Dems take two of three local races
The presidential election may be settled, but as of Wednesday, at least one local election still hung in the balance. When votes for La Plata County’s District 2 commissioner were tallied Tuesday, Democratic challenger Gwen Lachelt held a slim 78-vote margin over Republican incumbent Kellie Hotter, 13,804 to 13,726.

Official results would not be known till Nov. 14, after an estimated 1,000 provisional ballots were counted, according to the La Plata County Clerk’s Office. Meanwhile, results for the District 3 county commissioner race were known. Democrat Julie Westendorff narrowly edged out her Republican competitor, Harry Baxstrom, by a vote of 13,821 to 13,577.

Westendorff, a Bayfield lawyer and real estate agent, will take over the seat vacated by Wally White, who is term limited.

On Wednesday, Westendorff said she was eager to get to work in January, although she was unsure of the exact date. “I was afraid to ask until I knew I had won,” she said.

Among her top priorities, Westendorff cited inking a new intergovernmental agreement between the city and county as well as clarifying transitional land-use standards for those gray areas of the county, where rural meets urban. “This is something the commissioners have been working on for a year,” she said. “I would like to continue that and not try to change direction, that ball’s already rolling.”

Westendorff also addressed the need for a Comprehensive Plan to serve as a guiding document for the county’s future. “Ideally, we need a new comprehensive land use plan, the old one is outdated,” she said. “We need to figure out how we can make something that’s viable for everyone – a vision for the county that addresses our needs and deals with challenges.”

Among those challenges, Westendorff cited dropping county revenues from oil and gas royalties, the local economy, the aging population, environmental protection and housing and wages.

In other election news, the City of Durango’s Franchise Agreement with La Plata Electric Association passed on its second time in front of city voters. The agreement will tack on a fee to local LPEA customers’ bills in exchange for LPEA’s use of city right of way. The fee will go into the City’s General Fund to services such as roads, the Rec Center and community organizations.

Outside Durango, the State House District 59 seat changed hands, from Republican incumbent J. Paul Brown to Democrat Michael McLachlan, a Durango lawyer. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, seemed to be the exception to the Democrat sweep, soundly retaining his 3rd Congressional seat over Democrat challenger, Sal Pace, the House Minority leader from Pueblo.

City snuffs out public smoking
Local residents may want to think twice before lighting up in public. On Tuesday night, the Durango City Council passed a smoke-free ordinance for city-owned parks, playgrounds, ball fields, trails and bus stops. It also bans smoking at enclosed and open-air restaurant and bar patios and hookah bars. Furthermore, smoking is also banned within 15 feet of any restricted area, like business entryways. Also, an owner, operator, manager or other person who controls private property can designate that property as smoke free.

Anyone caught smoking in these areas could be fined $100  and $200 to $300 for additional offenses within the same year.

The passage is seen as a victory by the more than 20 youth and community organizations, including San Juan Basin Health Department’s Lasso Tobacco Coalition, which worked for three years educating the community on the health risks of secondhand smoke and the negative influence that smoking has on youth norms.

“Smoke-free policy affects the greatest number of citizens and encourages the positive norms we want for all citizens,” said Pat Senecal, Health Policy and Systems director for San Juan Basin Health. She also credited Mayor Doug Lyon, council members Sweetie Marbury, Dick White and Christina Rinderle, who all supported the measure, as well as City Manager Ron Le Blanc and Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz.

Piñon Ridge hearings begin anew
The uranium market might be cooling, but the fight over a uranium processing mill near the Colorado-Utah border is heating up.

Arguments began Wednesday in Nucla on the radioactive materials license for the Piñon Ridge uranium mill, which is proposed for an 800-acre site in the Paradox Valley, west of Naturita. The mill’s developer, Toronto-based Energy Fuels Inc., was awarded a license by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in January 2011, authorizing the first new uranium mill in the United States in several decades. However, Telluride environmental group Sheep Mountain Alliance as well as the towns of Telluride and Ophir filed suit, alleging due public process was not followed in granting the license. In June of this year, a Denver District Court judge agreed, suspending the license and ordering the CDPHE to begin gathering public testimony anew.

Oral arguments and cross-examination began Wednesday and are scheduled every day through next Tues., Nov. 13.  at the Nucla Moose Lodge. Testimony from both sides takes place from 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. with public comment set to start at 4 p.m.
The formal hearing process is being overseen by an independent officer, Richard Dana, who has chosen by the state. The hearing format will consist of arguments and cross-examination from lawyers representing various interests as well as statements from industry specialists and environmental experts.

“We are pleased that the public will finally get a formal chance to scrutinize this proposal,” Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance, told the Telegraph in August. “As a party in this hearing process, we will continue to ensure that the clean air and clean water of this region are protected.”

Chief among opponents’ concerns is that the mill will deplete much-needed water and contaminate the nearby San Juan and Dolores rivers with uranium, selenium and arsenic, among other pollutants. Selenium and arsenic from abandoned uranium operations have been implicated in the decline of four endangered Colorado River fish species, according to environmentalists.

On the flip side, many residents in nearby communities say the mill will provide an economic boost and nearly 80 jobs.

Dana will submit his recommendations to the CDPHE which is expected make a decision by April 27, 2013. However, by then the license may be a moot point. On Oct 17, Energy Fuels announced that due to a drop in uranium prices, starting in 2013, it will suspend operations at two of its mines near Moab. The company will continue to mine ore from its lower-cost, more-accessible breccia pipes in Arizona. It will also continue operations at White Mesa Mill, near Blanding, which it bought from Denison Mines this summer.

Expert to speak on dangers of GMOs
A leading expert in the fight against genetically modified food will be bringing his message to Durango this Thurs., Nov. 8.

Anti-GMO author and researcher Jeffrey M. Smith will present “Speaking Out for Healthier Food: The Truth About Genetically Modified organisms” at 6:30 p.m. at the Smiley Building. The event is sponsored by Ayurveda Center of Durango, Growing Spaces, Cafe of Life and Linda’s Local Foods.

Smith is the executive director of the Iowa-based Institute for Responsible Technology. Since founding the Institute in 2003, Smith has circled the globe in a crusade to educate policy-makers and people on what he sees as the grave dangers of GMOs. Furthermore, according to Smith, safety assessments conducted by the FDA are based on outdated science and GMOs must become our nation’s top food safety priority.

“GMOs have been linked to thousands of toxic and allergic-type reactions, thousands of sick, sterile and dead livestock and damage to virtually every organ and system studied in lab animals,” Smith told Reuters News Service in 2008.

His books include Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating  and Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods. He also has produced two films, writes a syndicated column and blogs for Huffington Post.

– Missy Votel

In this week's issue...

May 14, 2020
The great re-awakening

Shrouded in unknowns, the timeline for re-opening some businesses in Colorado came into clearer view Tuesday.

May 15, 2020
The best defense

Pandemics often bring pandemonium. It is easy to be fearful about coronavirus. But we already possess the greatest weapon on Earth against it: our amazing body and its powerful immune system.

May 7, 2020
Yes! The Farmers Market is opening

It may be hard to imagine, but while us humans are shuttered away in our houses, or hiding behind facemasks and Zoom meetings, the natural world is going on without us.