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Brian Smith

Stories by Brian

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Unemployment heartache felt on both sides of the counter at Craig employment center

Jeffrey Southard stepped Friday into the Colorado Workforce Center of Craig just before the office closed for lunch. The 36-year-old Craig man walked to the board to look over the half-page list of job postings. Taking a pencil from the jar, he scribbled a few notes and shuffled to the counter.

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Mayoral, council contenders make case to Craig voters

More than 50 residents listened Thursday in hopes of learning the thoughts and feelings of several candidates vying for Craig public office. Those residents sat for more than two hours in The Center of Craig during a Bears Ears Tea Party Patriots meeting to hear from five candidates for Craig City Council and two for mayor. Candidates who attended were council candidates Byron Willems, Ray Beck, Tony Bohrer, Don Jones and Joe Bird. Mayoral candidates Frank Moe and Terry Carwile also attended.

Craig voter registration deadline looming

City of Craig to mail more than 3,000 ballots starting March 14

Craig City Clerk Shirley Seely said the deadline for residents who want to participate in this year’s city election is soon approaching. The deadline for residents to register to vote in the s April 5 city council and mayoral election is Monday. Currently, there are 5,907 registered voters in the city. Since January, 32 new residents have registered to vote.

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Late Moffat County Commissioner’s life read into Congressional Record

John Raftopoulos said his late wife’s accomplishments will live on in the memories of many area residents for decades to come. But now, thanks to the efforts of a Western Slope Congressman, the life of Marianna Raftopoulos is forever inked into the permanent archive of the United States.

County commissioner traveling to D.C. to lobby counties’ concerns

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said the trip he will take starting Friday is part of the county’s goal to be more proactive on the state and federal levels. “It kind of fits under that banner of an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure,” he said. “Once things are active and once things start down a road, it is a lot harder to get things stopped than it is just to keep them from getting started.” Gray will travel to Washington, D.C., as part of a trip organized by Colorado Counties, Inc., to represent and discuss issues agreed upon by the organization’s members with federal lawmakers.

Tea party to host city election forum

Council, mayoral candidates to appear before potential voters

A decade ago, local resident Jeanie Durham said she had a different view of local politics. “Ten years ago it didn’t matter to me who was on city council, but it does now,” she said. Durham, who has been involved with the Bears Ears Tea Party Patriots for about two years, said her involvement in politics stemmed from a simple concept.

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Local environmental groups organizing sage grouse viewing trips

Sasha Nelson, northwest organizer for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said there’s a simple reason residents from as far away as Great Britain came to Moffat County last spring. They were hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the “phenomenal” and “spectacular” things wildlife does, but few are able to see. Locally, that wildlife is the greater sage grouse and that action is its yearly mating dance, Nelson said.

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Rookie senator from Hayden making strides in 1st year at state legislature

The broccoli bill. That was perhaps Jean White’s hardest sell Thursday. The Republican senator from Hayden didn’t have to pitch it in front of Colorado’s senate, but she had an audience just as tough — about 20 inquisitive students representing Hayden Middle School’s student council.

Craig City finance director updates council

Craig Finance Director Bruce Nelson’s job is always a guessing game, he said. Whether it is balancing projected revenues against a variety of influencing factors like the economy and declining sales tax, or working with the needs of all the city’s departments to create a balanced budget, Nelson has a lot on his mind, he said. Nelson gave a presentation Tuesday to the Craig City Council outlining the city’s finances from last year. He said despite being shaken by the bad economy, the city is still in good financial shape.

Craig to vote by mail in April

Council hopes mail-in ballots boost turnout

Craig City Council member Joe Herod said residents don’t often think they have a voice in government. But, “They do,” Herod said. The city council recently took action Herod thinks could help residents understand the role they play in city government by increasing the chances voters will participate in municipal elections.

Resident outlines visitor center proposal to county commission

Moffat County resident Melody Villard presented a set of ideas Tuesday she hopes will boost the role the Moffat County Visitor Center plays in the county’s tourism promotion efforts. At its regular Tuesday meeting, Villard outlined a plan for working with the Moffat County Tourism Association to develop a “complete and focused visitor center that could bring in more visitors to Moffat County through distribution of all businesses, activities and events rather than just those within a membership-driven entity.”

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Congressman hosts town hall meeting in Craig

Congressman Scott Tipton had a message for a room full of area residents Tuesday at Craig City Hall. The freshman Republican representative from Cortez said he is an optimistic person when it comes to the future of the nation. But, there are also challenges facing those in power to guide the country toward that future, he said. “I don’t believe there is anything as a nation we can not overcome (with) the challenges we face now,” he said. “We will come out on top if we are given the freedom to do what Americans do best and that is innovate, create, American entrepreneurship and yankee know-how.

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Moe seeks mayor’s seat

Former county commission candidate vying for city office

Last summer, Craig resident Frank Moe went for a walk. He tallied 55 miles during his trip knocking on doors and meeting one-on-one with residents for several months. The walk was part of a larger goal — winning a seat on the Moffat County Commission.

Craig Mayor to seek council position

Don Jones vying to continue longtime city service in April election

The last six years of Craig resident Don Jones’ life were the best yet, he said. It’s no coincidence, Jones said, those years were spent serving as Craig’s mayor. But, he was recently faced with a decision regarding his public service.

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New county surveyor settling into new role, starting GIS project

When Peter Epp was growing up in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, there weren’t any schools that offered surveying degrees. In fact, the trade Epp took up to pay the bills years later isn’t one many people know about, understand or think of as a viable profession growing up, he said. But, Epp got his start as a surveyor down in a muddy hole.

Moffat County Commission concerned about wild land order

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray thinks a recent order from the federal government could jeopardize multiple use lands and energy development in certain areas across the nation, including Moffat County. At its regular Tuesday meeting, Gray and the Moffat County Commission discussed and agreed to write a letter opposing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s Order No. 3310, which directs the Bureau of Land Management to identify and inventory lands with wilderness characteristics. The order was signed Dec. 22. Once local BLM field offices have identified those wilderness characteristics, Gray said, the order directs the BLM to manage those areas to preserve their distinct qualities by adjusting or eliminating some, or all, of the other uses it has.

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Moffat County turns 100 years old but memory, spirit of settlers not lost

David Moffat never stepped foot inside the county that would eventually bear his name. In fact, the industrial tycoon wasn’t much concerned with the area. Rather, he merely wanted his railroad to pass through Craig on its way to Salt Lake City. But, the endeavor left Moffat nearly broke and halted the line in Craig.

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Two new possible candidates emerge for Craig election

Two new names have surfaced in connection with Craig’s April municipal election, which includes three city council seats and the mayor’s position up for grabs. City clerk Shirley Seely said Thursday six residents have picked up nomination petition packets for the three council seats currently held by Ray Beck, Joe Herod and Byron Willems. So far, Beck, Willems, Joe Bird and Bill Johnston have all picked up council packets, which need to be signed by 25 registered voters and returned to Craig City Hall by March 4, Seely said.

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GOP in Craig names new chairman

Longtime Republican K.C. Hume takes over for John Ponikvar

Longtime local Republican K.C. Hume took the reins Tuesday of the Moffat County Republican Central Committee from its previous chairman, John Ponikvar.

Craig Chamber seeking to oversee county tourism funding

The Craig Chamber of Commerce Board presented an idea Tuesday that could mark changes in the management of tourism funding in Moffat County. At its regular Tuesday meeting, the Moffat County Commission heard a presentation from Chamber board member Gene Bilodeau asking the commission to allow the Chamber to oversee the county’s 1.9-percent lodging tax.

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Oil company planning to drill exploratory wells in Moffat County

Shell Exploration & Production Company meets with county officials Monday

Matthew Holman, a project lead for Shell Exploration & Production Company, sat Monday in a room of Moffat County officials with a map of Northwest Colorado spread out on the table. “You don’t find too many areas like this on Mother Earth,” he said looking at the map.

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Craig native finds niche in theater lighting, photography

Chad Bonaker once found himself under the spotlight. It was his sophomore year at Moffat County High School and he was playing the part of the crazy old uncle in “Twas a Dark and Stormy Night” in one of the high school’s theater performances. He only had two lines in the production, but that was just fine with him. He wasn’t interested in acting. He was interested in a different aspect of the stage.

Long-time Republican seeking to run Moffat County GOP

A new contender has surfaced in hopes of taking the reins of the Moffat County Republican Central Committee. K.C. Hume, chief investigator for the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office and a battalion chief for Craig/Fire Rescue, recently announced his decision to run for the position currently held by Craig resident John Ponikvar. Ponikvar, who replaced former chairman Ron Danner in 2009, said he only wanted to be the chairman for one, two-year term before stepping away when first elected. Ponikvar said he no longer has the time to dedicate to being the chairman between running his own business and his personal life.

Craig City Council updated on seismic testing

Brent Jacobsen, a project manager for Geokinetics, said Tuesday a seismic exploration survey in Craig and portions of Moffat County is “kind of up in the air right now.” Jacobsen presented an update on the project, which involves looking for oil and gas in the area through seismic testing, to the Craig City Council during its regular Tuesday meeting. The on-the-ground work of the project, which entails about 53 acres, was expected to start in mid-January and be completed before the summer, he said.

Moffat County Farm Bureau requesting ag tax exemption

Brent Brighton, a Moffat County Farm Bureau Board member, presented an idea Tuesday he believes would help level the playing field for Moffat County farmers and ranchers. At its regular Tuesday meeting, the Moffat County Commission heard a presentation from Brighton concerning the implementation of an agricultural sales tax exemption in the county. Brighton asked the county waive the 2-percent county sales tax on agricultural equipment purchased by qualified farmers and ranchers.

Area officials supporting bills aimed at reducing energy consumer costs

Doug Monger, a Routt County Commissioner and Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado Board chairman, contends “nobody” currently has energy consumers’ pocketbooks in mind. That’s why Monger said AGNC, which is made up of several Northwest Colorado governments including Moffat County, supports a recently introduced bill that would make at least one state agency pay more attention to the impact its actions have on energy consumers.

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New Chinese restaurant finding success in Dinosaur

Exiled from her native Vietnam at 9 years old, there wasn’t much Phan Voong could take with her as she was forced to leave her home. She and her family were political refugees, fallout from conflict between the Chinese and Vietnamese governments in the late 1970s. They, along with numerous others, were loaded onto an overcrowded fishing boat and shipped to a camp in Hong Kong.

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Craig native credits family in helping overcome life’s setbacks

As a third generation Moffat County resident and co-owner of Mathers Bar, Michael Mathers has seen Craig’s good times and bad, the booms and busts, and two more generations of Mathers born and raised in the area. He’s also survived a number of accidents, broken bones, bar fights and even polio. But, none of that has stopped him, he said, or will in the future.

Moffat County GOP chairman stepping down

Familiar name surfaces as possible replacement

A familiar face in Moffat County politics will soon step away from the post he volunteered to hold more than two years ago. Craig resident John Ponikvar, chairman of the Moffat County Republican Central Committee, has decided not to run for re-election in two weeks when four committee seats will be up for grabs. Ponikvar replaced former chairman Ron Danner in 2009. Ron stepped down from the position when his wife, Audrey, applied for the nomination to fill an empty position on the Moffat County Commission.

Moffat County Commission pleased with governor meeting

Mathers: Hickenlooper supports Colorado clean coal tech

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said he was pleasantly surprised by a Wednesday meeting with Gov. John Hickenlooper in Denver. “It was so much different than that other guy, Ritter,” he said while driving back from the meeting. “He is very personable and very attentive. When you talk to him, you know he is listening to you.”

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Moffat County Commission lands audience with governor

Energy tops commission’s list of discussion points for Hickenlooper meeting

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said Gov. John Hickenlooper probably knows the primary topics the three-member commission wants to discuss with him. Energy and natural resources. “I think he’d probably be interested in if we had any solutions to the problems,” Mathers said. “Not just, ‘Come and tell me what the problem is.’ But, ‘What is the solution?’”

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Carbon sequestration project near Craig moves forward

More than 10 months ago, a team of nine geologists spread across the mountains south of Craig and began gathering data critical to determining if the area would be suitable for an experimental process known as carbon sequestration. Although those geologists left the area in the middle of the summer, their work is continuing into the winter months as part of the three-year project, which has recently been spurred by new information and plans to gather more geological readings, said Vince Matthews, director of the Colorado Geological Survey.

Local Rep. introduces late fee reduction bill

Baumgardner: FASTER fine of up to $100 not being spent wisely

State Rep. Randy Baumgardner recently introduced a bill he hopes will minimize some of the “hardships” created by previous legislation concerning fines assessed on late vehicle registrations. The Republican from Hot Sulphur Springs, along with other House Representatives, introduced Colorado House Bill 11-1084 on Jan. 20. Baumgardner is the prime House sponsor of the bill, which has been sent to the House Committee on Transportation.

PUC denies request to revisit Xcel plan

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission recently made one of its last rulings on a plan many Northwest Colorado residents think could significantly harm the local coal industry. The PUC deliberated and denied Wednesday a motion for reconsideration to change Xcel Energy’s plans to comply with Colorado House Bill 10-1365, also known as the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act. The Colorado Mining Association and the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado filed the motion.

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Baggs, Wyo., resident publishes 1st poetry book

In 2007, Linda Battson came home from her job as a manager at Starbucks Coffee in Colorado Springs. Something didn’t feel right. She was in an emotionally dark place and didn’t know what was wrong. The feeling wasn’t something she was used to growing up as an adventurous tomboy in Los Angeles.

Long-time resident to run for Moffat County Commission

In September 2010, John Kinkaid traveled to Denver to testify against an action he felt could jeopardize jobs. Kinkaid spoke out against Xcel Energy’s plans to comply with Colorado House Bill 10-1365 in hopes of helping his son, Caleb, keep his job at Twentymile Coal Co. The feeling he had at the time is similar to one he has now.

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Moffat County residents voice concerns about proposed power line

Moffat County resident James Cooper owns two pieces of land — one north of Craig and one south of Hamilton. His property could rest in the path of a proposed power line, he said. For that reason, Cooper attended a Bureau of Land Management public scoping meeting Wednesday at the Moffat County School District administration building.

Coal bill root of energy summit cancellation in Moffat County

Kate Nowak, executive director of Yampa Valley Partners said Colorado House Bill 10-1365 took the Northwest Colorado community by surprise, shaking it to its core. Nowak outlined one of the bill’s lasting effects during an update on her organization’s activities to the Craig City Council during its regular Tuesday meeting. The director said YVP recently decided it would not host the Energy Summit in the future — a sign of the rift recently created between the coal industry and the oil and gas industry, she said.

Moffat County Commission talks capital projects

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said there are several county capital improvement projects that have been stacking up over the years, but they simply can’t wait any longer. Gray said after the Moffat County Commission’s regular Tuesday meeting the county had been waiting to do the projects in hopes that grants from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs would be approved to help pay for them. But those grants didn’t come through, and future grant cycles aren’t looking good either, Gray said.

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Officials optimistic oil and gas activity can boost Moffat County economy

There’s a buzz in the Moffat County Clerk and Recorder’s office, a level of activity officials said hasn’t been seen for decades. At one time, anywhere from 10 to 25 people have been filling the back room of the office, combing through hundreds of thick books stacked in neat rows and columns. Jeremy Mitchell, 34, is one of those people.

Craig auto dealers braving bad economy, seeking a better spring

Jerry Thompson, owner of Craig Ford, said he has a simple philosophy about going to work each morning. “I guess my saying is that I just get up and come to work every day and see what it is going to bring,” he said. Thompson said his attitude has been developed over the many years he’s worked in car sales and is indicative that one simply can’t predict or forecast the auto industry.

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‘Let it roll off’

Undersheriff has passion for public service, but humor keeps her grounded

Charlene Abdella walked into a bar. It was the early 1990s and the bar was The White Horse Inn, which no longer stands. With her were two other female Craig Police Department officers and they were looking for someone who had been in a bar fight. As the three walked through the crowd, a man propped on a bar stool noticed the three women and made a comment Abdella said was unfit for print. But, the comment didn’t shake her.

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The strengths inside

Growing, learning lifelong goals for Moffat County Commissioner

Hard work never hurt anybody. That’s the message that was engrained into Audrey Danner from an early age growing up in rural Kansas. The message was spoken by her father, a carpenter and locksmith, and echoed by her mother, a rural postal carrier. It struck a chord with Danner, now a 58-year-old Craig resident and current Moffat County Commissioner. To this day, she draws on her conservative upbringing to help her manage one of Colorado’s largest counties. “I know the value of money, I know the value of family, and I appreciate both as a part of my upbringing,” she said.

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Making her own way

Craig Chamber director’s journey renews faith in abilities to make a difference

When Christina Oxley was 14, she found herself lying on her bed, telephone in hand. Her goal that night was simple, but represented the life and career she would one day seek. Oxley was calling Moffat County residents, encouraging them to vote for her father, Tom Mathers, as county commissioner. “I’d say, ‘Hi, my name is Chris and the election is tomorrow and I hope you support my dad,’” she recalled. “I loved that. I wanted to grow up too fast. I didn’t want to go sit at the kids table — I wanted to be sitting at the adults table learning to play poker and pinochle.”

Mining association files motion to reconsider Xcel plans

Colorado Mining Association President Stuart Sanderson said his organization is working to bring to light the “flawed process” behind recent legislation concerning the coal industry and coal-fired power plants. “And flawed is really an understatement here,” said Sanderson, of the implementation of Colorado House Bill 10-1365, the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act. The two bodies that conducted that process, Sanderson said, were Colorado lawmakers and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Moffat County Commissioner talks new lobbying approach

Mathers: Leaner AGNC could help governments respond quicker to bills

Heading into this year’s state legislative session, Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said he is content with the commission’s lobbying efforts. It is those efforts, Mathers said during the commission’s Tuesday meeting, that play a large roll in how the commission is able to effectively respond to certain bills. Between the organizations the county belongs to, namely Club 20, Colorado Counties Inc., and the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, Mathers expects the county to have “a pretty active role” in bills that impact Northwest Colorado.

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Craig City Council member announces mayoral bid

Craig City Council member Terry Carwile announced this afternoon his intent to run for mayor in the city’s April municipal election. The 63-year-old Carwile will be running for the position currently held by Don Jones. Jones, who is term limited as mayor, served several terms as a council member and six years as mayor.

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DOW hopes to mitigate elk, rancher encounters

Moffat County resident Darryl Steele said he woke up Monday morning to quite a sight in his pasture three miles east of Maybell. About 40 elk had moved onto Steele’s land and were looking for a rare meal in the harsh winter conditions, he said. The elk were contained in an area about 100 yards from Steele’s home and closely shared the area with his cattle and horses — something concerning to the rancher and former Moffat County Commissioner.

MCTA moving forward with marketing survey

Director: Previous surveys didn’t capture travelers reason for visiting area

A small investment now can potentially pay big dividends later. At least that’s the attitude Moffat County Tourism Association Director Marilynn Hill has as she and the MCTA Board near the launch of an in-depth marketing survey of the county. The MCTA Board and the Moffat County Commission both gave unanimous approval earlier this month to spend $20,000 on a county marketing survey with the Edwards-based Hill Aevium.

BLM official leaves for national job

David Blackstun sat on top of a horse. To his side was one of Moffat County’s most prominent ranchers and in front of him lay the land he depended on — Cold Springs Mountain, South Green River and Vermillion Basin. The year was 2006 and Blackstun, then associate field manager for the Bureau of Land Management’s Little Snake Field Office, was riding horseback with Wright Dickinson.