Judge rules against A-LP meeting

Opponents of the Animas-La Plata Project enjoyed a court victory this week. Last Tuesday, District Court Judge David Dickinson ruled that a meeting of the Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District had been illegally convened on Aug, 14, 2003. He ordered that the minutes of the meeting be made public.

A meeting was held at the Sky Ute Casino at that time to discuss large increases in the projected cost of the project that would divert water from the Animas River into Ridges Basin. The total cost projection had gone up 50 percent from $338 million to $500 million. Alleging violations of the Open Meeting Law and the Open Records Law, the Taxpayers for the Animas River (TAR) had filed suit Oct. 29, 2003.

Said TAR spokesman Michael Black: "This proves our contention that the A-LP Water Conservancy District met secretly in order to keep the true facts of the Animas-La Plata Project from the public. We hope this ruling will go a long way to ensure the public's right to information and participation. The (A-LP Water Conservancy District) hopefully, will no longer be a private club."

Black said that by law, TAR and the public are supposed to get notice of all meetings held by the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District. He additionally said that after receiving notice that a suit was pending, the district announced that a tape recording of the meeting had malfunctioned and the tape contained no sound. This in mind, Black said that the ruling is cause for celebration.

"This is huge," he said. "They convened an illegal executive session and they've been doing this for more than 20 years. We finally got them on it."

Air pollution limits snowfall

Air pollution from coal-burning power plants may be worsening the current drought. Scientists with the Desert Research Institute have established a link between power plant emissions and reduced snowfall. Working at a lab near Steamboat Springs, the team has determined that polluted air can cut a storm's snowfall by as much as half. In addition, the moisture content of the remaining snow can be cut by as much as 25 percent.

Dr. Randy Borys, of DRI's Division of Atmospheric Sciences, said this is bad news for drought-ravaged Western states that are dependent on snowpacks for water supplies.

"In normal years, you might not notice a decrease in snow's water content, but after five years of drought, every drop counts," he said.

Borys said that air pollution is not creating the drought, which is caused by larger atmospheric and climactic conditions. However, he noted that pollution appears to be making the situation worse.

The Desert Research Institute linked the problem to particles formed as the byproduct of combustion. In polluted air, the particles attract moisture and hold it. "This action prevents the water from gathering into droplets large enough to be removed from the sky by falling rain or snow," Borys said. "Instead, they just disperse and evaporate."

Borys concluded that the study demonstrates that clean air is essential to the health of the planet. Meanwhile, new coal-fired power plants have been proposed in several Western states, and three new ones have been pitched for the Four Corners area.

San Juan Skyway push sees success

Efforts to preserve large sections of land along the San Juan Skyway have moved forward. A current proposal calls for substantial land preservation along the San Juan Scenic Byway which loops from Durango through Silverton, Ouray and Telluride. A grant application for the proposal is before Great Outdoors Colorado and recently made the first cut.

The San Juan Skyway Land Conservation and Recreation Initiative has been seven years in the making. The initiative is currently seeking a $7 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to fund land conservation and recreation projects along the byway. By leveraging these funds against other grants and private donations, a total of $28 million would be available. Twenty-five million dollars would go to land preservation and $3 million would go to recreational facilities.

"The primary purpose of the grant would be land conservation along the San Juan Skyway," said Ken Francis, director of Fort Lewis College's Office of Community Services. "It would both preserve the scenic viewshed and help ranches be maintained as agricultural enterprises."

Sixty-eight concepts had been submitted to GOCO for a pool of $60 million. The organization, which is funded by lottery proceeds, asked 22 of these to put together a full application. The San Juan Skyway project was one of them.

Francis noted that several land conservation projects have already been identified. They include ranches near Mancos and Dolores, properties north of Ouray in the Uncompahgre Valley, and properties on top of the Dallas Divide.

The grant application is due Aug. 6, and awards will be announced in December.

Fire bans lifted on public lands

Thanks to widespread rains, fire restrictions on local public lands will be lifted this Friday. Restrictions had been put in place on lower elevations of San Juan National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands. In spite of the end of restrictions, fire managers continue to ask the public to exercise caution.

"When things dry out again, we will undoubtedly see some additional fires, but moisture should keep these fires relatively small and with the really hot days behind us and the arrival of the monsoons, we should be past the worst threat," said Mark Lauer, fire management officer for the Forest Service and BLM.

Firefighters have been busy this year putting out lightning strikes with most of the fires on single trees in hard-to-reach areas. Of the 250 fires in Southwestern Colorado this year, 11 were human caused.Natural starts that were suppressed burned approximately 250 acres, while human-caused fires have burned 65 acres.Wildland fire-use fires, naturally caused fires that are allowed to burn, have burned about 560 acres.

With increased moisture, fire managers are also considering taking a different approach to fire fighting. There will likely be more wildland fire-use fires and several prescribed burns.

Several other bans on Southern Ute and Ute Mountain tribal lands may be lifted this week. La Plata County is also expected to ease its fire restrictions.

West Nile Virus shows up locally

West Nile Virus has arrived in La Plata County. This week a crow found south of Durango tested positive for the virus, the second positive bird in Southwest Colorado.

Joe Fowler, regional epidemiologist, said that there had been concerns about an early West Nile season in Southwest Colorado. "This finding is not unexpected," he said. "Because of the large number of human cases in 2003, and the early cases on the Front Range this year, we have been concerned about having an early, and possibly severe, West Nile season in Southwest Colorado."

But Fowler added late summer and early fall are the high times for the virus. "Most West Nile cases usually occur between mid-August through September, so we are just now entering what we would normally consider to be peak West Nile season," he said.

The San Juan Basin Health Department reminds residents to submit dead birds for West Nile virus testing and reduce their exposure to mosquito bites.

For more information on West Nile virus, call SJBHD at 247-5702 or call the La Plata County and City of Durango Infoline at 385-INFO, Ext. 2260.

Missionary Ridge Road to reopen

After more than two years of closure, the Missionary Ridge Road will reopen on Saturday, July 31. The road was closed by the Missionary Ridge Fire during the summer of 2002.

Mark Stiles, San Juan National Forest supervisor, said safety concerns delayed the reopening of the popular recreation corridor. "We really appreciate the patience that the public exhibited while we worked to improve the safety of the road," he said. "We feel a lot more comfortable about allowing folks up there now."

Improving safety involved culvert replacement on Missionary Ridge Road and hazard tree removal along the Missionary Ridge and Burnt Timber roads. It took more than a year to install or replace the culverts that road managers felt were necessary to handle increased runoff. Contractors also completed hazard tree work along 16 miles of roads.

compiled by Will Sands






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