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Water contamination among issues for candidates in El Paso County commission District 4 race

October 16, 2016 Updated: October 16, 2016 at 4:38 pm
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A water tower overlooks the community of Security in the foreground of Pikes Peak on June 8, 2016. (Photo by Michael Reaves/The Denver Post)

A military nuance ties together El Paso County commissioner candidates Liz Rosenbaum and Longinos Gonzalez.

Rosenbaum was an Army wife who made a name for herself reaching out to other military families as a family readiness volunteer after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Gonzalez served 20 years in the Air Force, retiring in 2012 as a lieutenant colonel.

Beyond their military backgrounds, the candidates each bring very different personalities and approaches to the race to replace term-limited Dennis Hisey in District 4.

Rosenbaum, a Democrat, is a first-time candidate for public office. She brings a fervor for local issues, change and diversity of thought into her bid to join the Board of County Commissioners, which has been dominated by Republicans for more than 40 years. The last Democrat to sit on the BOCC was Stan Jackson, who was elected in 1970.

"Just waiting for someone else to fix the problems doesn't solve them," Rosenbaum said.

The owner of the Her Story Café, located in Colorado Springs' Library 21c,said her leadership in the Army's Family Readiness Group has prepared her for making decisions that affect many. And Rosenbaum says her small-business ownership gives her management acumen that qualifies her to be a commissioner.

Both she and Gonzalez point to water issues as major for the district in the southeastern part of the county. The top concern is water contamination that has plagued Security, Widefield and Fountain. The problem grew into a crisis in May when the Environmental Protection Agency issued new standards.

Rosenbaum has been directly affected. She said the contamination caused her family to stop using water from its well and is drinking bottled water. The contamination is thought to have come from military firefighting foam that has been used for decades at nearby Peterson Air Force Base. Two lawsuits were recently filed against the manufacturers of the foam.

Gonzalez said he "speaks the same language" as officials at Peterson, and that will help him lead the way moving forward to find a solution to the contamination problem.

"We have got to walk hand in hand," he said. "This shouldn't be a blame game."

District 4 is also subject to stormwater concerns from Fountain Creek and Monument Creek watersheds.

Gonzalez said he is well educated about stormwater issues because he attended meetings the last two years, during and after a failed bid to run for Colorado Springs City Council.

"There are good regional efforts targeting this issue," he said.

Rosenbaum said the southeastern part of El Paso County tends to be "forgotten" by county government, so she wants to have monthly meetings in the district to meet with citizens and hear their concerns.

Gonzalez and Rosenbaum each acknowledge that land use will take up a big part of their time if they win the commissioner seat. And both have small business in mind when talking about growth in District 4.

Rosenbaum said she sees residential developments pushing into the eastern part of the district and is worried that one key element is missing - nearby amenities, including grocery stores and gas stations. But unlike the big box stores and chain restaurants that have sprouted along the Powers Boulevard corridor to the north, Rosenbaum wants to encourage more "unique" businesses to help provide services.

"How many McDonald's do we need?" she asked.

Gonzalez wants to see "moderate sustainable growth." But he would rather see unused or underdeveloped lots within Fountain, Widefield and Security areas be used first. He said the close proximity to established services will help create more economic development and preserve the rural areas to the east.

When asked about the possibility of bringing recreational marijuana sales to unincorporated El Paso County, Gonzalez, who did counter-drug intelligence work in the military, said he is adamantly opposed to legalizing such businesses. Rosenbaum said she is open to discussing rec pot sales in the county.

"Why not try it?" she said, pointing to the success of a pair of marijuana stores in Manitou Springs. "They want to set an example of how to do it correctly."

Rosenbaum understands that it is an uphill battle trying to win as a Democrat in El Paso County, but the BOCC needs a new voice that could bring a dissenting opinion and open new directions of conversation. While District 4 has more registered Republican voters (18,496) than Democrats (13,452), the district has more than 20,000 unaffiliated voters.

"You wouldn't want the whole board to just be Democrats, either," Rosenbaum said. "That's not a fair representation of the community. We represent both Democrats and Republicans."

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