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Growing fuel the right way

Dear Editors,

In recent months, newspapers around the globe have been reporting two new studies finding that biofuels production exacerbates climate change. We at San Juan Bioenergy absolutely share concerns about climate change and other environmental deprivation cited in the studies: the slashing of rain forests, the planting of the savannas, the diversion of waterways. Converting ever higher percentages of land worldwide to grow crops, whether for fuel or food, is a bad idea. Period. While we do take issue with some of the authors’ methodology and disregard for the fact that this was all happening long before biofuels showed up on the scene, most biofuels production isn’t helping the trend as prices (and profits) for both food and fuel crops climb. We never thought subsidies for corn-based ethanol, for instance (which at best yields 1.5 units of energy for every unit of energy put in, or a 1.5 energy balance, and constitutes the largest focus of the studies) were a good idea. Nor logging Brazilian rainforest to grow soy, or converting Southeast Asian forests to palm plantations. But as our supplies of oil, and later natural gas, diminish, we believe we will need some quantity of biofuels to run buses, solid waste trucks, snowplows, and even more to the point, tractors and delivery vehicles to continue to grow and distribute any significant quantity of food crops.

San Juan Bioenergy’s model gets it right. Our production facility – and the agriculture that constitutes the foundation for production – relies on land cleared 50 years ago, and in many cases 700 years ago by the Anasazi. Our plant is sized to fit with the agriculture in the area – assuming wheat, beans and other crops are grown in rotation with oil seeds like sunflower, safflower and canola. Our Phase I biodiesel capacity is just 250,000 gallons per year (virtually a pilot plant), yet oil production capacity is five times that. (Either can be ramped up as market conditions warrant.) Most of the oil we produce will be used for food, as sunflower and safflower especially are excellent food-grade oils, while we are actively engaged in dialogue with several waste grease haulers to procure used fryer oil to produce our biodiesel.

Meanwhile, we are very intentionally constructing an integrated bioenergy facility. Specifically, sunflower hulls will be gasified (the cleanest type of combustion available) and then burned in a boiler to produce the heat and electricity needed for the manufacturing process (bringing a vast reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel sources). Even more to the agriculture/climate change issue, we are now starting very real, on-the-ground R&D of future biofuel feedstocks that hold promise to solve these problems while providing vastly greater quantities of biofuels.

Specifically, carbon dioxide emitted from the gasifier flue stack will be used to grow algae in a pilot facility (algae holds promise for oil production, and thus biofuels, with much less land); waste-process heat will be used in a greenhouse to cultivate new varieties of oil seeds and vegetables (think fresh, local tomatoes in the dead of winter); and we are researching varieties and sites for jatropha, a tropical plant that grows on degraded soils (even mine sites) where otherwise little else, and certainly not food crops, may grow.

To a great degree, it was climate change concerns that first motivated the formation of San Juan Bioenergy. These concerns are not forgotten; they are an integral part of both our current and future plans. And once our facility is up and running, we plan to do a comprehensive study of the energy balance and greenhouse gas effects of our current and future operations. Stay tuned…

– Jeffrey A. Berman, chief executive officer, San Juan Bioenergy LLC

The race to corruption

To the Editor:                                                                                                                         

The Durango Telegraph profiled me in 2004 as a homeless man denied medical treatment due to cost. I never did receive the IV antibiotics the National Institutes of Health states brings a full recovery for Lyme disease, and I’m much closer now to needing a wheelchair. Our supposed liberal candidates, backed by pharma and insurance, will only perpetuate this evil system.

Specifically, Barack Obama abandoning Rev. Wright is precisely why I don’t vote. For 40 years, black men were deliberately denied medical treatment for syphilis by the U.S. Department of Health (for research purposes). All that time, nobody said a thing but knowingly looked the other way. Thus Rev. Wright’s suspicion that AIDS is a government conspiracy is not without reason.

In his NAACP speech (in Detroit), Wright made the distinction between European and African music. Which brought to mind Humble Pie – (white) English rock musicians – celebrating African heritage in Tina Turner’s song “Black Coffee” in 1973: “In America, well it’s the land of the free. You can get what you want if you’ve got some do re mi.”    

“Do re mi” is slang for money, but it can also be understood here to represent (white) European musical standards (different from African standards) which was Rev. Wright’s descriptive point. That there are differences but that does not mean difference is a bad thing.

Obama castigates Rev. Wright for his “performance” when he should be commending him for finally reaching people nationally with black perspectives of America ordinarily suppressed.

– Bruce Deile, Bellingham, Wash.

Kindred Spirits

To the Editors:

The Kindred Spirits Program at the DAC was started about 13 years ago when an adult peer group at Southwest Center for Independence asked for an art class that was not “therapy,” as the adults in the program were tired of programs that treated them as if they were constantly in need of therapy.

I, Margaret Pacheco, was approached by our then-administrator/director of the Durango Arts Center (DAC) Barbara Conrad to teach this class. Barbara did extensive volunteer work in the community to connect groups and to help in building our community. Her assistant was Nancy (Frederick) Conrad who will remember these events. She is still a vital part of the Durango arts community.

As the program progressed through the years, I let the students grow in the directions they were most interested in and discovered there was a strong love of drama and dance as well as singing. I have done a great deal of study in the areas of teaching adults and children and had learned that speech and language skills in particular are greatly enhanced when we use music and movement together. So the students helped me design a class called music and movement, and through the years, we created video productions and then went on to create stage productions for audiences inviting the APPLAUSE children’s groups at DAC to perform with us.

This past year, we became excited about the idea of creating a full stage production of a play based on a production by Long Island adults with disabilities performance of “The Yellow Brick Road ... a return to OZ.”

Until December of this past year, the CCI program has supported my classes by bringing students to the classes, and we were well on our way.

I miss my students and The Thursday Art for Kindred Spirits Classes are still occurring. The Monday dance/music/drama class is effectively discontinued until I know there will be participation. The DAC and the Durango Friends of the ARTS have supported our program all of these years. The DFA gave our class a grant to continue with our work and to create the play. We have support throughout the community to create a play. But we do not have the Holly House students attending. (Holly House is a day program for adults with disabilities.)  I hope this attendance will change, and that we can create the play this year.

Kindred Spirits does have a group of students who will be showing art on Main Avenue for the Durango Art Festival. I have an outreach class at the Four Corners Health Care Center and have many students in happy attendance on Tuesdays. Thursdays, any VSA adult or any child who is gifted may attend from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the DAC. For other Kindred Spirits outreach classes, individual or group, please call 588-2262 or 259-2606.

– Margaret Pacheco, via e-mail

A rising ‘Red Flag’


Winter’s generous white blessings left many of us believing summer’s fire danger would be nil. Not so. The abundant snowfall fueled excessive undergrowth that is now prey to spring’s fierce drying winds. Several “Red Flag” days have already been called for in Southwest Colorado, an area the Colorado State Forest Service ranks as one of the three riskiest in Colorado for wildfire. Fortunately, there are things we can do to lower the threat of wildfires to our homes and property. May, which is Wildfire Prevention and Education month, is a good time to gather broken limbs from your property. Cut and clear excessive brush near your home. Remove flammable materials like partially used paint cans, piles of rags, solvents and thinners from the garage. Call it spring cleaning or creating a defensible space around your home, it’s a task every property owner or dweller needs to make happen. For more information on wildfire mediation techniques see www.southwestcoloradofires.org

– Maureen Keilty, Southwest Colorado Firewise Ambassador

The Lone Angel of Reeb Avenue

Alice was seventy-nine years old and pushing a grocery cart

When I first met her on Reeb Avenue in the winter of seventy-two.

I was a street chaplain in those days and Alice owned the mission corner.

You couldn’t miss her sign which read, “Don’t forget Dorothy Day,”

Plastered in the front of her rusted cart.

Orphaned during the Great Depression and abused and ridiculed as a child

Because of her polio limp, Alice was one straight talker. She led a life of

Part-time jobs and meanderings. She reminisced of what she called the

“steady work days” at Buckeye Steel in forty-four and how she fell in love

With a man who left for the war and never returned.

Alice had the temper of Cain and the heart and wisdom of Ruth.

She stationed herself on the east corner of the settlement house

To shelter herself from the winds, and there, she told me stories of riding the rails,

Busting horses in the Dakotas and skinny dipping in the Ohio.

Alice had no front teeth and her smile was wide and infectious.

Everything she owned was in that shopping cart, even her best Sunday shoes

Which she meticulously arranged at the bottom of her basket.

Alice worked the soup kitchen but refused to sleep at the YWCA. She preferred

Her corner and a plastic tarp. The homeless, the dispossessed, the unemployed,

The neglected and abused, all loved Alice. I loved Alice.

The last time I saw her

She was smoking a Camel and had her arm around a run-away teenage girl. It was drizzling

And dusk approached. “You come on now and have some of this here soup – still warm

And it will make you feel better, child.”

– Burt Baldwin, Ignacio