San Juan Wilderness bill clears hurdle

The San Juan Mountains are growing a little wilder. The region’s designated wilderness stands to grow by tens of thousands of acres, as the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Bill makes its way through Congress. The “win-win” legislation drew praise during its recent Energy and Natural Resource Committee hearing and is expected to clear the U.S. Senate easily in coming weeks.

Southwest Colorado currently boasts the South San Juans, Mount Sneffels and Lizard Head wilderness areas as well as the Weminuche, the state’s largest at 488,000 acres. Last fall, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., took a step toward further enhancing the local wilds. By introducing the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Bill, Salazar moved to grow local wilderness by more than 33,000 acres and protect nearly 30,000 additional acres by other means.

Upon introducing the bill, Salazar commented, “These are the lands that define the character and spirit of our great state and nation and as such, it is my honor today to introduce the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Bill.”

Most significantly, the wilderness bill would safeguard some of Southwest Colorado’s most renowned viewsheds. The slopes of Mount Sneffels and Wilson Peak, two of Colorado’s most widely known fourteeners, would be forever off-limits to mining, logging and road building. The bill makes similar provisions for Lizard Head and the skyline stretching southeast above Telluride and Ophir. The bill would also make wilderness inroads into the Lower Dolores River Basin, creating the 8,614-acre McKenna Peak Wilderness Area, the first such designation in the Lower Dolores. And more than 21,000 acres, stretching from Sheep Mountain through the heart of the San Juans to the Ice Lakes Basin, would gain protection as a special management area. Such a designation allowed the bill to “thread the needle” by offering permanent protection to the area, while respecting existing trail users as well as Telluride Helitrax’s heli-skiing operation.

At the heart of the San Juan Wilderness Bill was a grassroots effort to get all the players at the table and involved in drafting the bill. That up-front work should be the key to the legislation’s success, according to Hilary White, executive director of the Sheep Mountain Alliance.  “Our plan from the start was to minimize conflicts as much as we could, and we were really able to do that with our boundaries,” she said.

The bill  could be passed into law as early as this fall as part of an omnibus bill. “This legislation has the support of all three local county governments as well as a diverse coalition of local stakeholders,” said Amber Kelley, of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “It shows what can happen when we all come together to preserve some of our region’s most spectacular places.”


LPEA reduces the cost of green power

Local residents purchasing green power stand to save some serious green. This week, La Plata Electric Association granted preliminarily approval for a major price reduction in from renewable resources, or “green power.” If met with final board approval in 30 days, LPEA customers will pay a premium of 10 cents per 100 kilowatt hour block of green power, down dramatically from the current price of 40 cents per block.

“The ability to reduce the price is tremendous news,” said Greg Munro, LPEA CEO.

The LPEA Green Power program was initiated in 1998 when Tri-State responded to requests by its member rural electric cooperatives to offer green power. The premium has decreased incrementally over the years from an initial cost of $2.50 per block. To date, LPEA is among the leading purchasers of “voluntary” green power in Tri-State’s 44-member cooperative system with 2 million kilowatt hours of renewable generation each month.

The steady reduction in the cost of renewable energy can be attributed largely to supply and demand. Large and small renewable energy projects have come on line across the country and added to the availability of green power.

Because LPEA’s Green Power purchase program is voluntary, LPEA members must specifically request to join. To sign up, visit


Court nixes Navajo uranium lawsuit

A 15-year legal battle ended last week, and uranium mining company Hydro Resources, Inc. emerged as the victor. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Hydro’s license to mine uranium in Crownpoint and Churchrock, N.M., in spite of Navajo concerns.

The Eastern Navajo Dine against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM) has been fighting the license since 1988 and had presented evidence that Hydro’s operations will contaminate large areas of groundwater, including the primary drinking water source for approximately 15,000 people. The group went on to contend that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission changed its regulations governing radioactive air emissions to accommodate the operations, which would result in exposing Church Rock residents to levels of radiation in excess of regulatory limits. However, in March if this year, a three judge panel refused to overturn the license, and on May 18 the 10th Circuit refused to rehear ENDAUM’s arguments.

“This is sad day for justice,” said Eric Jantz, Staff Attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. “The evidence was clear that groundwater pollution and radioactive air contamination will result from the mining operations, but based on a legal technicality, the 10th Circuit has allowed this injustice to continue.”

Nonetheless the Eastern Navajo Community has committed to fight on. “It’s like a kick in the guts,” said ENDAUM member Larry King. “It’s a disappointing decision, but we’ll continue to oppose any new uranium mining in our community.”

Hydro counters that it follows safe mining practices and will bring economic benefits to the impoverished Navajo Nation.


Durango opens on-street bike parking

Bicycles scored a piece of Main Avenue this week. The City of Durango and Carver Brewing Co. opened Durango’s first official “on-street” bike parking on Wednesday.

The cycle stall is located directly in front of Carvers, replaces one vehicle parking space and will provide parking for 14 bicycles. The cooperative project will also help mitigate issues with bicycles parked on the sidewalk that limit pedestrian movement.

The community is invited to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Fri., May 28, at 5 p.m.

– Will Sands