DMR taps new general manager

Durango Mountain Resort has filled a vacancy in one of its top executive offices. Hank Thiess, formerly of Wisp Resort in Maryland, has accepted the position of general manager and chief operating officer at the local ski resort.

Thiess is a 25-year veteran of the ski industry and got his start as an instructor at Keystone Resort. He has been ski school director at Alpine Meadows, in California, and vice president of resort operations at Keystone. Most recently, he served as general manager and chief operating officer of Wisp Resort in Maryland. During his tenure there, Thiess led the ski area to record visits, drove revenues to new highs, and implemented operational standards that led to increased guest satisfaction.

Thiess is no stranger to Colorado, having spent a bulk of his career in the Rocky Mountains. In addition to Keystone, Thiess also worked at Steamboat Ski Corp.; served as an examiner and board member for the Professional Ski Instructors Association of America; and graduated from the University of Denver with a masters in business administration.

DMR CEO Gary Derck said the resort expects good things from Thiess. “We are thrilled to have Hank join our team,” he said. “We know that his experience, innovative ideas and passion for the industry will help lead DMR to a new level of success.”

Thiess said the position will enable his family to make a long-awaited return to Colorado. “My family and I are looking forward to returning to Colorado and making Durango our home.”

As general manager and chief operating officer, Thiess will oversee all aspects of Durango Mountain Resort operations. He will begin full time in early September.

Ironically, Thiess will fill the shoes of Bill Rock who recently left the resort after two years to pursue an opportunity on the East Coast. Rock left DMR for a new job as vice president and general manager of Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia. When he announced his resignation in late April, he commented, “I love the people and the town of Durango, but I can’t pass up this opportunity to join the industry leader.”

County and BP reach compromise

BP and La Plata County are now seeing eye-to-eye on the energy giant’s bid to increase its local natural gas production. BP has proposed doubling the number of wells located on a 65-square mile area between Durango and Bayfield.

Earlier this year, BP applied to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to double the density of wells on the area rich in coalbed methane. La Plata County has agreed not to oppose the bid in exchange for increased road maintenance fees and environmental improvements.

The key components covered in a draft memorandum of understanding are: directional drilling from existing pads, limiting new pad size, increasing road impact fees, and addressing water and air quality issues.

Commissioners will now put the issue to the public. A public hearing on the compromise will take place Monday, Aug. 22, at 7 p.m. at the La Plata County Courthouse. A copy of the draft memorandum of understanding is available at

Three candidates vie for LPEA seat

An interesting election is shaping up for a seat on the La Plata Electric Association Board of Directors. Three candidates are vying for a single seat in the district whose boundaries coincide with the City of Durango’s. It is the only contested LPEA election this year.

Jeff Berman, Vijay Bastawade and Dave Rice are seeking the seat vacated by Troy Bledsoe, who is not seeking reelection. Ballots will be mailed Aug. 19 and must be returned to LPEA by Sept. 9. Only residents of Durango can vote in the election.

This election marks Berman’s second bid for a seat on the LPEA board. Clean energy is at the top of the former director of Colorado Wild and current biodiesel consultant’s agenda.

“I want to represent LPEA members’ substantial preference for clean and affordable energy while making practical business decisions that promote LPEA’s financial health,” he remarked.

Vijay Bastawade, the owner and operator of internet provider, also has an alternative energy bent. Bastawade would like to see the electric cooperative actually invest in alternative sources of power.

“I want to reduce electricity rates by helping LPEA invest in alternative sources of power generation like wind and solar and get more member involvement in LPEA by having open communications with its members,” he said.

The third candidate, David Rice, was a 31-year LPEA employee prior to retirement. Rice contends that he has the experience to sit on the board, saying, “As a retiree of LPEA, I have the knowledge to be an effective board member. Serving would fulfill my desire to give something of value back to the community and the co-op.”

The League of Women Voters will sponsor a candidate forum on the eve of the election. The forum takes place, Thursday, Aug. 18, at 7 p.m. in the Durango City Council Chambers. The debate also will be broadcast live on radio station KIUP.

Wildfire season draws to a close

Fire season appears to be mellowing in Southwest Colorado. Thanks to widespread rains, fire restrictions were lifted on San Juan National Forest and area Bureau of Land Management lands.

Officials said they were grateful that only limited restrictions were necessary and that they were so short-lived.

“We were really pleased that we only had to put restrictions on a such a small portion of our public lands this year and also that we are able to take them off so quickly,” said Mark Lauer, fire management officer.

This year’s fire restrictions, which went into effect July 16, applied only to an area south of Highway 160, from Highway 151 on the east over to Cortez and then to all public lands from Highway 491 west to the Utah border.

Even though it has been a mild season, firefighters have responded to more than 250 fires this year – 81 of them human triggered. Natural starts that were suppressed have burned approximately 2,700 acres, while human-caused fires have burned 334 acres. Wildland fire use fires, which are naturally caused fires that are allowed to burn to meet resource objectives, have burned approximately 1,200 acres this year.

Though restrictions have been lifted, officials said more fires are expected and encouraged caution.

Durango scores huge transit bonus

Durango’s public transportation got help from on high recently. U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., successfully earmarked $250,000 for local buses and facilities in the recently approved federal Transportation Appropriations bill. Salazar took advantage of last-minute fund availability during Congress’ deliberation to make it happen.

“When it came to my attention that funds were still available for transit, I jumped at the chance and made a special case for Durango,” Salazar said. “We won the debate, and now Durango will have a large sum of money to buy new buses and improve bus facilities.”

The Salazar earmark for transit is the largest federal transit allotment ever received by Durango. Hope Bleecker, city manager of parking and transit, was pleased by the news.

“The earmarked funds for Durango were a pleasant surprise,” she said. “Congressman Salazar’s action to set aside money for Durango Transit and other transit agencies illustrates his understanding of the importance of transit in rural areas.”

The funds will be used for replacement buses within Durango’s current fleet of 12 buses and help Durango Transit continue to use biodiesel. A third of the total fleet will be replaced over a four-year period.

Construction hits Telegraph trails

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Three Springs development is going to shake things up for the Telegraph Trail System in the next couple months. Utilities are being extended through the popular Grandview Ridge recreation area, and while no trail closures are expected, mountain bikers and hikers are likely to encounter construction equipment.

The Bureau of Land Management recently approved the construction of two rights-of-way across BLM land in the Grandview Ridge area, just south of Durango, one for a powerline and another for a high-pressure gas line. These utilities will provide service to the new hospital and other commercial development.

Hikers and riders can expect to encounter heavy equipment near the Big Canyon, Sale Barn, Carbon Junction and Grandview Ridge trails. There are no plans to close any of the trails, but construction activities could take place on weekends. Work on the gas pipeline should begin in the next week and be complete within 45 days. Construction on the powerline will start sometime in the next 30 days and take about 60 days to complete.

– compiled by Will Sands



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