Rep. Jared Polis made a visit to Summit County to speak about transportation and conservation | SummitDaily.com

Rep. Jared Polis made a visit to Summit County to speak about transportation and conservation

Rep. Jared Polis rolled into Frisco along with a snowstorm Wednesday, attending a meeting with members of the I-70 coalition, speaking at a public lands forum to promote passage of a conservation bill he sponsored and finishing the day by lobbying for delegate votes at the Summit County Democrats county assembly.

Polis — who is finishing his sixth and final term as congressman and is locked in an unexpectedly competitive battle for the governor's seat this November — met with local elected officials, constituents and business leaders from all over the High Country to discuss transportation and conservation issues affecting mountain residents.

Before his meetings, the Summit Daily caught up with the congressman and discuessed some of the most pressing concerns in the High Country, and how he intended to address them both in Congress and as the state's governor.

Summit Daily News: What do you intend to do to combat I-70 traffic?

Jared Polis: We work closely with the I-70 Coalition that represents all the towns and counties along the I-70 corridor. We want to make sure that if there is a national infrastructure package, that there are real remedies for our peak congestion and safety issues along the highway. It's reached quite close to a national crisis on infrastructure. I'm not holding my breath that Congress will pass an infrastructure package, but it's very important for me to listen to all the needs from local officials to make sure there's language that addresses this corridor.

SDN: How do you intend to solve the affordable-housing crisis in Summit?

JP: We're partnering with the counties on more projects like the Lake Hill land exchange from the U.S. Forest Service to Summit for the affordable-housing development there. We're looking at it as a model to use in other parts of the state, where we can bring to bear resources like land and establish middle class housing opportunities.

SDN: Climate change has been blamed for the shorter winters we have been experiencing in the mountains. How concerned should counties like Summit be about climate change?

JP: Our mountain areas should be concerned about climate change, because it's not just about some abstract concept that only causes flooding on the coasts. It's also causing wildfires, caused our 2013 floods and more erratic snow. It's also about the ski-based economy here in Summit and Eagle counties. That's one of the reasons that ski resorts have been leaders on pushing Congress to take action on climate change. I'm proud to sponsor a bill to move our country to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, and to re-engage with the Paris process to reduce emissions.

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Jared Polis’ speaks at a public lands forum in Frisco.

SDN: Health insurance rates in Summit and Eagle are among the highest in the country. What can be done to start bringing them down?

JP: The states need to reconfigure their geographic rate zones. It's completely unfair that Summit and Eagle county residents pay 50 percent more than Clear Creek County residents and others in the exchange. It's nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act, and it's very simple to fix at the state level. As governor, I intend to fix it.

After speaking to the Daily, Polis met with officials from the I-70 Coalition at Frisco Town Hall for what he described as a "listening session" with stakeholders all along the corridor, as well as to discuss the progress in passing a national infrastructure bill that would bring much needed funds to improve and relieve congestion for the critical mountain corridor.

Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan, Breckenridge town manager Rick Hallman, Dillon Mayor Kevin Burns and other members of the I-70 Coalition brought up funding issues for I-70 improvements, including increasing the use of private/public partnerships to make improvements and constitutional issues that prevent opening revenue streams for the corridor. Polis promised to bring their concerns to Congress.

"I'll take what I heard here today back to Washington, and hopefully there's a chance we can get a decent bill passed soon," Polis told the coalition.

Gibbs appreciated Polis taking the time to speak to the coalition to address infrastructure issues important to mountain communities.

"I have to thank Congressman Polis for meeting with the I-70 Coalition and to hear priorities we have and concerns that we have," Gibbs said. "It's definitely disappointing to continue to hear how dysfunctional D.C. is, and we desperately need collaborative problem solvers like Congressman Polis who are willing to work at federal, state and local levels to solve problems.

Polis then took a short trip down Main Street for a forum on public land issues. There he greeted a packed room full of local community, business and nonprofit leaders to talk about a bill he sponsored titled the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act. The bill, introduced in January and cosponsored by Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO), proposes to extend protection to almost 100,000 acres of forestland along the Continental Divide, as well as establish Camp Hale as the first National Historic Landscape.

Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier attended the forum and lauded Polis for his effort to have the Continental Divide act passed.

"Rep. Polis has been shepherding this bill through for almost 10 years now," Stiegelmeier said "There's nothing simple about creating the proposed wilderness areas. It took hours and hours, days and days and many meetings to come up with the right boundaries to make sure that the current uses aren't curtailed, but simply that we have protection into the future."

Later in the evening, Polis entered the Summit County Community & Senior Center for the county assembly. Over 100 county delegates, candidates and staff crunched their way across an inch of fresh snow and packed the meeting hall to vote for state delegates for the state assembly on April 14. State delegates will go on to vote for the Democratic candidates to appear on the ballot for the June 26 Democratic primary.

Polis was under pressure to win the county assemblies, having lost the caucus vote to insurgent Cary Kennedy. The Summit Daily asked Polis about what he expected at the county assembly tonight and his gubernatorial run moving forward.

"We expect to win the county assembly tonight," Polis said. "We have a lot of momentum and get more support every day. We always want to appeal to a broader segment of the population than just the party activists. We're having a lot of success reaching unaffiliated voters, Democrats and even moderate Republicans in our bold message of hope and opportunity."

Polis made good on his promise and won the Summit County assembly vote, receiving 40 delegate votes to Kennedy's 23.

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