River Trails Ranch clears first hurdle

The controversial River Trails Ranch got the go-ahead from the Durango Planning Commission on Tuesday. The board unanimously recommended that the City Council annex the 245-acre Animas Valley ranch into city limits, a step that would facilitate the proposed development of 800 homes on the property. However, the council will have the final say on the project and is expected to consider the plan sometime after Aug. 15.

City Planner Greg Hoch said that he had no indication which way the four-person Planning Commission would go. “I had no idea how the vote would turn out,” he said. “The staff never asks Planning Commission how they expect to vote. Our study sessions are always oriented toward factual information rather than positions.”

However, Hoch said that there was obvious consensus that River Trails Ranch would be an appropriate extension of Durango. “I listened to the four commissioners provide their explanations, and while each one expressed their own opinion, they seemed to reflect a consensus that this property was a logical extension of urban boundaries,” he said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, developer John Wessman also announced provisions for affordable housing. The city has always said it would require some component of affordable housing, and this week Wessman said that one-third of the 800 units would be earmarked for work-force housing. The details would have to be worked out should the development gain approval.

“It’s more significant than any other development proposal that we’ve ever had, and what was advanced became a condition of approval and in many respects raised the bar for future developments,” Hoch said.

If the proposal receives annexation approval by the City Council later this summer, development review will follow.

Animas-La Plata takes out KSUT

As crews work to reroute a major gas pipeline around Ridges Basin to make way for the Animas-La Plata project, a worker made a misstep last Monday. A piece of heavy equipment inadvertently pulled down some powerlines, cutting off power to Smelter Mountain and blanking one of public radio station KSUT’s frequencies for more than an hour.

La Plata Electric Association spokesman David Waller said, “Monday afternoon at 1:15 p.m., a crew who was rerouting the gas line pulled down two spans of line. They actually broke two poles and put the line on the ground.”

As a result, power was down for about 90 minutes, primarily on Smelter Mountain. One of the side effects of the accident was that KSUT’s main Durango frequency 89.5 was down.

“KSUT lost its main Durango frequency of 89.5,” said KSUT Executive Director Beth Warren. “Fortunately, we have 90.1 which serves La Plata County.”

A-LP Projects Manager Pat Schumacher said, “Apparently, that guy is no longer working for the crew.”

Local fire danger on the rise

Local fire danger is on the rise as temperatures continue to climb, rain eludes the area and afternoon winds dry out vegetation. The danger was born out earlier this week when lightning triggered a small fire north of Durango near Rockwood. Dubbed the Bear Creek Fire, the blaze started last Monday and only grew to a quarter of an acre before crews had it contained that afternoon.

While danger of local wildfire is growing, Ron Klatt, fire management officer for the Columbine Public Lands Office, stressed that a relatively wet spring has made conditions different than the banner 2002 wildfire season.

“In 2002, there was very little green-up and a fire could, and did, start most anywhere,” Klatt said. “This year, with the good green-up, fires haven’t spread as quickly and have been much easier to control.”

Fuel moisture levels from both live and dead vegetation have been gathered once a week from seven designated sites on public lands in Southwest Colorado, and the results are used to determine fire danger. The average current moisture content of perennial grasses and gambel oak is about normal for this time of year.A0Ponderosa pine needles, however, are extremely low in moisture and would be considered at a critical threshold for tree torching and crown-fire initiation.

Consequently, local land managers have yet to impose fire restrictions. “We’re reluctant to impose fire restrictions when the occurrence of human-caused fires is minimal,” said Mark Lauer, fire management officer for the San Juan Public Lands in Durango. “This year only six out of 65 fires have been human caused. At this time last year, 29 of the 42 fires were caused by humans.”

However, without some substantial moisture in the coming week, fire restrictions are imminent. “Fire restrictions will go into effect on lower elevations of the San Juan Public Lands the week of June 23 if Southwest Colorado does not see some significant moisture before then,” Lauer said.

Haflin Creek Trail reopened to public

On the up side of the local fire picture, the Forest Service reopened the Haflin Creek Trail last Saturday. The popular trail located on the east side of the Animas Valley had been closed because of lingering dangers from the Missionary Ridge Fire.

San Juan National Forest crews have cleared downed logs and debris from the trail and removed standing, burned trees along the trail for 4.8 miles from the trailhead on County Road 250 up to the Missionary Ridge Trail. Although trees that were expected to fall in the near future were felled, many fire-damaged trees remain along the route.A0The public is advised that trees in the area could fall without warning as roots become unstable during heavy windstorms or if the ground becomes saturated.

Crews are still working to repair the tread of the trail in some places where it has been washed away by debris flows.A0Trail users also are warned that the danger of debris flow still exists during periods of heavy rain in the Haflin Creek and other steep drainages in the burned area.

Six national forest trails remain closed to public access within the Missionary Ridge burn area. They are Stevens Creek, Shearer Creek, Runlett Park, Lake Eileen, North Canyon and Graham Creek trails. Closure signs are posted at their trailheads.A0

Police apprehend teen-age burglars

The Durango Police Department apprehended two juveniles June 5 and charged them with seven separate burglaries along north Main Avenue. The 14- and 15-year-old are suspected of breaking into Dalaneys, Still Smokin’, Fiesta Mexicana, Fantastic Sam’s and One Man’s Treasure, doing substantial damage to the businesses and making off with between $1,200-$1,500 in stolen property and money.

Detective Russell Lammon made the arrests and commented, “They hit two restaurants, then they hit Still Smokin’ three times, and they hit One Man’s Treasure and Fantastic Sam’s.”

Lammon said that investigators noticed matching footprints at all of the crime scenes and were eventually able to follow a trail to the juveniles’ homes. There, they questioned the youths who flatly denied it. However, after obtaining a search warrant, officers discovered a missing cash register in a home. Lammon said that on top of stolen property and money, the juveniles did a great deal of damage.

“They caused a lot more property damage than what they made off with,” he said.

Lammon added that it was incredible that two teen-agers could inflict so much damage. “We’re talking about a 14- and a 15-year-old, and these guys hit seven different places,” he said. “Now that we’ve caught them, it’s going to cut down our workload quite a bit.”

Formal charges for both juveniles will be filed by the District Attorney’s Office.

Researchers find more lynx kittens

Colorado Division of Wildlife researchers have discovered two more lynx dens in the San Juan Mountains near Durango and each of the dens contain three lynx kittens. This finding brought the total number of lynx kittens born in Colorado this spring to 14, by five different females.

According to Gary Miller, research leader for the DOW, the additional kittens represent a tremendous step forward for the reintroduction program. “The researchers are still beaming,” he said. “They have really poured their heart and soul into the program, and it is nice to see it pay off. It has been a long time coming, and it just goes to show that sometimes it takes time for animals to acclimate.”

The reintroduction of lynx in Colorado began in 1999. To date, 129 lynx have been released. However, prior to this year, there had been no documented breeding. An additional 130 lynx are slated for release before 2007.






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