Rollin’ by: An employee of Bradley’s Restaurant takes out the day’s trash under the watchful eye of Jack Dempsey in downtown Durango./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Tribe proposes dam in wilderness

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is proposing to do some heavy construction inside a nearby wilderness area. Last week, the tribe filed for storage rights to build a dam and reservoir in the Weminuche Wilderness several miles north of Vallecito in Hinsdale County. However, the proposal has drawn significant opposition.

The tribe has filed an application with the Colorado Division of Water Resources to dam Big Emerald Lake as well as a smaller lake downstream. The project would give the tribe an additional 8,000 acre-feet of water storage. The dam would be between 30 and 50 feet high and up to 1,500 feet wide.

The San Juan Citizens’ Alliance has filed a statement of opposition based on the proposal’s violation of wilderness as a sanctuary from the hand of humans. In particular, motors and machines are strictly prohibited within wilderness areas.

Chuck Wanner, the group’s water issues coordinator, commented, “The reasons we’re against it are that it’s several miles inside a wilderness area; Big Emerald Lake is the largest, natural lake in the Weminuche Wilderness Area; and this doesn’t go along with our idea of what a wilderness should be dedicated to.”

Wanner said that to his knowledge, a project like this within a designated wilderness has never been undertaken. He added that approval of the Utes’ application would likely require a presidential order.

“There are not a lot of new projects built in wildernesses after they’re dedicated,” he said.

Even though an application has been filed, the decision will be up to a Water Court judge. Wanner said that a decision would take a year or more.

In addition to the San Juan Citizens’ Alliance, the U.S. Forest Service, the Town of Bayfield, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Trout Unlimited have also filed statements of opposition.

The tribe refused to comment.

Craders excluded from new hospital

The Crader family will no longer be involved in the expansion of the Mercy Medical Center. Last week, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Mercy and the Craders announced that they had reached an agreement on the site location of the new hospital.

Last fall, the Craders and the tribe announced plans to develop the Grandview area, and the hospital expansion was a central component of the plan. However, on March 7, a contract was signed, stipulating that the hospital site will be located entirely within the boundaries of Southern Ute property. The Craders and Utes will continue to go forward with their plans for Grandview.

“This turned out to be the best solution for everyone for several reasons,” said Mercy President and CEO Kirk Dignum. “We’re very thankful to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and to the Crader family for their willingness to support the new hospital project. It would not have been possible without their generosity and cooperation. The community will be the ultimate beneficiary when the new facility is complete.”

The Utes have donated a total of 35 acres to the new Mercy Medical Center.

Although the hospital campus will not be located on the Craders’ property, the family still plans for development on their land to integrate with the tribe’s development.

“We see this as an opportunity to enhance the community by working together,” said Rowean Crader. “The hospital’s campus will be on the other side of the fence, but as far as we’re concerned, we’re all part of the same project, and the boundaries will be transparent to people who will live, work and visit here.”

With the signing of the contract, the hospital project continues on schedule, with excavation expected to begin this June.

Durango to continue alley paving

The city of Durango will continue a longstanding effort to resurface its alleys with asphalt. A total of 15 alleys will kiss potholes and dust goodbye this summer as the city spends $100,000 to pave them.

Jack Rogers, public works director, said that the work will take place between June 18 and July 18 and represents a longstanding effort. Eleven alleys south of 15th Street on Durango’s east side are slated to be paved. An additional four north of

15th Street are up for improvement.

“The purpose is to reduce dust and air pollution and correct some drainage problems that we have,” Rogers said.

The project was ordered by the City Council years ago.

“We’ve got about five more years of alley work to do at this level of funding,” said Rogers.

Colorado posts record elk harvest

Colorado posted a record elk harvest last hunting season, but big game managers are stressing that the state’s herd is still too large to be healthy. Consequently, a large number of antlerless elk licenses will be available in 2003.

The 2002 elk season posted a new record with 61,174 animals taken. The old record of 60,120 was set in 2000.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has reported that the record harvest is good news for the state’s range. The grasses and forbs that sustain wildlife have been stressed by severe drought conditions while supporting a growing herd of elk for the past several years. While there are some areas in the state where elk populations have reached objectives, there are others where population levels are too high to maintain healthy range conditions.

“The drought conditions that have persisted through the past couple of years have caused wildlife managers to reassess our harvest and herd objectives for elk,” said Rick Kahn, a field management supervisor for the DOW. “There may well be less habitat and food available now than three years ago. This can result in more conflicts with private land, more conflicts between species such as elk and mule deer, and a potential reduction in the overall condition of the animals.”
Deer hunters also were successful in 2002 with a harvest of more than 35,000 animals. There were 32,634 deer taken in 2001.

Hunters planning to hunt big game in Colorado this fall need to be aware of the application deadline of April 1, which applies to any hunter wanting to apply for a specific limited big game license or preference point. As usual, there will be over-the-counter elk and bear licenses available for many areas.






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