounter problems afterward.  She said the Conservation Easement Oversight Commission will sunset and dissolve this year, and it should be ended.

Camp Amache in Granada has been considered for future management by the National Park Service. The 640 acre tract, a former incarceration camp for Japanese-American citizens during the Second World War, is owned by the Town of Granada and is visited through the year by descendants of the 7,500 people who occupied the acreage.  Prowers County Commissioner, Tom Grasmick, a Granada resident, asked for support from Crowder and Lewis to have it recognized as a National Park.

Crowder said he supports the project and believed it would benefit both the town and this region of southeast Colorado, historically and by adding to local revenues through increased tourism opportunities. Lewis, on the other hand, was critical of the Park Service because it was a branch of the federal government and was fearful of loss of local control of the land.  She noted the problems associated with the expansion proposals for the Pinon Canyon Military Maneuver Site which encroached on private lands and promises from the federal government on land use which were not kept.

By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: AgricultureCity of GranadaCity of LamarCollegeConsumer IssuesCountyEconomyEmploymentEnvironmentFeaturedHealthTourism

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