Visa issues, mine cleanup raised during local Allard town meeting
SILVERTHORNE – Local landscape contractors and construction industry officials pleaded with Republican Sen. Wayne Allard Friday to consider their needs for seasonal workers when and if a Senate bill concerning a cap on H-2B temporary visas comes up for a vote. The visa discussion came during Allard’s April 1 town meeting in Silverthorne. About 25 citizens from around the region showed up at town hall to meet with the senator.Temporary visas issued to foreign workers are capped at 66,000 annually, and that lid has been reached early in recent years.The demand leaves summer businesses that rely on the program scrambling, said Tim Glasco of Silverthorne-based Neils Lunceford, Inc. The Save our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act have been introduced as parallel bills in both the House and Senate, with Colorado Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar signed on as a co-sponsor on the Senate side.This year, the H-2B cap was reached in early January, said Avon attorney Chris Pooley, who represents several companies dealing with H-2B visa issues.
“It (the cap) could be devastating in the future,” Glasco said, explaining that his and other businesses are asking Allard to support legislation that would stretch the cap by exempting workers who have been employed under H-2B visas in previous years.While Allard didn’t make any promises, he was familiar with the issue, pointing out that most of the visa slots were used up by winter industries, including ski resorts, which also employ foreign guest workers.”As it’s been explained to me, there are none left over for summer. We’ll take a close look at it,” Allard said.The Bush administration announced in late March that it wouldn’t process any more H-2B visas this year, leaving many small businesses around the country wondering where they’ll find seasonal workers.In response, both lawmakers have teamed up in a bipartisan effort to add 40,000 additional H2-B visas for this fiscal year, ending Sept. 30.
In response to a question from Frisco resident Sandy Briggs, Allard also said he is considering co-sponsoring Senate legislation addressing abandoned mine cleanups, a pressing issue in Summit County, where abandoned mines leach toxic heavy metals into local waterways.Briggs said he hopes the House and Senate can come up with similar measures that might speed up passage of some sort of legislation. In recent years, lawmakers, Rep. Mark Udall chief among them, have discussed a so-called Good Samaritan Act that could exempt community clean-up efforts from some of the liability issues stemming from the federal Clean Water Act. Allard said he plans on working closely with Udall on the issue.On behalf of local communities – particularly Dillon – Northwest Colorado Council of Governments executive director Gary Severson asked Allard to work with the Secretary of Agriculture to “streamline” a federal law that enables towns to petition for up to 640 acres of federal land adjacent to existing municipalities.
Severson pointed out most local towns predate the creation of the Forest Service, and that when National Forest system lands were designated, the boundaries extended right to the town limits.”The towns are in a pinch,” Severson said. “As the growth is going, some towns are having a hard time meeting their public obligations.”Severson said the towns would still have to show that their use for the land would be more beneficial than its current benefit to the greater American public. For Dillon, the issue has partly to do with access to its water rights in Old Dillon Reservoir, Severson explained.Bob Berwyn can be reached at email@example.com.
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