A retired boxcar has found new life as
housing along Animas View Drive. /Photo by Todd Newcomer

Hut to hut negotiations get hot

Negotiations between the San Juan Hut Systems and the local Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management got tense last Friday. The San Juan Hut Systems is looking into expanding and would like to create a mountain bike route between Durango and Moab linked with backcountry huts. The route would begin near Purgatory, cross south of Lizard Head Pass near Telluride and eventually drop into Moab near the La Sal Mountains.

However, San Juan Hut Systems owner Joe Ryan has accused the San Juan National Forest and area BLM of dragging their feet on his proposal. During a meeting last Friday, he said he felt that the two agencies effectively rejected his proposal.

“We’ve come to them with a proposal for a special use permit,” Ryan said. “What they’ve done is say even though you’ve got a proposal before us, we’ve got to offer this up to everyone and do a prospectus.”

Ryan said he agreed to a prospectus but then was told that the agencies may not do one and needed 30 days to decide. He added that his proposal for a special use permit was then given a written rejection based on the absence of a prospectus.

“They’re not following due process,” a frustrated Ryan said. “There’s no question about it.”

However, the San Juan Public Lands Center has a different read on due process. Ann Bond, public information officer, attended the meeting and said she was surprised by Ryan’s reaction.

“If the agency has competitive interests, we must use a competitive process,” she said. “The proposal he submitted was returned to him on this basis.”

Bond noted that currently 183 commercial outfitters of all kinds operate on local Forest Service and BLM lands. “Recreation is big business in Southwest Colorado and there are many entrepreneurs,” she said. “By law, we need to make that fair and competitive. Within a month, we’ll decide whether we’ll offer a competitive bidding process.”

Bond cited Ryan’s history and existing hut systems hooking Telluride with Ouray for winter touring and Telluride with Moab for summer biking. “I’m sure that Mr. Ryan would be a qualified and capable competitor based on his past experience,” she said.

However, Ryan said he feels that his proposed hut system might be treated unfairly and that a prospectus would focus on general recreation in that area. “If they have a prospectus in 30-days, we don’t feel they’re going to review a Purgatory to Moab route,” he said.

With this in mind, he had a meeting with Senator Wayne Allard’s office early this week. “We’re staying on it, and I guess we’re making enemies,” he said.

Grandview moratorium extended

La Plata County voted to extend its six month moratorium on development in the Grandview area last Monday. Consequently, review of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s proposal for up to 2,500 new units in a new urbanism configuration and other Grandview development proposals will be tabled for at least another three months.

The City of Durango has requested that the county consider extending the moratorium because the city’s Grandview-South Fork Area Plan has yet to be completed. The county’s investigation into transferable development rights as an antidote to sprawl also needs more time.

Of the vote, County Commissioner Josh Joswick said, “What we set out to do hasn’t been done. We need more time.”

Joswick added that a crucial aspect of a TDR program will be getting the city on board since Durango will be asked to accept density so that county agricultural land can stay open. To that end, a joint work-session has been scheduled for next week.

“I think it’s going to be important for the city to buy off on it,” Joswick said. Joswick also said that the moratorium extension did not elicit a response from the Tierra Group, the tribe’s real estate development arm, even though some of its members were in attendance last Monday.

New coal power plant proposed

Steag Power, a German power company, is proposing to get in on the Four Corners electricity scene. Through a Houston-based subsidiary, the company has proposed building a giant coal-fired electricity plant near Farmington and a 470-mile transmission line from Shiprock to a substation south of Las Vegas. Though it has yet to obtain permits, the company has said the move was prompted by rising natural gas prices.

Mark Pearson, executive director of San Juan Citizens’ Alliance, said another power plant in the region doesn’t fit with an already dismal air quality situation.

“Farmington is almost over the limit for ozone pollution largely because of the existence of the two coal-fired power plants,” he said. “Building another coal-fired plant just doesn’t make sense.”

Pearson said that current ozone pollution measurements in Farmington have approached Los Angeles levels reaching 76 parts per billion. The ozone standard is 80 parts per billion.

Pearson added that contrary to statements that the plant would be clean burning and set high emissions standards, the 1,500 megawatt plant would be off the charts in terms of size.

“It’s a gigantic power plant,” he said. “It’s as big as they come.”

State gives Durango a hot-shot crew

Courtesy of a proclamation by Governor Bill Owens, a 20-person hot shot crew, a slurry bomber and a helicopter will be stationed in Durango for the upcoming fire season.

Owens announced the state’s new firefighting efforts on Thursday, signing a declaration which transfers $1.6 million in emergency disaster funding to fighting wildfires this summer.

Authorizing the emergency funds will allow the Colorado State Forest Service to contract for and pre-position three single engine air tankers throughout the state for early strikes against fires. The funds also will support the operation for ten new fire engines obtained by the state earlier this year. The new fire trucks, costing a total of $10 million, were purchased by the state with emergency funds previously authorized by the Governor.

“Despite the March blizzard, some three-fourths of the state is still in extreme drought condition,” Owens said. “While the start of this year’s fire season may be delayed, the fact is that we again have to be prepared to respond quickly and decisively when fires start. The steps we are taking today will help us control and contain the majority of fires before they can spread to more devastating proportions.”

As part of Owens’ declaration, the Durango area will get the hot-shot crew, a P2V slurry bomber and a Bell 205 helicopter, each with a three- to four-person full-time crew.

The basis of Owens’ decision is that fire risk remains high across much of Colorado in spite of last summer’s tragic wildfire season.






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