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A-LP Spending: Sky's the Limit

Dear Editors:

The stunning revelation last week that the Animas La Plata project will cost at least $162 million more than originally estimated startled both supporters and opponents alike. Everyone expected some cost overrun, but the sheer size of the discrepancy, and the fact that it comes after only a few months of construction, was shocking. For project opponents, it was a bittersweet announcement. On the one hand, we can now say “We told you so.” On the other, we realize our lobbying efforts to defeat A-LP might have been successful had Congress known the true cost when it made its fateful decision.

The Bureau of Reclamation attributes the nearly 50 percent overrun to three sources: errors and omissions in original cost estimates; new security measures required post Sept. 11; and the lack of competitive contracts. A-LP project manager Pat Schumacher, who oversaw the environmental impact statement in which the original cost estimates were published, remarked that he and his staff “Didn’t give (cost estimates) as thorough review as we should have.”

That’s unfortunate, because Congress looked carefully at those cost estimates in making its decision. Previously, the original, larger A-LP project lost Congressional support mainly because of its monstrous cost, which was projected to approach a billion dollars. In part, the smaller version was approved because Congress could swallow its price tag, albeit not without a bit of indigestion.

Some strong antacid is now in order. It appears that the Bureau, knowing that A-LP’s high price tag was a major obstacle to winning Congressional approval, lowballed the figure by at least 50 percent. Given the Bureau’s track record, it’s hard to believe that the latest guess is accurate either. The total may hit a billion yet.

In the halls of Congress, A-LP opponents argued that the cost estimates in the EIS were simply fiction, contrived by the Bureau to be low enough to justify the project to Congress and the Clinton Administration. The EIS included virtually no supporting data for the estimates, and the Bureau must have known its projections were baseless. Apparently it chose to mislead Congress, knowing that it would be easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact than risk losing the fight for A-LP.

Now that construction has started, contracts have been let and many tens of millions of dollars have been spent, Congress is unlikely to pull the plug. Schumacher calmly asserts that he’ll simply have to slow down the construction schedule by a couple years.

John Keys, Bureau Commissioner, says he’ll investigate. We hope he will, but it seems unlikely, as scrutiny is not going to be popular with Colorado’s senior senator, Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Upon hearing news of the burgeoning costs, Campbell, in his typical swaggering fashion, proclaimed: “I’ll get the additional money if I have to strangle somebody.” Campbell’s attitude has changed little since he sponsored the original A-LP. He’ll do whatever it takes to get his way. Apparently the Bureau of Reclamation also embraces this philosophy.

Recent corporate accountability scandals have demonstrated the need for transparency and honesty in matters of the public trust. It’s unfortunate to see a similar disregard for fiscal responsibility from our own federal government. If the Bureau did not know that its cost estimates were ridiculously low, it should have. In the same way corporate executives have been held accountable for their failures, the Bureau should hold its officials accountable for their errors. Congress and Mr. Keyes should demand it, despite the sentiments of Sen. Campbell.

– Dylan Norton, Durango

Feelingplucky: Ben Thompson, of Durango, relaxes on a Main Avenue
bench while practicing his guitar Tuesday morning./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

The return of "Nice Jugs"

(Editors’ note: The following letter is a belated response to a tempest that blew up in late January. The original letter cited a sticker portraying a naked woman riding a beer tap and reading “Nice Jugs...Show us your taps.”)

Dear Editors:

I’m a graphic designer in Portland, Ore. Back in ’97, while living in Farmington, I had the good fortune to meet John Silva and Bob Beckley, owners of Three Rivers Brewery. I was fresh out of design school, working for the Daily Times and taking my lunch breaks at the brewery. They offered me a job, and I accepted. I cooked, tended bar and designed a large portion of their advertising. After a move to Portland, I retained Three Rivers as a design client. Among the many jobs I did for them, was the “Nice Jugs” sticker that Beth Christie, of Durango, devoted so much energy to.

While I don’t share the sentiments of some of those who responded, I would like to say that my inspiration for the artwork was the circa 1930s advertising design that adorns the walls of Three Rivers. Anyone who has been to the Brewery knows what a magnificent collection of period art and advertising design they have. The Brewery was a pharmacy for many years, and the owners have done a great job of restoring and preserving these treasures for all to enjoy. The sticker was simply that, a throwback to a time that, while lacking equality of the sexes, was an amazing time in the history of advertising. This does not excuse the sticker’s juvenile tag line, “Nice Jugs, Show Us Your Taps,” but so what! If this sticker is a viable target of criticism, then so is every piece of artwork on the brewery walls that inspired it.

As I surmised from a search of the Telegraph’s archives, this issue has died down, but I hope to recast it in a new vein. I’ve recently been commissioned by Three Rivers to bring the “Nice Jugs” concept back to life. I can’t say in what form, or when, but I can say that I’m taking great joy in infusing the design with a little of the recent controversy. Ms. “Jugs” might remain topless, or maybe she’ll be in a state of near toplessness as she burns her bra. I can assure the Four Corners one thing, though. The simple fact that the art, whether it be to sell beer or simply art for art’s sake, will be popular long after Beth Christie’s sensibilities and opinions are considered archaic.

– Kyle Cole, via e-mail

G.W. brings it on himself

Dear Editors:

Who were the people that cast their vote for George W. Bush? I’m guessing it was a group of well-organized folks who thought it would be cool to be smarter than the leader of the free world. Because, really, this guy makes Ross Perot look like Pierce Brosnan. For example, take his recent response to a reporter who asked what he had to say to Iraqi guerilla fighters attacking U.S. troops. He told the reporter, and consequently the world, to “Bring ’em on!” Yes, that’s what he said. He told a group of people that get angry and blow themselves up to “bring it on.” Now, from Mr. Bush’s comment, I can extract his intended compliment to U.S. forces: “It doesn’t (don’t) matter who’s going to (gonna) mess with us, because (’cuz) we’ll take them (’em.)” That’s nice. But do we really need Macho Man Randy Savage teasing deadly anti-American foes. Do our troops need any more difficulty in bringing peace to Iraq? I can just see an American soldier having to hear that. In the hotbed of hatred for his country, with sand in his teeth, dealing with a war-wedgie that won’t quit, and his leader, from the comforts of his executive lifestyle, tells the Iraqi killers to “bring it on.” He should just throw a camel joke in there while he’s at it.

However, if there is one consolation, it is that many foreign newspapers have had a hard time translating some of Dubya’s dialogue. But with coalition deaths mounting in “post-war” Iraq, it appears his message came through loud and clear.

– Jared Ewy,

via e-mail




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