Growth initiative goes on ballot

The Citizens' Responsible Growth Initiative will go to the voters this November after Durango City Council agreed unanimously Tuesday night to reject adopting the hotly contested proposal.

Proposed by the Friends of the Animas Valley, the initiative would require a vote on any residential development requiring annexation of more than 10 units or commerical developments of more than 40,000 square feet.

In the past, councilors have gone on the record against the intiative, saying it would be problematic because of the lack of similar controls outside city limits. They also expressed concern that the initiative would actually encourage sprawl rather than control it.

In April, council member Virginia Castro called the initative "well-intentioned but misguided" and said on Tuesday night she stood by that belief. Other council members echoed her response Tuesday.

More than 70 people packed Council Chambers on Tuesday night, with many overflowing into the City Hall lobby to watch the proceedings on closed caption TV. Councilors listened to almost four hours of testimony from opponents and proponents. Local Realtor Ed Andersson came out againt the initiative, calling it "snob zoning" and a way to keep out the working class and young people.

After the meeting, Renee Parsons, president of Friends of the Animas Valley, said she was neither surprised nor upset over the council's decision.

"We actually prefer the initative be on the ballot," said Parsons. "Because we really want the city voters to have an opportunity to let the city know how they feel about the direction the city is going in."

Colorado tribe files for N.M. water

The Ute Mountain Indian Tribe is making water politics in northern New Mexico interesting. On July 14, the tribe, which is centered in Towaoc, filed an ambitious claim to water rights on the San Juan River. There is fear that the water grab will be linked to the construction of even more Four Corners area power plants. The tribe has claimed between 7,300 and 9,300 acre-feet of water with a priority date of 1868. The claim is being made at the same time that the Navajo Nation is working to settle its claims on the San Juan River.

Steve Cone, of the Citizens' Progressive Alliance, said that the Ute claims could muddle the Navajo settlement. "This claim has just become public in the last few weeks, and it's coming as a rather large surprise to the other parties in the state that have claims on the river," Cone said.

Cone added that the combination of the Ute claim and the federal government's yet to be made claim makes for a frightening future for the San Juan River. In fact, there are now concerns that there is insufficient water in the river to satisfy all of the parties.

"There's a huge question about whether the water supply exists to satisfy all of the claimants in the basin," Cone said. "With this recent revelation, that concern is heightened. Many of us are holding our breath now to see what claim the federal government will weigh in with. Those claims could be sizable."

Cone added that while the filing may seem distant from the Durango area, there has been talk of using the water for new power plants. With three plants currently in the review process and another two attached to the Ute water claims, Durangoans could see major impacts to air quality.

"Now the Utes are talking about a new power plant right across the border, and the Navajos are talking about another power plant south of that one," Cone said.

Comment period extended for HDs

Bowing to a mass of public and governmental interest, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have announced an extension of the comment period for a proposed 273 new gas wells in the HD Mountains near Bayfield. The agencies will now accept comments on the controversial Northern San Juan Basin Coal Bed Methane Environmental Impact Statement for an additional 90 days.

The Forest Service and BLM are currently studying a preferred alternative for 273 new natural gas wells in the region, with 25 directional wells that would be placed inside the HD Mountains Roadless Area. Conservationists and residents charge that these gas wells would threaten stands of old-growth ponderosa pine, abundant wildlife and the health and safety of their homes and families. The proposal would also put 60 miles of new roads into a designated roadless area.

Mark Stiles, San Juan National Forest supervisor, said that the extension is an effort to accommodate citizens and governmental entities. "We've heard requests from the Town of Bayfield and La Plata County, as well as local citizens, that they need more time to review the draft EIS, which is admittedly, a very large and involved document," Stiles said."I know many citizens and representatives of industry are working hard to prepare substantive comments on the proposal and believe our allowing additional time for them to review the complicated issues is appropriate."

The comment period, which began June 10, has included a public hearing, four open houses and two public meetings. A final public meeting, during which interested citizens will be able to submit oral comments into the public record, takes place from 6-9 p.m. on Aug. 19 at the San Juan Public Lands Center. Written public comments will also now be accepted through Nov. 30. For more information, log onto

Pot hunter busted in Bloomfield

An apparent antiquities smuggler was busted two weeks ago in Bloomfield, N.M. Bureau of Land Management agents seized more than 430 Indian artifacts estimated to be between 300 and 8,000 years old, according to the a report in the Farmington Daily Times .

The recovery has been called the largest on record and included hundreds of stone tools, trade items and cookware. Among the best items were a Din`E9tah gray pot and lid; blue and purple Spanish trade beads; a raven effigy; and decorative ocean shells. The items were all discovered at the Bloomfield home of 38-year-old David Major.

The BLM said that most of the items were likely stolen from federal and tribal lands in violation of the United States Archeological Resource Protection Act. Many of the artifacts were in plastic bags and appeared bound for the black market.

Mtn. Studies Institute moves on up

The recently formed Mountain Studies Institute is beginning to make its mark. In late July, the organization moved into a new home in Silverton, the historic Avon Hotel.

"We are thrilled to be in the Avon and revive an old building with such great history," said MSI Executive Director Ellen Stein. "Now that we have a home, we can finally announce to the world we are open for business, offering researchers, educators and students a place to meet and a place to stay."

The institute also has gotten a big boost from outgoing U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., who was one of the first visitors to the institute's new home. Campbell successfully secured a $500,000 grant in each of the past two years for MSI and is working to land another $250,000 for the organization in the upcoming federal budget. The monies will support the fledgling nonprofit's operations and programs, helping MSI move closer to its goals of supporting mountain research, science and education.

To date, MSI has established an extensive, educational web site; opened the San Juan Mountains Center in Silverton, a walk-in site for public lands and mountain information; offered a Mountain Education Series in 2003 and 2004; hosted field camps; and granted $80,000 to the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies and $63,000 to the San Juan County Historical Society.

Vallecito goes back under blade

The Durango area is continuing to feel the aftershocks of the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire. Early this week, work began to reduce hazardous fuels along the east side of Vallecito Reservoir. The effort was a two-fold attempt to eliminate dangerous debris from the 2002 fire and prevent another fire from sparking on approximately 160 acres.

The Forest Service asked that people recreating in the area be alert and cautious. The work should be completed by Dec. 1, and East Vallecito Road (Forest Road 603) will remain open, through there may be short delays.

"It will make the area safer in terms of wildfires, and it will clean up the partially burned material on the ground left from the Missionary Ridge Fire," said Craig Goodell, assistant fire management officer. "This project will make things more aesthetically pleasing."

compiled by Will Sands and Missy Votel





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