City gains ground in trail dispute

The city of Durango has made some progress in its effort to extend the Animas River Trail behind the China Restaurant. After a court order, the city has permission to go on the property and study the feasibility of extending the trail, a first step toward condemning the land.

The Animas River Trail is interrupted in the middle at the Main Avenue bridge. Over the past year, the city has been working to buy property from Terri D’s, the VFW Post and China Restaurant to complete the connection. In total, the connection would cost $2.3 million.

Terri D’s and the VFW have come to the table, but China Restaurant’s owner Louis Cummins has strictly opposed selling an easement. Consequently, the city is now considering condemnation, which is legally allowed if a public benefit exists and a fair price cannot be agreed upon. District court has ruled that the city may take the first steps toward condemnation by beginning studies on the property. “The court said that in order for us to do our due diligence and do an appraisal, we needed to be on site, and it granted us permission,” said Kevin Hall, Parks, Open Space and Trails development manager.

The next step in the process includes an appraisal of the property and negotiating an agreeable price. If negotiations fail, the court decides how much the property is worth. Cummins has refused to enter negotiations with the city and most likely will fight the judge’s recent decision. “I believe he is going to pursue an appeal on that particular ruling,” said Hall.

Hall said the city will continue to try to talk with Cummins and encourage negotiations to avoid condemnation.

“While the request for access does fit in with that condemnation process, I believe it is the city’s desire to come to some sort of agreement and not have to go there,” he said.

Survey and soil work should begin in the near future.

City drafts dark sky ordinance

Durango City Council members got their first look Tuesday at an ordinance aimed at decreasing light pollution and helping the stars become more visible.

City planners have drafted a code that calls for light fixtures that direct light down – not out or up – and avoid excess wattages. The code also calls for an end to light trespass, which would mean light could not spill onto other properties. As drafted, the so-called “dark sky ordinance” will apply to existing structures as well as future development, though there will be a grace period for compliance. A public hearing on dark skies was held in September, and there were no objections.

“All attendees at September’s meeting were very supportive of the idea,” said Assistant City Manager Greg Caton.

Ironically, the city is one of Durango’s biggest light polluters and will have to change hundreds of lights, including street lights, fixtures at the fairgrounds, and ballfield lights at Fort Lewis College. Commercial areas like Bodo Park, Main Avenue and the Durango Mall will likely need substantial adjustments as well. Mandatory changes also will trickle down to small businesses, subdivisions and in-town housing.

“Our hope is that the implementation will be as painless as possible for property owners,” said Caton.

The council will continue discussion of the draft ordinance in the first part of next year. Prior to adoption, another public hearing will be held.

Study offers HD drilling alternatives

An environmental consulting group recently released a study that challenges plans to drill gas wells in the nearby HD Mountains. The Ecos Consulting study says that simple conservation measures could easily outweigh the amount of gas available in the roadless area near Bayfield. Coal Bed Methane Co. proposes to drill a total of 297 wells in southeast La Plata County, including at least 35 wells in the HD Mountains.

“We tried to get an accurate read on how much gas is there and then looked at if you want that much gas in the region, what are some less harmful ways to get it,” said Chris Calwell, Ecos Consulting’s Vice-President for Policy and Research.

Citing a study by the Boulder-based SWEEP, an energy-conservation advocacy group, Calwell said implementing things like utility-based incentives for energy efficiency and encouraging more efficient light bulbs would save more than twice the fuel available in the HDs in half the time.

“The savings SWEEP found were dramatically higher than what could be found in the HD Mountains,” said Calwell. “The HD’s would provide just a tiny, tiny fraction of what the state of Colorado is using.”

Calwell added that efficiency standards would not be that out of the ordinary and that Colorado is actually well behind the national norm. “Mostly we’d like to get this part of the country to start adopting the kind of energy efficiency standards that are common throughout the rest of the country,” he said.

The HDs study was commissioned for national purposes by the Energy Foundation, a large, nonprofit group encouraging sustainable energy. However, the results will be sent to the Forest Service as it weighs the feasibility of drilling in the HD Mountains. Ecos Consulting is an environmental consulting firm based in Portland, Ore., with an office in Durango.

Soup kitchen opens new doors

The Manna Soup Kitchen opened the doors of its new building Friday, Dec. 6, after more than a year without a home.

Prior to last June, the soup kitchen operated in the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. However, the church’s need to remodel displaced the soup kitchen. As a result, lunches were served in the Sacred Heart parking lot for more than a year as construction took place on the soup kitchen’s permanent home at Avenida del Sol and Roosa Avenue. The soup kitchen served its last meal in the parking lot in September.

Last Friday, the new 4,200-square-foot building, which includes a kitchen, bathrooms, dining room, storage and office space, opened for business. “So far, we’ve hit day three and everything’s fine,” said Kim Workman, the kitchen’s director. “We haven’t had any problems, and we’re basically trying to feed as many people as possible.”

Last Tuesday, 58 people ate lunch at the Manna Soup Kitchen, and Workman said she hopes that number will climb to 150 and that the kitchen will eventually expand beyond lunch into other meals. Workman also stressed that the soup kitchen is not just for homeless people.

“You don’t have to be homeless,” she said. “The only requirement is that you be hungry.”

The building’s cost came in at about $300,000. The structure is on city-owned land and is being leased to the Manna for $1 a year.

Benefit Day raises $21,000 for DAC

The regional community showed up in force for DMR’s annual Benefit Day, Nov. 27, raising $21,437 for the Durango Arts Center. In total, 2,021 skiers and riders paid $10 for a lift ticket; the Big Prize Raffle tallied $920 and beer sales raised more than $300. Last Tuesday, DMR employees presented a check to the arts center.

“The DAC was so pleased to be on the slopes last Wednesday with Durango Mountain Resort,” said Brian Wagner, executive director of the arts center. “This is a wonderful beginning to a partnership between the DAC and DMR.”

DMR Senior Vice-President Bob Kunkel lauded the community for its support.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout, with the way this community repeatedlyA0comes together to support its local arts and nonprofit organizations,” he said.

Tuesday’s donation could be doubly beneficial as it is eligible for a matching gift of $35,000 being made by Durango resident Betty Haskell. This is the second consecutive year that Benefit Day has raised more than $20,000, with $22,000-plus going to the San Juan Mountains Association last year.

Police nab suspected tire slashers

Police have apprehended three men they believe were responsible for slashing tires on 128 parked cars early last Saturday morning. Based on reports from students and individuals on their way to work, police had been investigating an incident which took place between 4:30 and 5 a.m. that morning.

“We had a group of people slashing tires on cars early Saturday,” said Fort Lewis College Chief of Police Arnold Trujillo early Monday. “We have some good leads. Some students and workers were up at that hour and saw them in the act.”

Cars in the parking lot serving Palmer, Escalante and West Hall dormitories sustained the most damage.

Police eventually arrested Brian Capobianco, 20, Ashby Cook, 20, and Justin Newmyer, 22, on Monday afternoon. Cook and Newmyer are FLC students, and Capobianco is a former student. The three were arraigned on charges of criminal mischief and held in La Plata County Jail on $25,000 bail each.





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