Little Molas fee decision appealed

A challenge to a local fee-demo proposal has surfaced with the filing of an appeal this week protesting the Forest Service's decision to develop a new fee area at Little Molas Lake. Under the proposal, the San Juan National Forest would improve the campground and day-use area near Molas Pass and start charging for picnicking, day use and camping.

One of 12 co-appellants, Kitty Benzar, of Durango, commented, "There are plenty of options for those who want developed recreation and are willing to pay for it, but Little Molas is one of the last places where low-income and working people can still camp and picnic in a such a beautiful place on their public lands for free."

The Forest Service plan calls for a 20-site campground, a fee-collection kiosk, a potable water system and a day-use picnic area at the lake, as well as a parking lot beside Highway 550. Three new toilets are planned, including one at the highway parking lot. A private, for-profit company would manage both day use and camping. Camping would cost about $10-$12 and picnicking would cost $5-$6. Fees would be set by the concessionaire and could be raised without public input. The plan would cost $700,000 to implement.

A scaled-back plan to rehabilitate the area's vegetation, designate 15 primitive camping spots, replace the existing toilet and improve the access road is favored by the group of 12 appellants. The more moderate plan, known as Alternative 3, would cost $163,000 and leave access to the area free for campers and day users.

"The overwhelming majority of those who commented favored rehabilitation, not development," said Ron DeWitz, of Silverton, another co-appellant. "The Forest Service decision ignored the fact that public opinion was overwhelmingly against their plan, while overwhelmingly favoring Alternative 3. This decision was a done deal and the public comment period was nothing but a sham. We know that the Little Molas Lake area needs rehabilitation, but their plan is way over the top."

Two co-founders of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, Benzar and Robert Funkhouser, of Norwood, are among the 12 appellants, as are DeWitz and several other Silverton residents, including Silverton Mayor Jim Huffman, Town Councilor Dave Fiddler and San Juan County Commissioner Terry Rhoades.

Law officers encounter average rally

Law enforcement officers in and around La Plata County had their hands full over Labor Day Weekend, primarily with the two motorcycle rallies taking place in the region. However, local officers said that last weekend was no worse than past years and characterized the visitors as generallygood natured and law abiding, though the sheer numbers resulted in challenges.

La Plata County Sheriff's Lt. Dan Bender said: "It was close to average with the previous year. One comment that I heard was that it seemed like there were an awful lot of people in the county but they were spread out."

Over the course of the three-day weekend, Colorado State Patrol made approximately 400 traffic contacts in La Plata, Montezuma and Archuleta counties.It also responded to 10 traffic accidents and made eight arrests.

During the Rally in the Rockies' Canned Heat concert Saturday evening, which reportedly drew 10,000 participants, the IgnacioPolice Department responded to 40 incidents in a five-hour span.The La Plata County Sheriff's Officealso had several four-person teams on the rally grounds and removedseveral people for weapons violations and helped break upa few fights.

Over the weekend, Southern Ute Tribal Police responded to 103 calls and made 23 arrests, and the Durango Police Department made five DUI arrests and three other arrests on drug-related charges. Throughout the weekend, the jails in Durango and Ignacio were full.

In spite of the many calls,law enforcement personnel from several agencies agreed that visitors this year seemed to be more polite and appreciative of the large presence of uniformed officers.

Bender noted that while many people single out visiting motorcyclists, Labor Day Weekend has always been a busy time for local officers. "Even before the motorcycle rally came to La Plata County in the early 1990s, Labor Day Weekend was a very busy time for us. Adding the rally on top of it really stretches us thin."

Three new West Nile cases detected

Three new human cases of West Nile infection were diagnosed in La Plata County early this week. The San Juan Basin Health Department reported that a 29-year-old Durango man and a 21-year-old Bayfield man tested positive for West Nile meningitis, an inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord. Both received treatment and are at home recovering.

A tourist from Wisconsin also was diagnosed with West Nile fever, but most likely acquired her infection elsewhere. These new infections bring the total number of human West Nile infections diagnosed in Durango this summer to five, three of whom are La Plata County residents.

The health department also continues to receive reports of additional West Nile-positive horses and birds. Because of this increase in activity, precautions to limit exposure to mosquito bites are strongly encouraged. These recommendations include limiting outdoor activities during dawn and dusk, using insect repellent containing the chemical DEET in concentrations between 10 percent and 30 percent, and wearing long sleeves and long pants when outdoors.

For more information, call 247-5702.

County study finds jail conditions safe

Conditions at the La Plata County Detention Facility continue to be safe for inmates and employees. Spurred by fears of environmental contamination, the county recently completed a preliminary analysis of the soil and ground water at the Bodo Industrial Park site.

The investigation was prompted by concerns that the facility's prior owner may have used solvents in its manufacturing process that may not have been properly disposed of.That owner was a manufacturing business called Plummer Precision Optics West, Inc. (a division of Redfield Co.) that made lenses for rifle scopes.

The investigation, conducted by Plateau Environmental Services, found low levels of groundwater pollution. "Low levels of solvents (primarily trichloroethylene) were detected in some of the soil and ground water samples," reported Michael Matheson, principal of Plateau Environmental Services. "However, Bodo Industrial Park is served by a municipal water system, which is not impacted by groundwater."

The Colorado Department of Health has been notified, and county staff is working closely with Plateau Environmental Services to define the extent of the contamination and to develop remediation plans. La Plata County also commissioned an indoor environmental assessment of the sheriff's administrative offices and detected the presence of molds in isolated areas.

"La Plata County has exercised due diligence to thoroughly investigate the potential improper disposal of solvents at the site and other interior environmental concerns," County Manager Michael Scannell said.

Junction Creek campground to close

Durango's principle primitive campground will close early this season and remain closed through next season. The San Juan National Forest has announced that the Junction Creek Campground will cease operation Sept. 15 so that a new water system can be installed.

Construction of the water system will continue this fall for as long as weather permits. The campground also will be closed next year while construction of the water system continues and a remodel of campground facilities begins. The newly renovated Junction Creek Campground is expected to reopen the summer of 2005. In the meantime, dispersed camping with no facilities will be allowed 8 miles up Junction Creek Road, above the Animas Overlook.Dispersed camping will not be allowed below the Animas Overlook in the Junction Creek drainage.

compiled by Will Sands





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