FLC cyclo-x takes on nation

A big roster of Durango cyclists once again braved freezing temperatures on knobby tires in pursuit of stars and stripes. A large contingent of local riders went up against the best in the country at last weekend’s Cyclocross National Championships in Bend, Ore.

For many riders, cyclocross fills the fall and winter shoulder seasons as they negotiate precarious courses on skinny but knobby tires. Barriers and obstacles are also thrown into the mix, forcing riders out of the saddle and adding a running component to the two-wheeled discipline. Cross courses are often sadistically difficult, and crashes, cold and injury are all offshoots of cyclocross culture. Last weekend, riders from throughout the U.S. lined up for the nation’s biggest cyclocross race, and Durango and Fort Lewis College were well represented at the starting line.

Fort Lewis College sent a van full of racers to Bend in a bid to recapture the team collegiate cyclocross title from archrival Lees-McRae College. The Collegiate Division I men’s contest proved to be an epic battle between Durango’s Ben Sonntag, last year’s silver medalist, and the University of Washington-Seattle’s Zach McDonald, last year’s junior 17-18 national champion. Sonntag built an early lead, but McDonald slowly chipped away and caught the powerful FLC rider. The final laps were two of the most exciting of the event, with McDonald and Sonntag battling back-and-fourth to the delight of the crowd. Into the final straight away, the pair was neck-and-neck with the smaller McDonald surging at the line to take the victory.

In the women’s race, FLC’s Teal Stetson-Lee provided a dramatic finish, running her bike across for the win following a mechanical on the final lap. Durango’s Magen Long edged a Lees-McRae rider for the bronze. Strong finishes by Rotem Ishay, Lucas Perez and several other FLC riders also propelled their team ahead of Lees McRae and into an overall title. Fort Lewis settled for the runner-up spot in the last two years’ Cross Nationals.

Several Durangoans also returned home sporting the stars and stripes and national titles. Grant Berry, who rides for Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, took first among Men 30-34. In 2007, he narrowly missed the title and settled for second.

Durango Wheel Clubber Martha Iverson took first for the Masters Women, 60-64. And Durango once again boasted the eldest national cyclocross champion with 76-year-old Walt Axthelm bringing home gold in the Masters Men 75+ division.


SJCA wins air quality settlement

A local conservation group is celebrating a victory that promises to echo throughout the nation. This week, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, along with WildEarth Guardians, announced a settlement that will limit pollution from oil and gas drilling.

In January of this year, SJCA and WildEarth Guardians filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency over their failure to update federal regulations limiting air pollution from oil and gas drilling operations. The groups alleged that current regulations have not kept pace with science and technology and have failed to limit emissions of several toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases. The settlement secured a commitment from the EPA to review and update the regulations.

“The oil and gas industry is held to outdated air quality standards that fail to address increased air pollution emissions from expedited drilling,” said Mike Eisenfeld, Energy Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “This settlement puts us on track to ensure that clean air safeguards are updated to meet modern standards for protecting our health and welfare.”

Diminishing air quality in the Four Corners provided part of the inspiration for the suit. Nearby San Juan County, in northwestern New Mexico, is home to more than 18,000 oil and gas wells and is the second-largest producing natural gas field in the United States. Many wells in San Juan County produce hydrogen sulfide, and the smelly gas can cause difficulty breathing and headaches at low levels and can be lethal at high levels. According to the Bureau of Land Management, there are more than 375 wells that release hydrogen sulfide in San Juan County, yet current federal regulations do not limit hydrogen sulfide from individual wells. Oil and gas drilling has also been linked to rising smog levels in the region, and drilling accounts for the second-largest source of greenhouse gases in the Four Corners.

“Oil and gas drilling poses myriad threats to public health and welfare,” said Robin Cooley, attorney with Earthjustice. “It’s time to ensure it does not come at the expense of our prosperity.”

Desert Rock fight goes to NYC

The fight against Desert Rock went to New York City this week. Activists from New Mexico and throughout the nation converged on the Park Avenue headquarters of the Blackstone Group, the financial backer of the controversial power plant.

In 2007, Blackstone bought an 80 percent share in energy development company Sithe Global. Sithe currently has plans to build three large coal-fired power plants, including Desert Rock. The 1,500 megawatt Desert Rock is proposed for Navajo land southwest of Farmington. If built, the $3.6 billion plant would be among the largest in the nation and provide electricity for 1.5 million customers in the West’s large, urban areas. However, Desert Rock suffered a potentially fatal blow in late September, when the Environmental Protection Agency revoked the controversial power plant’s permit, sending it back to square one of the review process. In addition, a bid by the plant for stimulus funding to cover the costs of carbon capture was rejected last week.

“Desert Rock is fraught with ineptitude and inadequacies,” said Lori Goodman, of the Navajo advocacy group Diné CARE. “This plant should never have been proposed in the first place, and yet Sithe and Blackstone continue to grasp at imaginary straws to try to keep the project alive.”

Rob Disney, Sierra Club organizer, noted that coal-fired power is on its way out in America, pointing to more than 100 proposed plants that have been postponed or shelved in recent years.

“New coal plants have dropped like flies in the last three years,” he said. “Public sentiment against new coal has grown tremendously since that time. And with a renewed emphasis by this administration on clean energy while protecting public health and our planet, the regulatory process is no longer favorable toward shady deals and dirty coal like it was during the Bush years.”

Seasonal trail closures make return

Winter’s sudden arrival has brought seasonal trail closures with it. Several Bureau of Land Management lands adjacent to Durango have been closed to provide safe havens for wintering deer and elk. As in past years, portions of Animas City Mountain and the Grandview Ridge area are currently closed to the public. 

The Sale Barn and Big Canyon trailheads off U.S. Hwy 160 are closed, though the Carbon Junction Trail remains open from Highway 3 to Crites Connect. Crites is open where it intersects with Telegraph Trail leading into Horse Gulch. However, South Rim Trail, Sidewinder and other trails on BLM lands are off limits.

As for Animas Mountain, a 1.5-mile trail loop on the lower portion of the mountain remains open. This loop can be accessed at either the Birkett or 32nd Street trailheads. Signs are posted at the top of the loop indicating the extent of the closure area.

The seasonal closures will likely remain in effect until March or April, depending on how soon the snow melts and when spring forage becomes available to the herds.

– Will Sands




In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows