Ed: This is an annotated, highly-linked version of the candidate interview I submitted for the 2018 ELife Candidate Issue.
Tell us about yourself:
I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, grew up near Edmonton, Alberta, and have been a resident of Colorado for the last 30 years. In the 11 years since I moved to Erie, my family and I (fiancée Larisa, daughters Anika and Isobel) have seen the town’s population grow by 30%, have at times been painfully aware of the resulting increase in construction, traffic, and suffered the onslaught of oil & gas activities in our neighborhoods.
After an undergraduate degree in molecular biology from CU Boulder and graduate work in computational biology at CU Denver, I ran my own software development company for 5 years before moving to enterprise software development. I’m currently a Sr. Staff Agilist at DigitalGlobe in Westminster where I coordinate software development best practices in our R&D group.
I am a founder and current editor-in-chief of the Erie Protectors (visit us at fb.me/erieprotectors for more information) where I’ve been writing articles on the health & environmental impacts of unconventional oil & gas development, publicizing spills and industry accidents, and creating drone videos that are often featured on local newscasts.
To relax, I put on my roller skates and referee for any one of a dozen roller derby teams in the Front Range, from a recreational league in Brighton to the Denver Roller Derby Mile High Club, currently ranked number 5 in the world.
How do you plan to reduce the town’s debt of 82 million dollars?
The town carries significant bond debt, in large part due to acquiring $32MM of water rights shares in 2005, and building a $22MM water reclamation facility that opened in 2011. After speaking at length with Town Administrator A.J. Krieger and Public Works Director Todd Fessenden, I am confident that the town is managing its debt to the best of its ability. The investment community agrees; the town’s general obligation bond rating was raised from AA to AA+ in February 2013, and two of Erie’s water-related bonds were upgraded from A1 to Aa3 in December 2017.
Given Erie was “late to the game” to acquire these water rights, Erie homeowners’ water costs are high, this investment (including the current roll-out of smart water meters) will return increasing dividends in the coming years as neighboring towns incur rising costs to update their aging infrastructure. The water reclamation facility is already providing class 2 re-use water to irrigate parks and open space in the Colliers Hill development. More water reuse is planned with the facility’s proposed expansion in 2018.
As Trustee, I will support continued, aggressive refinancing of the town’s debt to take advantage of our increased bond ratings to lessen the financial burden on the residents of Erie.
A project is already approved to widen I-25; how will that impact Erie and what do you plan to do about it?
There are actually two I-25 projects; one already underway to expand I-25 from 120th Avenue north to SH 7 (complete by Winter 2019), and another approved to expand I-25 to three lanes in each direction from Johnstown to Ft. Collins (complete by 2021).
The increased traffic from this expansion and large commercial developments (Ikea and Top Golf, for example) underscore the need for improvements on SH 7 and Erie Parkway. As Trustee, I’ll push wherever we can to accelerate timelines to improve busy intersections and expand the number of travel lanes for these corridors to increase safety and decrease travel times.
The town has already identified a development area west of I-25 between Erie Parkway and County Road 12 as a part of its long-term commercial strategy. As Trustee, I’ll support developing this area to attract commercial development and diversify the town’s tax base.
Would you support a moratorium on O & G activity in the Town of Erie?
Absolutely. Is that reasonable, or even possible? No. The Colorado Supreme Court struck down both Longmont’s voter-passed fracking ban and Ft. Collins’ fracking moratorium in 2016. Crestone is suing the Town of Erie over enforcement of its odor ordinance. No major candidate for Governor supports Colorado Rising’s 2,500 ft setback initiative. Colorado Senate bills SB18-048, SB18-063, and SB18-064 were all postponed indefinitely in the first days of the 2018 legislative session. The political will to enact and enforce such a moratorium simply does not exist.
Having said that, there is no such thing as safe hydraulic fracturing. This practice will end when we as a society come to fully understand the health and environmental impacts; the permanent poisoning of billions of gallons of water, the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air we breathe, the contribution to global climate change, and the risk of leaks, fire, and explosions in the infrastructure required to drill, refine, and transport oil & gas. The work I’ve already done as a father has been to protect the heath and safety of my children. The work I’ll do as Trustee over the next years will be to drive this conversation forward with facts, research, compelling peer-reviewed publications, and a preponderance of the evidence.
How will you address the impacts of residential growth on the town’s infrastructure including roads, water and quality of life?
I spoke above about the town’s major roads and the issue of water. For me the issue of quality of life centers on preserving the history and character of Old Town. In 1995, Erie had fewer than 1,500 residents; I don’t think any of them imagined a town projected to have 29,500 residents by 2020.
The current Board approved the Wise property rezoning, favoring denser development over resident objections. The Board circa 2013 voted to demolish the Morrison/Charlesworth House at 675 Holbrook St. to make way for a Town Hall parking lot. Members of the Erie Historic Preservation Advisory Board felt their recommendations were ignored, and even filed “injunctions and restraining orders against the destruction,” but were ultimately unsuccessful.
As Trustee, I’ll work to protect and preserve Old Town’s historic buildings and small town charm. A thriving downtown district needn’t come at the expense of the residents that call Old Town home.
What are your plans to increase tax revenue from commercial businesses?
The developments at Nine Mile Corner and Four Corners are key to bolstering the town’s commercial tax revenue, but are challenged on several fronts. The protracted legal battle with Lafayette over Nine Mile has thwarted Erie’s attempts to develop the site; the courts will ultimately decide when the town will be able to proceed.
For the I-25 corridor, patience will be key to show commercial investors that density numbers are sufficient to support another King Soopers, Lowe’s or any number of smaller businesses. Given its proximity to Old Town, Four Corners will demand a more measured approach to commercial development; I’m very much in favor of a small grocer anchoring a number of independent retailers at this location.
What makes you the best candidate?
In a few words: courage, commitment, and common sense.
The courage to stand up for those impacted by oil & gas operations within hundreds of feet of their homes; to speak up about the injustices in a regulatory system that dismisses 1,300 COGCC complaints by Erie residents without a single citation against an operator conducting business as usual.
The commitment to make evidence-based, educated decisions about the many challenges and opportunities facing the Town of Erie in the next four years; to diligently research the various issues, seek expert advice, and encourage the rest of the Board to do the same to serve the best interests of the community I call home.
The common sense to know which battles are worth fighting today, and which are best left for another day; to learn from the successes and failures of those that came before, and to understand that this road is not traveled alone. Together as a community, and working with the communities around us, we’ll make Erie great. My family and I are counting on it.