Voters shut down health district

On May 2, voters rejected a push to bring health care to thousands of needy La Plata County residents. Fifty-three percent of ballots opposed creating a locally operated health service district, which would have filled gaps in La Plata County health care. Nearly 12,000 voters took part in the mail-in-ballot election

The proposed district would have assessed a two mill property tax increase to address shortfalls in local health care. Such an increase would have generated $4.2 million annually, and that sum would increase by 4 percent each year. The proposed levy would have cost the average county homeowner about $40 a year. If it had been approved by voters, the district would have increased access, affordability and quality of health care for county residents.

Though disappointed in the outcome of Tuesday’s election, the Health Service District Committee was pleased with the effort that got the issue on the ballot and raised awareness among La Plata County’s electorate.

“We ran a factual and ethical and very positive election, and we feel very proud of that,” said Marsha Porter-Norton, co-chair of the committee.

Porter-Norton noted that some residents likely voted against the measure because it entailed a tax increase. However, she also characterized the issue as a complex one and said the opposition smeared the effort with false information.

“I think this was a very complicated issue to explain, and we had an opposition group that was manipulating facts and putting half truths out there,” she said.

Porter-Norton expressed disappointment but was not willing to concede defeat.

“We’re holding our heads up high today,” she said. “While we’re disappointed, the access problems to health care in La Plata County are not going to go away. In fact, they are going worsen. I’ll be interested to see if the community is able to come up with a new solution.”

Among the committee’s goals were: partial funding of a community health center to address primary care for underserved residents; enhanced prenatal care and support; improved immunizations for children; in-home services for the elderly and disabled; inpatient mental health services; outpatient and emergency mental health services; and centralized health care information.


Drill rigs could hit Fruita singletrack

Oil and gas development is in danger of tarnishing a nearby mountain biking mecca. Drill rigs could be popping up north of Fruita, an area home to some of the region’s best singletrack.

In a coming auction, the Bureau of Land Management will offer gas leases on thousands of acres of federal land north of Grand Junction and Fruita. Among the areas on the block is 18 Road in Fruita, home to trails including the Edge Loop, Zippety Do Da, and Chutes and Ladders. The area is approaching Moab in terms of popularity.

Chris Herrman, president of the Grand Junction-based Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association, expressed his outrage at the decision, particularly considering the BLM recently ended a four-year planning process that dedicated a portion of the North Fruita Desert exclusively to mountain biking.

In a letter to the BLM, Herrman wrote, “The Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association Board cannot stand by and watch energy development destroy our quality of life and our sustainable economy.”

Herman goes on to write, “Development of these parcels could have a profound negative impact on the trail experience. Visiting trails users will go elsewhere to ride if the trail experience is destroyed by noise, dust, odor, lights, drill rigs, heavy trucks and all of the other activities associated with oil and gas development.”

The BLM auction is scheduled for May 11.


San Juan miners weigh comeback

Mirroring a trend throughout the Rocky Mountains, mining could be making a comeback in the San Juan Mountains. Surging economies in Asia are creating heightened demand for metals, which in turn is producing the potential of renewed mining.

Molybdenum mining at Fremont Pass, near Leadville, which has mostly been dormant since 1981, is almost certain to reopen in 2009. Likewise, Phelps-Dodge is showing renewed interest in molybdenum mining on the outskirts of Crested Butte. In San Juan County, where Silverton is located, owners of mining properties are examining the economic landscape, according to a report in The Silverton Standard.

“I don’t look for mining to make a quick comeback,” said Larry Perino, reclamation manager for the Sunnyside Mine, which is located adjacent to the Silverton Mountain ski area. He said environmental regulations are extensive, the permitting process lengthy, and both labor and affordable housing are now in short supply in Silverton. “You would have to see metal prices stay high.”

But Todd Hennis, who owns a variety of mining properties near Silverton, seems more optimistic. Hennis, who lives in Silver Plume, between Denver and Summit County, has been attending mining conventions in Canada in recent months in an attempt to probe interest.

Working in favor of renewed mining near Silverton is the high content of zinc in many of the ores. Zinc was recently selling for $1.44 per pound in London, almost three times the amount of just a year ago. It sold for 45 cents a pound when the Sunnyside Mine closed in the early 1990s. Also a factor is whether gold and silver prices, also common in the ores of the San Juan Mountains, continue to rise. Gold is now at $626 per ounce and silver is at $14.10 per ounce.


Water 101 seminar in the works

Water law, water history and water issues in the West are the subject of an upcoming course geared to local residents. The Southwestern Water Conservation District’s Water Information Program and San Juan Citizens Alliance are jointly hosting a “Water 101” seminar on May 12 from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

The seminar will be an introductory course on issues that impact Durangoans’ daily lives. Presentations will include: History and Culture of Colorado Water Law; Perspectives on Colorado Water Law; Water Administration; Conservancies and Conservation Districts; Bureau of Reclamation History and Purpose; and Municipal Water Perspectives.

Among the speakers are: Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs Jr.; Mely Whiting, of Trout Unlimited; John Porter, of the Southwestern Water Conservation District; and Jack Rogers, director of Public Works for the City of Durango.

Martha Gowin, water information program manager for the district, explained that the class is a good opportunity for people to understand the role water plays in our community and the complex way that we use our water.

“Water 101 is a great way for people to learn basic water facts and to gain understanding of the role water plays in our community,” she said.

The all-day event takes place at the Durango Recreation Center and includes lunch. For more information or to pre-register, call 247-1302.

– compiled by Will Sands


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