USFS retiree accused of impropriety

A former San Juan National Forest employee has been charged with conflict of interest as it relates to drilling in the HD Mountains, east of Bayfield. The HD Mountains Coalition has called into question the actions of Dick Bell, who now consults for one of the energy companies with a lease to drill in the roadless area. The agency denies any wrongdoing, saying the matter is entirely the employee's responsibility.

The Forest Service is currently analyzing the environmental validity of natural gas exploration in the HD Mountains. The companies BP America, Pure Resources, XTO Energy, Elmridge Resources, Petrox Resources and Exok have proposed developing approximately 300 new coalbed methane wells in the region. More than 100 of these wells would be located in the HD Mountains. Conservationists and residents have charged that these gas wells would threaten stands of old-growth ponderosa pine, abundant wildlife and the very health and safety of their homes and families. The proposal would also put 60 miles of new roads into a designated roadless area.

Now the HD Mountains Coalition, a group opposed to the drilling, has accused former Forest Service employee, Dick Bell, of impropriety. Bell retired from work with the San Juan National Forest in January of 2003 and started consulting with Petrox Resources in June of this year. In late August, the coalition sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture saying that the arrangement is a violation of federal ethics and calling for an investigation of the situation.

Janine Fitzgerald, president of the coalition, wrote, "Specifically, we believe that the consulting relationship between former employee Richard Bell and his current client, Petrox Resources Inc., poses a severe violation of federal ethics laws."

The issue also arose during an Aug. 18 public meeting on the HDs. A member of the public commented, "One of our problems in looking at this process is that it appears that the Forest Service is very much in bed with industry. We have people who worked for the Forest Service who are now lobbying for industry."

Bell was on hand and replied to the charge, saying, "I was approached by industry and asked to work to provide surface management activities and advice. My first reaction was, I can't, but I checked with the personnel officer to find out what limitations I had on me as a retired Forest Service employee. I was told I could work on certain types of projects."

Ann Bond, spokeswoman for the San Juan National Forest, said that the ball is entirely in Bell's court. "It's the responsibility of ex-employees to determine whether they can consult without violating the rules," she said. "It's not something the agency gets involved in judging."

Pertussis continues its local spread

With no new local cases in the last week and cold temperatures forcing a drop in mosquito numbers, West Nile Virus appears to be winding down in La Plata County. However, another deadly disease is stepping in and filling the void. The San Juan Basin Health Department reports that pertussis (whooping cough) is continuing to spread in La Plata County.

Definitive numbers are not currently available, but the Health Department is investigating 10 possible new cases in addition to the nine confirmed cases that were reported earlier this month.

"The concern is that a person who has pertussis will infect other people, especially infants," said Joe Fowler, regional epidemiologist. Pertussis can be a serious, even life-threatening illness, for babies. As a result, the Health Department urges anyone experiencing symptoms of pertussis to contact their doctor as soon as possible.

Early symptoms are similar to the common cold (stuffy nose, red eyes, sore throat) and progress to repeated episodes of uncontrolled coughing so severe that they may result in vomiting, difficulty inhaling (which produces a whooping sound) or periods of not being able to breathe at all.

"It is important for people to know that it is very easy to spread this illness and without treatment people can infect each other for up to three weeks. Even with medical treatment, a person is still infectious for five days," Fowler said.

Whooping cough, a bacterial infection, has been on the rise over the past several years. Pertussis is most severe in infants and young children, with a fatality rate of up to 1 percent in infants. The disease can last six to 10 weeks and passes through close contact with an infected person. Antibiotics don't shorten the course of disease but decrease the time when that person is contagious.

Children under 7 years can receive a pertussis vaccine. There is no immunization for adults. For information, call 247-5702.

Body of missing hunter discovered

The body of a Grand Junction hunter, who has been missing since last Saturday, was found late Tuesday afternoon. The body of 40-year-old Jesse Heath was spotted by search aircraft in rugged backcountry near Hermosa Creek and only three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead.

Heath had been missing since Sept. 18, when he embarked on a day hunting trip from a trailhead on Junction Creek Road, approximately 18 miles northwest of Durango. Heath reported that he was lost over his cell phone and more than two dozen volunteers from the Colorado Mounted Rangers and La Plata County Search and Rescue participated in an exhaustive search over three days.

Butch Knowlton, director of the La Plata County Office of Emergency Management, commented,"It was a difficult and demanding search in steep and rugged terrain for our volunteers, who gave their all to this mission."

Knowlton added, "La Plata County extends its deepest sympathy to the family of Jesse Heath."

An autopsy will be performed by the La Plata County Coroner to determine the cause of death.

Flower barrels win statewide award

The addition of flower barrels to Main Avenue and other efforts to revitalize downtown Durango have been given statewide kudos. Last week, the Second Annual Governor's Awards for Downtown Excellence gave "Durango Blooms" the Colorful Colorado award.

Bob Kunkel, central business district events and promotion specialist, initiated the efforts and explained, "The awards look at efforts that are helping revitalize Colorado's historic downtowns. We were the recipient of the Colorful Colorado award, which speaks to efforts to bring up energy and enthusiasm a little bit."

In addition to the 100 flower barrels that were placed along Main, Kunkel said that the city was honored for the purchase of the downtown stage, the 13-week Music on Main series and the "What's Up Downtown" television program.

"I was really pleased," Kunkel said. "I haven't been in the position a year yet and here we've got a statewide award, and we won the bid to host the conference next year."

City takes big technological leap

The City of Durango has taken a $330,000 step into the age of new technology. The City is currently in the process of installing a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) computer-based telephone system. Though expensive now, the measure is expected to save money over the long term.

"This is the biggest technology project in the City's history," said Information Systems Manager Eric Pierson.

The project is necessary because the existing City Hall and Police Department telephone systems were at capacity and telephones in all City buildings were nearing replacement age. The new system will link all main City buildings, most of the smaller buildings, the Durango La Plata County Airport and Durango Fire Rescue Authority (DFRA).

The cost of the City buildings' portion is $334,631, the Airport is $45,472 and DFRA is $32,892. The cost savings anticipated over the next five years is estimated at $162,000. "This is going to save the City money in the long run and provide better options for our users," stated City of Durango's Buyer Karen Herman. "We had an extensive process in evaluating other systems installed in the area and believe this system will help us to better serve the community."

Construction relocates Purg trailhead

Durango Mountain Resort's continuing expansion has forced a minor recreational detour. As DMR continues construction on Engineer Village, the Purgatory Trailhead has been moved from its current location. It is now located just up U.S. Highway 550 at Buck's Livery.

Hikers and horseback riders wishing to access the Purgatory Flats area, Animas River and Weminuche Wilderness via the Purgatory Trail can still do so from the parking area at Buck's Livery.However, the old parking area and trailhead are now gated and closed.

The new trailhead offers room for parking, and signs have been posted to direct users around the lake to quickly rejoin the trail. The trailhead will remain in this location until further notice.

compiled by Will Sands





News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index