Carl Miller wants to be Summit’s representative at the State House |

Carl Miller wants to be Summit’s representative at the State House

SUMMIT COUNTY – The next state legislative session will be deluged with water bills seeking new Western Slope sources for the Front Range, and this is not a time to send anybody but a veteran legislator back to Denver, according to state Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville.

Miller, a Democrat from Leadville, is touting his experience – especially in water issues – as the top reason he should be elected over Republican novice Heather Lemon of Eagle County.

“My opponent has no experience in the public arena,” Miller said. Miller and Lemon are vying in the new District 56, which comprises Summit, Eagle and Lake counties.

A six-year legislator, Miller, 63, can hold one more two-year term before reaching the mandated eight-year limit. He suspects at least 30 water bills are in the works and that more will be coming.

“I can tell you they will be unfriendly to water-producing counties. They will be aiming to take more water,” Miller said.

Miller said his seat on the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee is key to killing bad water bills before they can reach the House floor.

“I have been very successful in helping defeat water bills,” Miller said.

The former Climax Molybdenum Mine worker said the Front Range is sitting on a huge underground aquifer that could support growth, but metropolitan water planners favor Western Slope diversions because they are cheaper to develop.

He said the Denver Aquifer is equivalent to 15 Lake Powells and 400 Blue Mesa Reservoirs in term of water storage.

“But they are looking at High Country places for water and not going into their own front yard,” Miller said.

Miller said Front Range water incursions on the Western Slope strip water rights from productive lands when ranches are sold, drying up the land. The land also is lost to the tax rolls. He also cautioned that recreational industries built around Front Range reservoirs in rural Colorado are tenuous.

“The fact remains that the Front Range comes into rural Colorado with false promises of building reservoir storage. We build economies around them, but they can unilaterally suck the water and our ruin us,” Miller said.

He said Denver Water did that with its Antero Reservoir this summer in Park County, which hurt the town of Hartsel. Dillon Reservoir hasn’t been sucked dry, but with the lake about half capacity, Summit County water-related sports have suffered.

Miller said he opposed the $10 billion bonding authority floated in the recent special session that was targeted at funding new water projects.

“That was a blank check,” he said. Despite the drought, a coalition of Democrats and Western Slope Republicans killed the measure. Miller said it will be back.

He also predicted another run at weakening so-call “1041” powers, which allowed counties to veto utility, highway and water development projects based on environmental and hazard concerns.

Eagle County used its 1041 powers several years ago to kill the Homestake II reservoir on the basis of wetlands issues.

“We will see that effort back in 2003. I am absolutely convinced they will come back at 1041, especially with the drought situation,” said the former Lake County commissioner, who called himself a “very strong advocate” of 1041.

Miller said his experience also counts big in 2003 for dealing with state budget woes. The next session will be brutal on budget cutting as the state revenue forecast continues to look grim.

Currently, Miller represents Lake County and eight other counties south of Leadville. Based on the 2000 Census, he was restricted to the new district – literally his backyard.

For Summit, no matter who wins, the new district means locals will be seeing much more of their representative. Currently, Summit’s House member is Glenn Scott, a Westminster Republican who has become a non-entity on this side of the Divide.

Miller called himself a friend of tourism and said he believes the state needs to spend money to make money.

He plans a renewed effort to boost state tourism spending to about $12 million, a level last reached in 1992 before voters killed a special sales tax. All new funding must come from the general fund, which currently supports tourism promotion at about $5 million.

Miller served 10 years as executive director of the National Mining Museum and Hall of Fame in Leadville. He resigned that post in 1998 after his first two years in the Legislature because of time demands.

“It’s a part-time Legislature, but it is a full-time job,” he said.

Miller lives off his $30,000 legislative salary and a Climax pension, he noted. The army veteran worked underground for 27 years at Climax in the electrical department. During Miller’s time in the army, while stationed in Germany, Colin Powell was a young second lieutenant.

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