One by one, people slowly made their way into the conference room at the United States Department of Agriculture building in Las Animas, all awaiting the arrival of U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.
Gardner is doing a farm tour across the Front Range and one of his stops on the day included Bent County, where he was set to host a round-table discussion.
“We see tremendous growth in Colorado on the Front Range and we see tremendous success in Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins,” Gardner said, but pointed out that isn't the same situation in Southern Colorado.
Gardner spoke about how he sees people fighting for transportation and housing in these parts of Colorado. One example he gave was about a recent experience he had in Windsor a week ago where he saw a bunch of homes being built.
“But we gotta have people who are fighting for those areas off of I-25,” he said.
Gardner said he wants to drive attention to every portion of the state, including Western, Eastern and Southern Colorado. One way he is attempting to do this is through his farm tour, which will take him across the state.
Discussion during last Friday afternoon's gathering ranged from the Arkansas Valley Conduit — a proposed pipeline that would carry water directly from Lake Pueblo to the Lower Arkansas Valley — to the Bent County Early Learning Center.
“Child care in rural Colorado and in our community, in particular, is really, really challenging,” Bent County Commissioner Kim MacDonnell said.
She said it’s challenging because of the funding issues that are hurting child care centers like the Bent County Early Learning Center.
“Right now as a community, we have one large licensed child care center that really is, unfortunately, unable to make ends meet,” she said.
Gardner spoke about potential solutions to the child care issue by saying that he has been working on a bill where part of the salary that could be paid to employees could be made to child care, tax free. But that legislation hasn’t passed, so he suggested Bent County get in contact with the Merage Foundation out of Denver.
Regarding the Arkansas Valley Conduit, Gardner said, “For the last several years we’ve been able to get money for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, but it’s been going so slow that it would never be enough to build the whole thing.”
Gardner said that it needs to be built because communities could be stranded with no water for their drinking water systems due to their inability to afford to comply with the standards. To do this he indicated that he was going to meet with the office of management and budgets to increase the appropriations level.
“We’ve got millions of dollars a year for it, but it needs to be millions more,” he said.