Durango begins to darken skies


Efforts are being done to darken Durango’s skies. Many considered the passage of the Durango dark sky ordinance early in 2005 a loss, criticizing the law for being too watered down. Now, one of Durango’s biggest light polluters – the City itself – is cleaning up its act.

In 2002, the Durango City Council first proposed the dark sky ordinance, envisioning a steady change-out of all outdoor lighting in favor of shielded fixtures that would not dim the night sky. However, dark skies suffered nearly three years of bitter debate, revision and reconsideration. In February 2005, the Durango City Council finally adopted the dark sky ordinance, but it was a shadow of what had once been proposed. Rather than a sweeping measure to eliminate local light pollution, the new ordinance applied only to new commercial and industrial facilities as well as annexations, rezones and land-use applications.

Ironically, the City remains one of Durango’s biggest light polluters and falls under the restrictions. Hundreds of lights, including street lights, fixtures at the fairgrounds, and ballfield lights must be changed out, and the City, in cooperation with the La Plata Electric Association, has just reached the half-way point. LPEA had been implementing “Dark Sky” options on its own since 2000.

A total of approximately 900 City of Durango streetlights, which are rented from LPEA, are being converted to Dark Sky fixtures in seven phases over a seven-year timeframe, which began in 2005. Each phase involves replacement of roughly 111 streetlights in a designated area, plus 20 conversions in random locations where streetlights are in need of repair. LPEA is covering the labor costs to change out the existing streetlights, and the City has budgeted $20,000 per year to purchase materials.

“We became aware of Dark Sky issues through industry information back in 1999 and thought that it was a good thing to explore,” said Steve Gregg, LPEA manager of operations. “After considerable research, we decided at that time that with new construction we would only install the ‘Dark Sky’ or more correctly ‘full cut-off lenses.’ And, when an existing light failed or had reached the end of its life, it would be replaced with a cut-off light – that’s systemwide throughout Archuleta and La Plata counties, not just in Durango.”

This “as they fail” program within the City would have taken, based on LPEA’s estimates, 35 years to complete. The seven-year, cost-share program was a more amenable option to both entities. Currently, LPEA is in phase 3 of the plan, changing out lights in the bulk of the Historic Residential District. Phase 4 will complete the bulk of the downtown. Lights have already been “darkened” along U.S. Hwy 550 and in the Hillcrest/Skyridge and Fort Lewis College areas.

Giant solar plant breaks ground

Alternative energy continues to expand in the region. Last week, ground was broken on a new 82-acre solar plant in the nearby San Luis Valley. When complete in 2008, the facility will be one of the largest of its kind and generate enough power for 1,500 homes a year.

“This solar plant is another building block in Colorado’s New Energy Economy,” Gov. Bill Ritter said. “And constructing the plant in the San Luis Valley makes perfect sense because the Valley is the sunniest place in the sixth-sunniest state in the nation.”

SunEdison will own the Alamosa Photovoltaic Solar Plant and sell the power to Xcel Energy. The facility will help Xcel, the state’s largest utility, comply with Amendment 37 and the state’s new renewable energy standard. The standard, signed into law by Ritter last month, requires that utilities like Xcel obtain 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Pat Vincent, president and CEO, Public Service Co. of Colorado, an Xcel Energy company, commented, “By purchasing the clean energy from this solar power plant, we continue to enhance our reputation as a leader in the utility industry in

protecting the environment. We are committed to meeting our customers’ energy needs and to providing 20 percent of our power from renewable energy sources by 2020.”

In coming weeks, ground will be broken on a wind farm in Colorado’s Logan County. Ritter’s administration in also pushing quadrupling the number of E-85 ethanol fuel pumps around Colorado by the end of the year and introducing legislation to create a clean energy fund, among other efforts.


Russian delegation visits region

The Russians are coming. A delegation of 11 Russian accountants will visit Durango this week, May 19-26. The effort is part of an exchange to link American and Russian citizens with common professions.

The Productivity Enhancement Program is a nationwide program that brings Russian entrepreneurs and business owners to the United States to receive industry training in American firms through a cultural exchange. The Russian delegates visiting Durango are representatives of the accounting industry and will focus on learning the financial aspects of local businesses.

Business sessions throughout the week will introduce the delegates to companies including Mercury Payment Systems, Durango Mountain Resort, Brainstorm, Mercy Regional Medical Center, Brown Wheeldon Tafoya and Barrett CPA’s, and First National Bank. The delegates will also spend one full day at Fort Lewis College to get an understanding of accounting and financial operations in a state-operated organization.

“We are excited to finally welcome these industry professionals to Durango,” says Natasha Galston, an event coordinator. “The PEP presents a unique opportunity for the Russians to learn about the global community through a business perspective. It also provides us a chance to meet other professionals in our industry and learn about new and different cultures.”

While in Durango, the Russian accountant delegation will be hosted by the Rotary Clubs of La Plata County. The public is invited to help welcome the delegates to Durango on Sat., May 19, at 5 p.m. with a picnic at Rotary Park.

Local firefighters off to Minnesota

Five years ago, when La Plata County was struggling with the Missionary Ridge Fire, 27 states sent fire crews to help out. Last week, Durango continued to return the favor.

Two Durango Fire and Rescue firefighters left last week to help on the Ham Lake Fire in extreme northern Minnesota. Lieutenant Eloy Martinez and firefighter Don Baker took a six-wheel-drive brush tanker to help out on the fire. The tanker can take 1,000 gallons of water and foam directly to the fire. They will be working for a minimum of 14 days, before returning home or being sent to another fire.

At last report, the Ham Lake Fire had burned about 25,000 acres and destroyed 46 structures. There are more than 400 personnel working the fire with numerous resources.

Martinez is a seven-year volunteer firefighter. Don Baker just finished his rookie training and is in his first year as a volunteer.

– compiled by Will Sands


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