Commissioner justifies trip, travel expenses

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Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos flew to Las Vegas on Tuesday to represent Moffat County and Colorado Counties Inc. at the National Recreation Forum, a Bureau of Land Management symposium to discuss multiple use of public lands.

Raftopoulos' trip combines two hot topics in Moffat County politics: travel expenses for county commissioners and public land use.

Since coming under fire for taking trips to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Washington D.C. and New Orleans at the expense of county taxpayers, commissioners have been careful about travel expenses. Raftopoulos said airfare and hotel board for the trip cost $488. Food will cost more.

In 2003, the county budget allotted $11,000 for travel expenses. Commissioners spent $3,713 of that.

That's a great decline from travel spending in 2001, when commissioners spent $9,336 on travel. In 2000, they spent $6,158.

Raftopoulos said she was invited to the forum by BLM Director Kathleen Clark, and as far as she knows, she is the only Colorado county commissioner in attendance. Representatives from other Western states containing BLM lands and environmental activist groups, such as Colorado Mountain Club, also attended.

"I was brought in for a local perspective, to see how important public lands are to the community," Raftopoulos said.

During group discussions, the attendees addressed concerns they feel the BLM should consider when developing public land measures. Raftopoulos said she is concerned about fees and management for public lands.

"The economy is very important. People are very important. Sometimes that gets left out of the mix," she said.

The county commission has opposed proposed wilderness designations in Moffat County. Commissioner Les Hampton has said wilderness means "restrictions." Raftopoulos said she wants to ensure that public lands remain available to motorized vehicles, horseback riders and mountain bikers. Motorized vehicles would be prohibited from wilderness areas.

The forum will end on Thursday.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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