‘Bridge to Nowhere’ survives legal challenge

Durango’s so-called “Bridge to Nowhere” got a little closer to somewhere last week. The Colorado Department of Transportation has successfully resolved one legal block to the rerouting of U.S. Hwy. 550 south to New Mexico. But don’t expect to drive on Durango’s monument to mislaid plans anytime soon. The highway realignment remains in a dispute that is not likely to be resolved anytime in the near future.

CDOT’s original plans called for U.S. Hwy 550 to be realigned along a more direct route in order to bypass Farmington Hill. To this end, the agency constructed the double-decker interchange between Grandview and Durango. However, several issues came to light following the beginning of construction: the private property proposed for the new alignment – the Webb Ranch – became eligible for the National Register of Historic Places; a gas well had been constructed in the middle of the proposed alignment; and the Webb family sued CDOT alleging that the agency had acted fraudulently during the planning process.

In 2007, CDOT initiated condemnation of a small piece of Webb property along U.S. Hwy 160 to construct a fourth lane at the interchange, and the family initially agreed to the transfer. However, that changed when construction began on the bridge and it became apparent that CDOT would attempt to bisect the remainder of the Webb property with the new road.

“In 2007, they started condemnation proceedings to take the property on both sides ... and frankly, we then agreed to let them take possession of that property early in 2008, which they had a legal right to do,” Chris Webb told the Denver Post. “Then we saw they were building the bridge instead of doing that work, and that’s when we started opposing this process.”

However, the court recently sided with CDOT and confirmed that the agency was above-board in its dealings. “The allegations of fraud and fraudulent behavior were found to have no merit,” said CDOT spokesperson Nancy Shanks. “As a result, the bridge will remain in its current location.”

Whether the “Bridge to Nowhere” will ever actually connect to a highway remains unknown, however. Archeological issues continue to threaten the possibility that the bridge will ever lead south to New Mexico.

“There has been some progress, and it is good news for CDOT,” Shanks concluded. “But we’re still trying to resolve the issues with the U.S. Hwy 550 connection.”


Study on hydraulic fracturing begins

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking a $1.9 million stab at hydraulic fracturing. Last Thursday, the agency announced a study on the effects of the controversial chemical cocktail.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracing, involves injecting water, sand and a proprietary chemical blend into the ground at high pressure to release natural gas. The EPA is initiating the study to uncover any adverse impacts the practice may have on water quality and public health.  “Our research will be designed to answer questions about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on human health and the environment,” said Paul Anastas, assistant EPA administrator. “The study will be conducted through a transparent, peer-reviewed process, with significant stakeholder input.”

Conservationists applauded the move as well as the possibility that the so-called Halliburton loophole might be closed. Courtesy of the loophole, drilling companies are not regulated by the EPA and not required to disclose the chemical recipes in use. As a result, people and ecosystems in proximity to oil and gas wells face exposure to unknown and potentially harmful chemicals. In the case of La Plata County, every single gas well has been fraced at least once.

“We commend EPA for investigating this controversial gas drilling technique,” said Jessica Ennis, Earthjustice legislative associate. “From Wyoming to Pennsylvania, people are worried about what this untested process is doing to their drinking water.”

Industry is taking a dimmer view of the study but countered that the findings are likely to prove that the 60-year-old technology is safe and already sufficiently regulated. Lee Fuller, executive director of the trade group Energy in Depth, commented, “We are hopeful, and it is our expectation that this study – if based on objective, scientific analysis – will serve as an opportunity to highlight the host of steps taken at every wellsite to make certain groundwater is properly protected.”


Discovery Museum nears opening

The Durango Discovery Museum is approaching the home stretch. The interactive science museum has set its opening date for October of this year, and recently kicked off Phase II of the ambitious remodel of the Powerhouse.

Demolition began in late February to clear space for interactive science exhibits in the Powerhouse and the Blockhouse – the project’s program, event, and office space. The demolition of the Blockhouse is being completed by Colarelli Construction with the assistance of several young men from the Rite of Passage program. For 25 years, Rite of Passage has provided programs and opportunities for at-risk youth.

Shawn Slater, local project manager of Colarelli Construction, said, “Two youths began working on Feb. 25, and two more started March 8. Our goal is to give at-risk youth a chance to be successful.”

The demolition marks the beginning of the Blockhouse remodel and bringing heat, electricity and plumbing to the Powerhouse. Phase II will also include the creation of the interactive science center, education labs, workshops, event and program space, offices, and a river-facing public plaza around the existing smokestack.

Meanwhile, in-kind donations to the tune of $300,000 are helping the museum on its way to opening day. Claire Bradshaw, executive director of the museum, credited Colarelli Construction for working with the community to bring the assets to the museum.

“In the worst economy in decades, Colarelli Construction has brought to the table almost $300,000 donations from the local trades and more are in the works,” she said. “This outpouring of support is testament to our generous community, which has been steadfast in supporting the Discovery Museum.”

– 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