Lawsuit prevails in HD Mountains  

Health and safety have taken priority over natural gas extraction in the HD Mountains east of Bayfield. Last week, two area landowners and a local conservation group filed a lawsuit requesting an immediate stop to the drilling of two coalbed methane wells in the area. This week, a judge and the Forest Service agreed with them.

The lawsuit, filed by San Juan Citizens Alliance and two local landowners, Bill Vance and Julie Vance, charges that the Forest Service violated the law by approving the two wells without completing an analysis of environmental consequences and alternatives. The coalbed methane wells are located in Fosset Gulch, just east of the HD Mountains, which are at the center of a much larger controversial proposal for many additional gas wells.

As a result of the suit, the Forest Service decided to withdraw its approval of the two wells and undertake an environmental analysis of any future drilling in the area.

“This is a victory for protecting water, homes, people and the environment,” says Janine Fitzgerald, a landowner who lives at the base of the HDs. “These two wells are located on the Fruitland Formation outcrop, and even the Forest Service admits that drilling here causes methane seeps that risk the health and safety of area residents as well as damage property.”

The agreement also will have bearing on the future of the HDs and the plan for nearly 300 new wells in the area. Brad Bartlett, attorney for San Juan Citizens Alliance and the Vances, commented, “We strongly urge the agencies to take these analyses and citizen’s concerns seriously and adequately evaluate the impacts to nearby landowners, water and other resources before authorizing coalbed methane extraction. We will be watching the federal agencies closely to make sure they properly comply with these analytical requirements from here on out.”

In addition to the threats to public safety, the wells could also cause the drying up of domestic and agricultural wells, effectively taking private water rights from current landowners.

In a short statement, San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles said that the Forest Service now agrees that environmental analysis is the next logical step. “The Forest Service believes the analysis is the best way to proceed,” he said.


Three teen-agers busted for burglary

Three Durango teen-agers are dealing with the long arm of the law after breaking into “Our Little Shop” last week. Just after midnight on June 14, the Durango Police Department responded to the store in the 600 block of East Second Avenue.

Technician Gage Wright, while on patrol, heard glass break at the store and observed four subjects who appeared to be jumping out through the broken front door window of  the shop. A foot pursuit ensued, and a 15-year-old male was taken into custody. During a search of the area, a second juvenile, 16 years of age, was found hiding in the bushes in a back yard near the alley and also was apprehended.

After questioning, it was learned that a third subject had left the area in a maroon Ford Escort.  With assistance from the Fort Lewis College Department of Public Safety, the vehicle was located, and the 18-year-old driver was taken into custody.

A total of $850 worth of items were stolen and recovered by Durango Police. Damage to the front door and two display cases was estimated at $700. The 18-year-old was booked into La Plata County Jail for the alleged crimes of first degree burglary, theft and possession of burglary tools. The two juveniles were released to their parents pending formal charges.

9-R starts closing ‘achievement gap’

Durango School District 9-R has started taking steps to close the “achievement gap” between minority and Anglo students.

The district plans to undertake extensive teacher and staff training so that teaching, family-involvement programs and school-improvement plans include more “culturally relevant activities” for the district’s diverse population.

Teacher and staff training was the top recommendation from the Minority Student Achievement Task Force. The committee was made up of community members, parents, teachers and administrators and convened last fall to identify successful strategies to improve graduation rates among the district’s Hispanic, American Indian and black students. Task force members presented a preliminary report of their findings last week.

“We want more than the heroes-and-holidays model of inclusion. We want culturally relevant resources and materials interwoven into the curriculum and school culture,” said Jenni Trujillo, a Fort Lewis College professor and task force co-chair.

Superintendent Mary Barter formed the task force last fall after a report on the district’s Foundation Skills Ends Policies showed that the district’s minority students had higher drop-out rates, lower graduation rates, and higher suspension and expulsion rates than Anglo students.  

District 9-R Director of Secondary Student Achievement Judy Michalski, who served as co-chair with Trujillo, said task force members identified teacher and staff development as a top priority. “All of the recommendations are interconnected, and all of them rely on our staff gaining a better understanding of what our students need to learn,” she said.

Trujillo and Michalski both emphasized that the recommendations should be viewed as a starting point on a long-term effort to expand cultural awareness districtwide. “We don’t want this to become a one-shot effort that gets lost,” Michalski said. “We want our recommendations to be incorporated systemically into the district so that when we’re gone, the work continues.”

Superintendent Mary Barter commended the task force for its work and said implementation will begin immediately.

Agency looks into chopper crash

A helicopter crash high in the San Juan Mountains has prompted an investigation by San Juan National Forest officials. On June 12, a helicopter crashed near the Tall Timbers Resort north of Durango and on the edge of the Weminuche Wilderness. While there were no injuries or fatalities, the Forest Service has concerns about hazardous materials and potential contamination.

The agency’s first priority will be to determine whether hazardous materials, such as fuel or transmission fluids, have been spilled at the site and whether surface-water sources are threatened. If so, a cleanup operation will be undertaken at the expense of the private parties involved.

The Forest Service also is responsible for determining what type of removal is appropriate in terms of natural-resource protection and human safety, and overseeing the efforts of the private parties involved. Regarding removal of debris from the crash, the Forest Service may approve the operation as an “Emergency Removal Action” and bypass environmental regulations.

The crash site is located less than a mile outside the Weminuche Wilderness on the San Juan National Forest. If the crash had occurred within the designated Wilderness Area, the removal options may have been more restricted. However, that is not the case, according to the agency.

– compiled by Will Sands


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