Local lawyer hears from Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court gave a Durango attorney a mixed bag this week. Matt Kenna, a lawyer with the Western Environmental Law Center, argued a case before the high court last fall. In their ruling announced this week, Supreme Court justices smiled on one piece of Kenna’s case but frowned on another.

Kenna is as likely to be spotted backcountry skiing as he is in the courtroom. The public-interest environmental lawyer is passionate about the outdoors from recreation and legal perspectives. Kenna and his business partner, Geoff Hickcox, have engaged in litigation on issues ranging from endangered species habitat to the Village at Wolf Creek to the Four Corners Power Plant.

On Oct. 8 of last year, Kenna argued Earth Island Institute v. Pengilly before the highest court in the land. In 2003, Earth Island sued the Forest Service over a California timber sale that was approved without environmental review or public involvement. The sale was part of the Bush Administration’s “Healthy Forests Initiative” and exempted from review in the name of reducing fire threat. Earth Island was initially successful in the courts, but the federal government appealed the decision up the ladder until the U.S. Supreme Court granted review. 

On Oct. 8, Kenna presented an argument that limiting public participation in Forest Service decisions is unacceptable. He went on to contend that the Bush administration was attempting to make it virtually impossible for citizens to effectively challenge any regulation issued by a federal agency.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Healthy Forests Initiative in a very limited 5-4 decision. However, the justices also rejected the attempt to create a broad ruling that would have severely limited citizens the right to challenge any unlawful government regulation.

“We are disappointed that the Court reinstated these harmful forest regulations,” Kenna said. “However, the Court’s ruling was narrow in scope and did not accept any of the government’s broad theories that would have precluded citizens from challenging a federal regulation except when applied to a specific project.”

Kenna added that curtailing public involvement was the most critical issue in the suit. “If the government had prevailed on its theory, citizens would have had to file thousands of individual suits to challenge harmful regulations on a case-by-case basis while the government could continue to apply the regulation even in the face of multiple court rulings finding the regulation unlawful,” he said. 

Kenna added that given the limited nature of the Court’s ruling, the regulation can again be challenged.

Arts Center director steps down

The Durango Arts Center finds itself without leadership after one of its most pivotal years ever. McCarson Jones, who took the job of executive director last summer, announced her resignation last week. “I have chosen to take this action to give myself the chance to be able to move forward in my life professionally and personally,” she wrote in a letter.

Jones took over from Brian Wagner last summer as he concluded his 11-year tenure as the Center’s executive director. She was chosen from 36 applicants and entered the position during a tumultuous time.

The DAC had just taken over the long-standing Diamond Circle Melodrama Theatre and completed a renovation of the theater to accommodate the addition. In addition to Wagner’s exit, Exhibit Director Susan Anderson had also departed, leaving one more loose end. The Arts Center also underwent a change in its “brand” identity and started leaning toward the performing arts.

Jones acknowledged the challenges of the past year in her resignation, writing, “This past year was a difficult year for DAC and all of those closely involved understand what I mean.”

A social worker and photographer by trade, Jones plans on devoting more time to freelance photography and her Red Scarf photo studio.

City touts alternative transportation

The City of Durango has taken another big step toward getting residents out of their cars. A new multi-modal coordinator has been hired as part of Durango’s ongoing commitment to alternative modes of travel.

Amber Blake has been chosen to fill this position and will start work on April 8. She will be responsible for alternative transportation planning, marketing and implementation, with a special focus on public transit, pedestrian and bicycle modes of travel.  

Blake graduated from Telluride High School and holds a master of arts from the University of Montana. She currently serves as Transportation Planner and manages the bicycle and pedestrian planning program for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

“The reorganization that resulted in a multi-modal coordinator is a direct reflection of community values and City Council’s priorities,” commented City Manager Ron LeBlanc. “There is tremendous support from the community for infrastructure and programs that support modes of transportation other than the car. This is part of the City’s ongoing commitment to sustainability.”

FLC professor performs at Carnegie

A Fort Lewis College Professor of Music recently performed in one of the world’s most hallowed venues. In February, Linda Mack took the stage at famed Carnegie Hall in New York City for the fifth time in her professional career.

In 2006, Mack was chosen to sing in the Carnegie Hall Festival Chorus for renowned conductor, Helmuth Rilling. This year, she was again selected to sing in the Festival Chorus and again under Rilling.

“Helmuth Rilling is just a wonderful conductor,” she said. “He is world-renowned for his interpretations of so many big pieces. The reason I auditioned is because I respect him so much as a conductor and a musician and I wanted to sing for him again.”

The selected piece was “Die Schöpfung,” German for “The Creation,” by Joseph Haydn. The piece takes nearly two hours to sing and is completely in German.

Before she could even start thinking about the performance, Mack had to go through an audition process that was daunting by itself. Months before the performance, she auditioned by making a four-part recording, which included a number of vocal exercises, a recitation of a paragraph of German, and two solo performances.

“I worked hard for it, but I feel really honored that I’m still able to compete at that level,” she said.

Mack spent a week in New York City before the final performance on Valentine’s Day. Each day was filled with six to nine hours of rehearsal and a number of other workshops.

– Will Sands