Missionary Ridge appeal unresolved

Efforts to informally negotiate a mutually agreeable solution to the Forest Service's plan to salvage timber in the Missionary Ridge burn area fell short this week. Appellants and forest officials failed to resolve concerns, including shabby analysis and social and environmental impacts, raised in the appeal. The Forest Service has proposed salvage logging of 13.4 million board feet from the area northwest of Durango.

Mark Stiles, San Juan National Forest Supervisor, argued that the Forest Service is not neglecting appellants' concerns. "The environmental impact statement identified those concerns, and we share those concerns," he said. "However, we feel that the Record of Decision already calls for us to address those concerns in detail as we lay out the timber sale on the ground."

The appellants asked Stiles to reissue a new record of decision on how to proceed with the timber salvage, but he declined. "The primary purpose of this project is to gain some good out of the fire by salvaging the wood fiber," Stiles said."The wood will lose its value very quickly due to decay and insects.Since our purpose is to gain that value for the public, delaying harvest by reissuing a decision and reopening the appeals process would be contrary to that goal."

Mark Pearson, San Juan Citizens' Alliance executive director, said that the opposing interests were unable to meet half way at the Tuesday meeting. "We discussed our concerns, and the Forest Service decided they wanted to stick with their proposed decision," he said. "It seemed like there wasn't any meeting of the minds."

Pearson added that none of the appellants' qualms about the proposal were alleviated. "We still have some major qualms with logging and road construction on those steep denuded slopes," he said.

As a result, the fate of logging on Missionary Ridge now rests in the hands of Regional Forester Rick Cables. A decision is expected by Oct. 16.

River Trails Ranch decision delayed

Public comment on River Trails Ranch, the controversial development plan for the vacant ranchland immediately north of Durango, concluded last Tuesday before another standing-room-only crowd. Durango City Council consideration will resume Oct. 14.

Earlier this year, the development team of Bob Wolff and John Wessman forwarded a plan for 800 homes on the 245 acres formerly known as the Kroeger Ranch. Seizing on the New Urbanism approach, the plan calls for a variety of housing types. The development plan also contains space for businesses, schools, parks and open space. Development of the Kroeger Ranch always has been controversial, and currently a group called Friends of the Animas Valley is challenging the development. Wolff and Wessman are seeking city approval to bring the ranch within city limits, a necessity driven by utility service.

To this end, the council has held three meetings on the annexation to gauge input from the proponent and the public. "The meeting (Sept. 16) was a continuation of the public comment portion of the public hearing," said City Planner Greg Hoch. "The hearing is being continued to Oct. 14 to allow for applicant rebuttal and questions from the council for the staff if desired."

Hoch said that he expects the council to either make a decision on whether or not to annex River Trails Ranch on Oct. 14 or within 30 thereafter.

A-LP budgets $5 million for security

Bureau of Reclamation officials revealed that a portion of the now $500-million estimated cost of the Animas-La Plata project will cover security. A month ago, the bureau announced that it had underestimated by 48 percent the cost of building a pumping station, pipelines and a large reservoir immediately southwest of Durango. A portion of the $162 million jump in price is a $5 million line-item to cover security.

Pat Schumacher, A-LP projects manager, was deliberately vague when discussing what security for the project will entail, saying only that it would cover, "any number of things."

He did say that the decision to spend $5 million on security was largely rooted in the Sept. 11 attacks. "The heightened concern with terrorist activity in the United States has caused the Bureau of Reclamation to look at all of its projects throughout the country and address heightened security needs," he said.

Schumacher added that the $5 million will cover safeguarding the project during construction and after its completion.

"The cost has been projected as being that much to cover security during the construction and adequate security afterward," he said in closing.

West Nile Virus begins to wind down

The rate of West Nile Virus infection in La Plata County appears to be winding down, although the San Juan Basin Health Department said that it is not over yet. This week, the agency reported that a Bayfield woman is the latest La Plata County resident to contract West Nile infection.

The 44-year-old woman tested positive for West Nile Fever and is home recovering. A 50-year-old Montezuma County woman also has been confirmed as having West Nile Fever. To date there have been 12 reported cases of West Nile infection in La Plata County, nine of whom are county residents. The others were visitors.

"Although West Nile season is winding down, it isn't over yet," said Joe Fowler, Southwest Colorado Regional Epidemiologist. "We could continue to see cases into October, and so people should keep taking precautions against mosquito bites."

These precautions include limiting outdoor activities during dawn and dusk hours, using insect repellent containing the chemical DEET in concentrations between 10 and 30 percent, and wearing long sleeves and long pants when outdoors.

For more information, call the San Juan Basin Health Department at 247-5702.

Vallecito salvage logging continues

Salvage logging, unrelated to the Missionary Ridge Timber Salvage Sale, continues on the east side of Vallecito Reservoir. The salvage work is taking place on 408 acres of Bureau of Reclamation and national forest lands and is working to remove hazardous standing trees that were burned in the Missionary Ridge Fire.

The Forest Service said that the project will be completed well before the opening of the East Vallecito Nordic Ski Trail System and will make skiing much safer for the public this year.

- compiled by Will Sands





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