Durango meth ring dismantled

A major Durango drug ring and methamphetamine pipeline have both been cut off. This week, the Southwest Drug Task Force announced the conclusion of an ongoing investigation into a drug trafficking organization based in Durango.

The investigation, entitled Operation Escorpian, resulted in 23 arrests and revealed local ties to Sinaloa, Nayarit and Durango, Mexico, as well as New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California. The organization was first identified in 2000 and has led to at least 35 separate investigations since then.

“Illegal drugs are like a poisonous, three-headed snake that threatens our community and our society,” said La Plata County Sheriff Duke Schirard. “The first head is the criminal activity of drug-trafficking itself. The second head is the criminal activity such as theft, robbery, burglary and identity theft that strikes our citizens in order to raise money to buy illegal drugs. The third head is the suffering, injury and death inflicted on children, spouses, family and strangers by those under the influence of illegal drugs.”

Operation Escorpian began last June. In the last 18 months, the Task Force seized 9 pounds of meth valued in excess of $320,000 as well as large amounts of cocaine and marijuana. To date, approximately $94,000 in cash drug proceeds have been seized, including more than $80,000 that was found in a hidden compartment in a vehicle in Flagstaff, Ariz. Five weapons were also seized during the investigation.    

Since last May, the principle suspect, James Lee Butler Jr., was arrested three times and each time had meth and a pistol in his possession. Prior to his final arrest, the man shot at an individual, whom he thought was providing information to the police. Butler subsequently pled guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Of the 23 arrests, eight have been indicted and the remaining ones are in the process or have been prosecuted. Some have already pled guilty. The charges range from immigration violations to possession and distribution of methamphetamine.

A former member of the trafficking organization stated that this region of Colorado was selected because of its remoteness and the belief that the local people could be easily intimidated.

The Task Force has also seen an immediate impact from the arrests and the dismantling of the organization. A mid-level drug dealer, who was recently arrested, told officers that La Plata County users have been complaining that they have to go to New Mexico to procure methamphetamine because local sources have dried up. In addition, the price of methamphetamine has more than doubled in Southwest Colorado since the arrests.  

“The citizens of La Plata County are the winners,” said Jeffrey D. Sweetin, of the Drug Enforcement Agency. “Through their professionalism and dedication, the Southwest Drug Task Force has driven the price of meth up and availability down. Why does that matter? It matters because methamphetamine and crime go hand in hand.” 

The Commons get a solar boost

The Durango Adult Education Center received a $90,000 renewable energy advance last week. BP America contributed the amount to purchase and install a photovoltaic solar system on the roof of its new building, The Commons, located at 701 Camino del Rio.  

The Commons, the former Federal Building, is an innovative educational setup that is jointly owned by the Adult Education Center and Southwest Conservation Corps. The building will provide an umbrella of educational, career, technical, environmental and famil-support services under one roof.  

Curtis Thomas, BP’s director of government and public affairs in Durango, said BP, which is one of the top solar manufacturers in the world, jumped at the opportunity.  “We know these funds will help the center move closer to the green building standards newly constructed buildings are aiming for,” said Thomas.

Each of the 58 solar panels will produce 175 watts of power for a combined output of 10.2 kilowatts. Shaw Solar and Energy Conservation will install the panels late this month and they will go operational in January.

The contribution will also offer a shining example of how a 30-year-old building can be retrofitted to run more efficiently. The fully installed photovoltaic system will provide a 10 percent monthly savings in electricity costs at The Commons.    

“This generous grant from BP is truly a gift that keeps on giving,” said Paulette Church, executive director of the Adult Education Center. “By lowering the operating costs of The Commons, each partner organization can devote more funds to services and less to operating expenses.”

Animas stakeholders recognized

Efforts to cleanse the local watershed have received a top honor. The Animas River Stakeholders Group recently received the 2007 U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester award for Regional Partnership of the Year.

Toxins from hundreds of former mines near Silverton as well as natural leach have tainted the Animas River watershed for the last 120 years. The load was so heavy it has wiped out life entirely along certain stretches and tributaries. The Animas River Stakeholders Group was established in 1994. At that time, water quality in the Upper Animas watershed was so poor that the Animas River was considered one of the most deteriorated rivers in Colorado. The unorthodox coalition has successfully worked for the last 13 years to reverse the damage. Grouping a wide array of voluntary public and private interests, the stakeholders have had a profound impact on local water quality. In fact, in the last 13 years, the stakeholders have helped undo much of the damage that was inflicted on the Animas River over the prior 120.

On behalf of 35 groups including federal, state and local government agencies, the mining industry, environmental groups and private citizens, ARSG Coordinator Bill Simon accepted the award in Denver on Dec. 5.   

“We couldn’t have done it without the work of every single member of the group, especially the private citizens and landowners who are involved,” Simon said.

The group was formed to explore methods of keeping the watershed off the Superfund list. Not only did it accomplish that goal, but its efforts have ensured that funding has been spent on priority projects, regardless of land ownership or other concerns.

“The result is that water quality in the Upper Animas watershed has improved to the point where many stretches support trout and other aquatic life for the first time in decades,” said Matt Janowiak, of the San Juan Public Lands Center. The group has secured grant money to complete more than 55 cleanup projects, ranging from small excavations to large-scale water treatmentm and waste-dump removals and caps. More than $13 million has been spent since the early 1990s.

Purgatory rewards carpoolers

Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort is offering a green incentive to skiers and snowboarders. The resort has created a program that rewards skiers and boarders who carpool on weekends and holidays with the best parking spaces on the mountain.

During these times, Purgatory Village Parking Lot will be reserved exclusively for carpool vehicles that have three or more people ready to hit the slopes. The spots are first-come, first-served, and car-poolers are encouraged to arrive early to be ensured of a spot. The lot provides the closest access to Purgatory Village and the six-pack chairlift. The only other vehicles permitted to park in this area are valet.

“We want to thank our guests, specifically locals, who team up to help the environment by providing them the best access to a day on the mountain,” says Hank Thiess, president of resort operations. “If we can pull 100 cars off the roads every day, imagine the impact on pollution.” 

The carpool program began last Sat., Dec. 15 and will continue throughout the season.

– Will Sands



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