Initiative falls short for San Juans

A new initiative aimed at encouraging mine waste clean-up has been lauded throughout the nation. However, it may do little to help the situation in the San Juan Mountains.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Good Samaritan” initiative is intended to push the clean-up of the nation’s 500,000 abandoned mines and improve water quality and health as a result. It would hold environmental groups that volunteer to help clean up waste free of liability if there are future disputes over the pollution.

The Animas River Stakeholders Group is an unorthodox coalition that has worked for the last decade to clean up mine waste in the Animas River watershed, and for many of those 10 years, the group has been advocating Good Samaritan legislation. However, Bill Simon, watershed coordinator for the stakeholders, said the EPA initiative misses the mark for the San Juans.

“The requirements are such that you’re going to have to meet stringent standards that are impossible for most mines to meet,” he said. “It won’t help with any mine sites in the San Juans.”

The initiative is also impermanent, according to Simon. Unlike legislation, the Good Samaritan clause could be adjusted at the whim of the agency. “The main problem is that it’s an EPA policy and not a legislative decision,” he said. “It’s not law, so it could be changed at any time. It’s what we’ve always had, really.”

However, Simon said that the initiative and interest in it do represent progress. “The advantage is that it brings mine clean-up into national focus and shows that we need something better,” he noted.

In the meantime, the stakeholders and Simon will continue to push for something better. The group is currently lobbying U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., to shepherd Good Samaritan legislation through Congress. Simon indicated that Salazar is interested, but only if a bill stands a reasonable chance of success.

Local tourism director steps down

Durango’s efforts to attract tourism are again without leadership. Kim Newcomer, head of the Durango Area Tourism Office, recently announced that she would be stepping down. According to DATO Chairman Kris Oyler, Newcomer will leave a large void.

Tourism in the Durango area has experienced steady growth over the past two years and appears to be on track for a record summer in 2006, Oyler noted. He credited much of the reinvigoration of DATO to the experience and enthusiastic leadership of its executive director, Newcomer.

“Under Kim’s leadership, the Durango Area Tourism Office became stable and efficient,” Oyler said. “Kim built alliances within the community and the state. She created a great work culture for the staff that allowed them to excel and help improve our tourism promotion efforts.”

However, last week during the 2006 DATO planning retreat, the leader and spokeswoman for the Durango Area Tourism Office for nearly three years announced she would be stepping down. Oyler said her presence will be missed.

“It goes without saying that she will be sorely missed,” he said. “She leaves the office in a much better place than when she began. You can’t ask any more than that from a leader.”  

Newcomer will become the executive director for Operation Healthy Communities, the local nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the social, economic and environmental health of Southwest Colorado.

Berman lands La Plata Electric seat

After an unsuccessful earlier bid, Jeff Berman landed a seat on the La Plata Electric Association’s Board of Directors this week. Running on a renewable energy platform, Berman garnered the vast majority of votes, taking in 1,039 votes to retired LPEA employee David Rice’s 497 and local businessman Vijay Bastawade’s 147.

This election marked Berman’s second attempt at a seat on the LPEA board. Unlike his first narrow miss, he was gratified with the recent vote.

“I’m obviously pleased to have been elected by the members of the La Plata Electrical Association,” Berman said. “It certainly was a very strong vote.”

Clean energy remains at the top of the former director of Colorado Wild and current biodiesel consultant’s agenda. However, Berman’s first task will be learning the workings of the local electric cooperative.

“My first order of business is to learn from the other board

members and staff how La Plata Electric functions,” he said.

From there, he hopes to help get LPEA on an appropriate renewable energy path. “It’s no secret that I’m interested in various renewable energy strategies,” Berman said. “I think I can help the board determine which one of those will best benefit La Plata Electric and its members.”

Dallas air connection reestablished

Nonstop air service between Dallas and Durango will return this year. Durango Mountain Resort, in partnership with Adventure Tours/Funjet Vacations and Southwest Charters, recently announced the addition of the flights. Beginning Dec. 17, twice-weekly charter flights will arrive in Durango.

DMR CEO Gary Derck said that the resort is gratified to see the return of direct Dallas-to-Durango flights.  “We couldn’t be more excited to re-establish direct air service from Dallas to Durango,” he said. “With Southwest’s benchmark operational excellence and Adventure Tours’ 20 years’ experience in the vacation charter business, we look forward to making it easier and more affordable than ever for Texans to hit the slopes of Purgatory Mountain.”

The new winter service will feature a Boeing 737-300 with seating for 137 standard class passengers. Rates are relatively affordable at $399 per person for three days/three nights, $449 for four days/four nights, and $569 for seven days/seven nights, including air and lodging. 

Adventure Tours has a long history of flying charters to Durango, and in the last year of their service, 2000-01, their trips accounted for 14,200 skier days and an estimated $500,000 in local revenue.

City to unveil vision for downtown

The City of Durango is ready to unveil its vision of the downtown’s future. Next Wednesday, the city and the Downtown Durango Partnership will present the final draft of the Downtown Vision & Strategic Plan before it goes to the Planning Commission and City Council for approval and adoption. 

The Downtown Durango Partnership formed in response to concerns about the impact of growth on the downtown area. The partnership’s vision and comprehensive plan considers future market trends and economic revitalization strategies for the downtown business district. It also includes an urban design framework plan as well as a strategic plan that lays out how the long-range vision will be implemented over time. 

“It has been a long process, but we have a great product to present to the public and City Council,” said Phil Bryson, president of the partnership. “We are so excited to be moving forward and putting these plans into action and keeping downtown Durango the heart of the community.”

Numerous public focus group meetings and design charrettes covered topics from safe pedestrian and bike access across Camino del Rio and streetscape along Narrow Gauge Avenue to building heights and recommendations on future infill. 

The public will have an opportunity to take its first peak a the plan Wed., Sept. 21, at 8 a.m. at the Durango Arts Center. A copy of the final draft is available at River City Hall or at

– compiled by Will Sands



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