White and Marbury elected to council

A relatively sleepy City of Durango election drew to a close on Tuesday night. Dick White and Sweetie Marbury were elected in the most recent contest for Durango City Council.

White, a former professor and sustainability advocate, claimed the lion’s share of the 6,000 votes cast, leading the field with 2,185 votes. Marbury, a teacher of 35 years and Durango Planning Commission member, claimed the second seat with 1,705 votes. Candidates Emil Wanatka and Connie Imig trailed with 1,473 and 1,042 votes, respectively. Approximately, half of the electorate turned for the mail-in election, and voter numbers were well up from the 2009 election, when only 34 percent took part.

“I’m delighted on two counts,” White said. “I think it was very important that both Sweetie and I got in. I’m pleased that the electorate came out and concurred with our positions, and I’m really looking forward to this opportunity to serve the community.”

Looking ahead, White said that revisiting the City of Durango’s land use and development code will be both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity. “It will be a policy framing that will affect the community for decades,” he said. “We want to retain our vision for the community but also make it a lot simpler and cheaper for homeowners and business owners to go through the process.”

White then added, “It’s going to be an interesting ride.”

White and Marbury will be sworn in April 18 and will replace Michael Rendon and Joe Colgan, who replaced Leigh Meigs.

Power plant disputes controls

The showdown over clean air is heating up in the Four Corners. The Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM) is currently touting recent upgrades to the San Juan Generating Station just as the Environmental Protection Agency is pushing on the power plant to install technology to help combat regional haze.

The coal-fired plant, which came online in 1972, is one of New Mexico’s biggest polluters, second to its neighbor, the Four Corners Power Plant. The plant emits more than 27,000 tons of  nitrogen oxide a year, making it the 18th dirtiest in the country for NOx.

On Jan. 5, the EPA announced that it would require PNM to retrofit the San Juan Generating Station with up-to-date air pollution controls. The plan would target emissions of NOx, sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid and ammonia. The agency took public comments on the plan through this week.

However, PNM is taking a different tact in the clean air debate. Last week, the utility announced that it has made great gains in mercury reduction at the San Juan Generating Station. Following a $320 million upgrade two years ago, the San Juan is now exceeding the EPA’s removal rate of 91 percent and released only 66 pounds of mercury in 2010, well down from 496 pounds in 2006.

“A decision we made in 2005 to include mercury reductions as part of a larger environmental upgrade continues to pay dividends,” said Maureen Gannon, PNM’s director of environmental services. “Not only have we significantly reduced emissions since the upgrade, but the plant appears to be removing more mercury than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would require.”

In the same breath, the utility has expressed concerns about the EPA’s proposal for haze reduction. Gannon noted that the EPA wants the San Juan to install selective catalytic reduction on all four of its units and the new technology would cost at least $750 million. She added that the upgrades “could significantly affect the electric rates of customers served by the plant.”

Mike Eisenfeld, of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, took a different view of the EPA’s proposal. While he commended PNM on mercury reductions, he added that the San Juan Generating Station remains one of the region’s major polluters. “We give them credit for putting some pollution controls on the plant,” he said. “But ultimately, they have a huge legacy that has harmed the region for decades, and mercury is just one of the pollutants.”

Eisenfeld added that the benchmark for local haze pollution was set by the EPA’s regional haze program well more than a decade ago but has yet to be met.  “Our hope is that the EPA applies the most stringent controls to the San Juan Generating Station and holds this facility to standards that were established in 1999,” he said.  

Durango BMX set for major rebuild

Durango BMX is getting into the dirt in anticipation of the 2011 season. The nonprofit is undertaking a major remodel of the local track and plans to offer Durango cyclists additional opportunities in the coming season.

A complete rebuild of the track will get under way April 18. The track’s obstacles will be redone and a “decision maker” straight will be added to the track in order to offer jumps for advanced riders. Professional Track Builder Lance McGuire will oversee the work, which should be complete by May 1.

“Due to wear and tear from use and weather, a BMX track requires a rebuild of the jumps every few years to keep it safe and fun,” explained Field Blevins, president of the Durango BMX board. “New jumps present new challenges for the riders, which promotes skill development, excitement and enthusiasm. It is a tremendous benefit to have a professional track builder do the rebuild as the track is ensured to have jumps similar to those a rider will encounter at national BMX competitions.”

The nonprofit also hopes to expand the appeal of the track with the addition of introductory clinics for new riders and improved track maintenance. Former Pro Rider Todd Burdick in collaboration with Durango BMX instructors will lead an “Introduction to BMX” clinic series the second Wednesday of each month beginning in June.

The Durango BMX program is open to all ages and abilities. Beginning May 6, races take off Friday evenings through the summer. Open-gate practice happens Tuesday evenings starting May 3. For information, visit www.DurangoBMX.com.

Todd Wells claims Pan Am bronze

Durango enjoyed a little podium time at last weekend’s 2011 Pan American Mountain Bike Championships in Bogota, Colombia. Local rider Todd Wells claimed one of America’s six medals in the Continental Championships.

Wells fought hard against a strong Columbian squad for his third place finish in the elite men’s cross-country race. Fellow American Jeremiah Bishop took silver, and Columbia’s Hector Leonardo Paez Leon claimed the victory. Wells’ brother Troy, also of Durango, took 26th in the race.

“The Colombian team was well-prepared for this important race on their home soil and showed their strength by taking gold medals in all the cross country events,” said USA Cycling’s Marc Gullickson. “The U.S. team proved to be their biggest challenger, however, with podium results in three out of the four categories.”

– Will Sands



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