Moffat County and Craig saw many ups and downs over the past year, giving hope and restitute to many who fought for voice and setting the stage for what will take place in 2014.
The community was strong, helped each other, gave to charities and showed camaraderie through various activities and events in 2013. Pride continues to gleam from faces of those who support Craig and its tight knit populace of sturdy, hardworking individuals.
Looking back on the past year, the staff of the Craig Daily Press has compiled the following list of some of the top stories of 2013 for Craig and Moffat County. Some topics are ongoing, some have had effects on state and national levels, but all have been significant to Northwest Colorado.
The 51st State Initiative brought tension between rural and urban Colorado to the forefront of the 2013 off-year-election.
Weld County started the push to secede from the state, and 10 other counties followed suit. Moffat County was one of them.
Many community members strongly supported the initiative, while many did not. The main point was to make a statement to Front Range politicians that rural Colorado felt ignored by Denver politics.
Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid led the movement locally. He brought up the issue at an August Board of County Commissioners meeting, about a week before deadline to place an item on the ballot.
County Commisioner Tom Mathers backed secession, but County Commissioner Chuck Grobe and Craig City Council came out against the ballot issue.
Only five counties voted in favor of secession, and Moffat County was not one of them. In the end, Moffat County voters came out against the measure 55 to 45 percent.
Prior to the secession movement, a Craig resident also tried to make a statement to Front Range politicians.
In April, Craig resident Craig Rummel proposed an ordinance to the Craig City Council that would require mandatory gun ownership for local heads of household. The topic was intended to be discussed in the following weeks, but has since not been brought up again.
Councilors had mixed feelings about it, but Rummel specified that the intent behind the ordinance was to spend a message to legislators about the importance of maintaining firearms and how gun control laws passed by the Colorado General Assembly have impacted rural Colorado.
Rummel’s initial proposal preceded a similar concept passed by the Nucla Town Board in May, making Nucla the first municipality within the state to make gun ownership a requirement for residents, though their plan has several exceptions.
Coal vs. renewable energy
The matter of energy concerns has been an ongoing hot topic that has the people of Northwest Colorado fired up.
Many residents of Craig and Moffat County have been outspoken about the disparity between the Front Range and the Western Slope and how regulations regarding energy production have been harmful to rural areas. For example, Senate Bill 252, which requires rural electric co-ops to obtain 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, has been seen by advocates of the coal industry as an attack on their livelihood.
In October, a number of local residents traveled to Denver to address the Environmental Protection Agency about the regulations on carbon emissions and the impact such restrictions would have on the economy. A rally on the steps of the state Capitol also allowed the people of Moffat County to be heard.
When Hickenlooper visited Craig in November, Audrey Danner, interim executive director for Craig Moffat Economic Development Partnership, was among those asking that coal-fired power plants be shown the same respect as renewable energies.
Hickenlooper visits Craig
Hickenlooper made a trip to Craig in November after residents of Moffat County asked him to visit.
Nearly 200 community members packed the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion to listen to the governor speak and ask him questions. Secession, the new gun laws, energy and the greater sage grouse debate were discussed, giving residents and Hickenlooper a better understanding of each issue.
After the town hall meeting, sage grouse stakeholders had a separate visit with Hickenlooper about their concerns on how sage grouse was being handled in various counties of Colorado.
Sage grouse issue
The greater sage grouse debate in Colorado is a big issue Moffat County.
Eleven states currently are looking at how to manage the bird, including Colorado.
Sage grouse numbers have declined in recent years, prompting conservation groups to have the federal government consider the bird for the endangered species list.
The Bureau of Land Management in Colorado currently is evaluating the bird’s habitat to ensure that sage grouse continues to multiply so that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — the federal agency that administers the Endangered Species Act — doesn’t list the bird as endangered.
Sage grouse stakeholders asked the governor to hire someone to come up with an alternative for the bird in Colorado.
To help facilitate the issue, Hickenlooper assigned John Swartout as the point person, giving him the task of finding a Colorado alternative for BLM within a 45-day time period.
All concerned parties will have a better understanding of the Colorado alternative in 2014.
Fief murder trial
Leroy Fief, 49, of Craig was sentenced on Dec. 10 to 30 years in prison for the 2012 murder of Shane Arredondo.
Fief underwent a two-week long trial in September. He faced charges for murder in the first degree, but the jury convicted him of second-degree murder.
Throughout the trial testimony and evidence showed that Fief killed Arredondo out of jealousy. Fief’s wife had been romantically involved with Arredondo, and court evidence demonstrated that Fief suspected her.
The night of Dec. 8, 2012, Fief texted and called his wife several times with no response. He lied to get out of work, went home, grabbed a knife, searched Mathers’ Bar and then waited in the parking lot for his wife, according to court testimony. When Fief saw his wife exit an apartment building with Arredondo, he marched across the parking lot and began stabbing Arredondo. Arredondo died on the scene.
Fief will be eligible for parole in about 22 years.
Dinosaur ambulance services
Dinosaur residents almost found themselves without emergency services in the summer. The small community, more than two hours west of Craig, relied on ambulance services from Rangely District Hospital for about 60 years, but the hospital sent notice to Moffat County and Dinosaur June 1 stating they would cease sending ambulances starting Aug. 31.
Bernie Rice, manager for the cardiopulmonary department at Rangely hospital, said sending EMS services to Dinosaur was gouging the hospital’s finances. They just couldn’t pay for it anymore, he said.
Moffat County Commissioners and staff had to decide who exactly could provide EMS services since a 90 minute wait for an ambulance would jeopardize the lives of Dinosaur residents.
Right up against the Aug. 31 deadline, residents of Dinosaur and Moffat County staff came to an agreement with a Vernal, Utah private ambulance service, Gold Cross. Even though the ambulance service is based in Utah, they will still be able to serve the community of Dinosaur and the western part of Moffat County.
Supermarket shuts down
Craig supermarket Safeway closed its doors in October after being a part of the Craig business world since 1929.
The decision to close the store was made at the corporate level, with representatives stating that the Craig branch did not meet expectations.
Craig’s Safeway employed 35 people at the time of closure.
Prominent figures on their way out
The departure or planned departure of several members of the Craig community occurred over the past year, including George Rohrich, former CEO of The Memorial Hospital; Moffat County School District Superintendent Joe Petrone; and Gene Bilodeau, city councilor and vice president of Colorado Northwestern Community College’s Craig campus.
Rohrich resigned from his position with TMH in the first week of 2013, the day after a meeting of the hospital’s board of trustees. Details about the change in personnel were not available due to the restrictions of executive session.
Among Rohrich’s accomplishments as CEO were overseeing development of the hospital’s new building in its current location and utilizing its old location as a clinic, as well as working to expand TMH’s services overall.
After several months with an interim CEO, TMH hired Chris Smolik in May to replace Rohrich permanently.
Petrone surprised the Moffat County School District and the members of the Board of Education in August when he formally requested to end his contract a year earlier than scheduled in order to spend more time with family. Petrone, who was hired in 2009, was originally scheduled to stay in his position at least through the 2014-15 school year.
Board members agreed to the request, with his last day with the district being June 30. After the decision was finalized, the school board retained the services of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates to search for Petrone’s replacement.
The search is expected to be complete within the coming months, ideally with enough time for Petrone to assist an incoming superintendent with the transition.
Bilodeau announced his intention to leave Craig in November, accepting a job as executive director of the University Center in Rapid City, S.D., a facility that serves six separate colleges across South Dakota.
Bilodeau began at CNCC in 1994, becoming vice president in 2009 and seeing the new facilities completed in 2011. Besides serving on the council since 2007, he has also worked with a variety of local community groups.
He said farewell to CNCC and fellow members of the city council shortly before Christmas.
Both the college and the city council will work to find a replacement for Bilodeau as the new year progresses.