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Hayden fertilizes hemp business with financial incentive package

HAYDEN — In an effort to create jobs and spur the local economy, Hayden Town Council unanimously passed a financial incentive package for a new hemp business at its June 6 meeting.

Natural Path Botanicals, which began as a marijuana grow facility in the town, will become one of only three federally licensed hemp processing facilities on the western half of Colorado.

The incentive package gives rebates on the business’ property over the next three years, starting in 2020. For the first year, the business will receive a 60% rebate, decreasing to 45% for 2021 and 20% for the final year. 

In its financial projections to the Town Council, the business plans to create 10 full-time jobs when it reaches full capacity, with an emphasis on employing Hayden residents. 

Town officials hope this growth will increase revenue for other businesses in the area and attract additional hemp farmers to the Yampa Valley. 

“It gets Hayden on the map in an industry that is going to be really big,” said Mathew Mendisco, the town manager. 

In a recent report, cannabis researchers BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research project that the nationwide sales of CBD — the nonpsychoactive substance for which hemp is cultivated — could surpass $20 billion by 2024. 

This comes after the U.S. passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp across the nation, which has expanded markets and demand for CBD products.

Hemp differs from marijuana in that the plant contains less than 0.3% of THC, which has psychoactive properties. In other words, the CBD extracted from the hemp plant does not get people high. CBD has been touted for its medical benefits, coming in a wide form of products such as cosmetics, supplements and even food and beverages.

Natural Path Botanicals was formerly Emerge Farms, which grew high-inducing marijuana for dispensaries. Chris Franges, sales director for Natural Path Botanicals, said the company switched to growing hemp in May. 

He pointed to the growing CBD market as the main reason for the switch, adding that it is much easier to work in an industry that has the approval of the federal government, unlike marijuana. 

Natural Path Botanicals is primarily a hemp processing facility, according to Franges. While still in its early stages, the company is cultivating hemp plants it will sell to farmers across the state in exchange for the flower the plants and their clones produce. Employees at the company will then extract the CBD from those flowers and sell the cannabinoid to businesses that sell CBD-infused products, such as lotions and sodas. 

Once the company reaches full capacity, Franges hopes to process about 500,000 to 750,000 pounds of hemp plants each year, which he said will keep it competitive with other commercial hemp operations in the state. 

The growth of the business would have a ripple effect on the town of Hayden. Mendisco projects the town to receive about $17,600 in property taxes in the coming years, which is almost double the amount the business brought in last year when it was a marijuana grow operation. 

The jobs the company plans to bring in will pay between $60,000 to $75,000 per year, according to financial projections presented to the Town Council. 

“These are the types of jobs that people can make a living off of,” Mendisco said. 

Natural Path Botanicals currently has five employees, according to Franges, two of whom live in Hayden. 

“We have the opportunity to see this company grow, and we want to see them grow in Hayden,” Mendisco said. 

Moffat County health officials see increase in certain sexual diseases

Moffat County is showing a sharp increase in gonorrhea cases after years of declining incidents of the sexually transmitted disease.

According to data presented by public health officials to Moffat County Commissioners at a special meeting Monday, June 17, there were 12 cases of gonorrhea, a spike from zero cases last year and about a handful in each of the three years prior to 2017.

The county also continues to battle chlamydia, having reported 30 cases in 2018. The total is up from 21 cases in 2017 and about 30 cases in each of the three years prior to 2017.

Moffat County had one case of syphilis and one case of HIV in 2018, according to the data.

Flu comprises much of the work done by public health nurses in the three-county area of Moffat, Routt and Jackson Counties. Farrah Smilanich, public health and nurse manager for Northwest Colorado Health, offers 34 off-site flu clinics to keep the population vaccinated in the three-county area.

“How often is that used?” asked Commissioner Don Cook of the flu clinics.

“When school starts… and in flu season it’s really busy,” Smilanich said.

Moffat County regularly sees flu spikes in mid-December and late February, and each is often a different strain of the virus. The data show some 300 hospitalizations for the flu across the state during each spike.

Smilanich said there were seven hospitalizations reported in Moffat County related to the flu for the 2018-2019 season.

Smilanich also updated commissioners on rabies and tuberculosis. She said this last quarter there were three suspected cases of TB in the three-county region she serves. She warned residents against taking in wild animals like raccoons or bats to avoid exposure to rabies and the need for expensive shots to cure it. She said a woman in Routt County caused a stir after at least 20 people had to be found and tested when a woman took several seemingly abandoned baby raccoons into her home. 

She said residents who come into contact with bats could catch rabies.   

“If you cannot catch that bat and have it tested for rabies, you need to be vaccinated for rabies,” Smilanich said.

Measles was also on Smilanich’s list. She said Colorado’s lone measles case in 2018 is one too many and can usually be prevented when a population achieves a 90% vaccination rate. While Moffat County has an official measles vaccination rate higher than 90%, Smilanich said when the state’s personal exemptions allowing someone to opt out of vaccinations are accounted for, Moffat County’s measles vaccination rate is lower.

“When you really dig into it, I think when last I looked it was around 80%,” Smilanich said, adding the county needs to achieve that 90 percent vaccination rate to have herd immunity.

“If 90% of us are immune, then the chances of us passing something along to someone can’t be vaccinated, like some infants and immuno-compromised people, are lower,” Smilanich said. “So, our rates are getting better. We’re working on that.”

Moffat County Commissioners talk public health, emergency preparedness

Moffat County commissioners are working with regional and local public health officials to update outdated emergency preparedness plans.

In a special meeting Monday morning, June 17, commissioners met Jim Johnsen, a staff member with Northwest Colorado emergency preparedness and response at Northwest Colorado Health, to discuss the county’s emergency preparedness drills, assigning a local public health emergency preparedness coordinator, and revamping much of the county’s public health emergency preparedness plans.

“There are about 11 that are gonna have to be completely rewritten from top to bottom,” Johnsen said of the county’s public health plans.

The county’s needed public health emergency management coordinator would be in addition to Tom Soos’ position as Moffat County’s director of emergency management, which was made a part-time position in 2017.

“That has to do with the county changing course and hiring it’s own public health director instead of contacting with Northwest Colorado Health,” Soos said of the Monday meeting.

In the event of a public health emergency, the public health emergency coordinator would pool air and other assets, coordinate health outcomes, and be a liason between the federal and local governments.

“Basically they’re the lead as far as health care,” Johnsen told commissioners.

This person should also be familiar with emergency standards and best practices.

“They need a good understanding of the national emergency management system,” Johnsen said.

Craig Police Chief Jerry DeLong said his department often works with area hospitals and county officials to keep his officers and staff up to date on their emergency plans. He said he’s glad the county is working to update its preparedness plans.

“Any time we can have someone keep the plans updated for any types of emergency is great for the community,” DeLong said.

As for something residents can do to be prepared, Soos said it’s always a good idea to have all the necessary food, water, and comforts to be self-sufficient for up to three days.

“If you can be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours, it takes a lot of stress off the system,” Soos said.

Soos encouraged residents to also update and input any cell phone numbers into the county’s Code Red system, which can be found on the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office website.

Johnsen said as soon as commissioners get around to appointing an emergency coordinator, he’d be available to train and mentor that individual. But first, they’ll have to appoint someone to the position, which is partially funded by government dollars.

“It’s really important we move on this,” Johnsen told commissioners.

Stars and stripes: Craig veterans celebrate Flag Day

As they released this nation’s colors to flutter in the wind Friday, June 14, members of Craig’s American Legion Post 62 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 saluted the American flag and said the Pledge of Allegiance.

Members of Craig’s American Legion Post 62 and VFW Post 4265 hoist and salute an American flag provided by the Northwest Colorado Republican Women Friday, June 14.
Clay Thorp

The flag was provided by the Northwest Colorado Republican Women and was one of several events honoring Flag Day.

Members of Craig’s American Legion and VFW Post 4265 salute an American flag provided by the Northwest Colorado Republican Women Friday, June 14.
Clay Thorp

The day began with the early 21-gun salute at a flag retirement ceremony at the VFW Post in Craig. The post has been collecting American flags in need of retirement and said they had amassed at least 250 as they continued that ceremony well into the afternoon Friday.

“The VFW is authorized by Congress to dispose of flags and it needs to be done in a respectful, honorable way,” said Don Guthrie, the new commander of the VFW Post.

Members of Craig’s American Legion Post 62 and VFW Post 4265 ready the flag for raising.
Clay Thorp

Craig’s VFW grounds have several memorials to veterans. Guthrie said their memorials to veterans of WWI and WWII are sacred ground.

“The statue over there honors our WWII veterans and that cannon honors our WWI veterans and that’s our sacred ground,” said VFW veteran Gilbert L. Meats.

VFW Post #4265’s flag retirement ceremony started early Friday, June 14 and continued throughout the day as residents brought the post some 250 flags whose ashes will be spread in a special, sacred area on the VFW property.

The post has been active in the “Buddy Poppy” movement to wear red poppy flowers to honor veterans — and they’ve used that to start a small donor fund for local veterans in need.

“That’s what the poppy money goes for,” Guthrie said. “The money we get from the poppy drive stays in Moffat County.” 

Members of Craig’s American Legion and VFW Post 4265 hoist and salute an American flag provided by the Northwest Colorado Republican Women Friday, June 14.
Clay Thorp/Craig Press Staff

Craig City Council increases budget for small business improvement

The city of Craig is expanding its popular new business grant program in the wake of several small businesses downtown utilizing the program for building improvements.

On Tuesday, June 11, Craig’s City Council voted to increase the committee’s business grant program annual total from $162,800 to $195,000. The extra $32,200 will come from the general fund, which has a healthy surplus, according to Councilman Tony Bohrer. 

“$33,200 is probably not going to break the bank,” Bohrer said.

Much of the work that’s been happening around town is already making the area look better, Bohrer said.

The city’s economic development committee awarded nearly $50,000 to five local businesses: the shared building of Downtown Books and Sundrop Custom Framing on Yampa Avenue received $6,900; Eyecare Specialties and the Victory Building, $15,000 each; Action Services, Inc., $7,500; and Just Dance LLC, $5,500.

Each grant must be matched by the business and must be used for façade or capital improvements, among other requirements.

“I drove by today and man, it looks phenomenal,” Bohrer said.

Councilor Chris Nichols, who made the motion to pass the business grant program increase, said it seems to be spreading to still other businesses.

“It’s contagious,” Nichols said.

Councilor Andrea Camp commented on the program’s ability to help small business owners who would otherwise be unable to afford such major improvements.

“When you’re looking at a $10,000 for a small business, it just seems out of reach sometimes,” Camp said.

Councilman Paul James was the only dissenting vote to increase the funding Tuesday night.

Historic donation: Moffat County School District nears giving Yampa building to Memorial Regional Health

In exchange for a discount worth little more than the value of a single-family home, Craig’s $1.6 million Yampa Building will be donated to Memorial Regional Health, if the Moffat County School District Board gives the go-ahead at its board meeting June 20.

If the project goes forward, the nearly 100-year-old building located at 775 Yampa Ave. will be renovated to fit the needs of its new purpose as a for-profit addiction treatment facility called Providence Recovery Services of Colorado.

MRH CEO Andy Daniels and MCSD Superintendent David Ulrich presented an update on the pair’s agreement in principal during a BOE meeting Thursday, May 16, in an effort to increase transparency, Ulrich said.

“The board certainly is aware of one of the things that is out there in the community is perhaps the hospital and the school district have not been as transparent as they could’ve been,” Ulrich said. “You’ve heard me say, ‘I don’t buy that,’ however, we certainly want to make sure that we’re open and honest with our community at every opportunity that we have.”

The two-part agreement would transfer ownership of the Yampa property for a “nominal fee,” Ulrich said. In return, MRH would give the district a 33% discount for the next three years of contracted registered nurse and health technician services, a total savings of $218,126.19.

“One of the things that Andy talked about, and really wanted to emphasize from his position, was a sense of compensation for this building,” he said. “This community has invested a lot for this building. We did not want, and Andy did not want, to give the community the impression that we’re simply giving this building away.”

The 1925-era Yampa Building is priceless to some members of the community because of its many public functions over the years as a school, school district headquarters, an early childhood center and a shared school, according to the Museum of Northwest Colorado archives.

Until this week, the real estate value of the property was unknown to the public. The Yampa Building’s official appraisal value was withheld by appraiser Bob Stevens during his final public report in December, as previously reported by the Craig Press. At the time, Stevens said the disclosure of his estimate of the market value would not be in the best interest of the school district or the community.

According to property data from the Moffat County Tax Assessor Collector’s office obtained by the Craig Press via a Colorado Open Records Act request, the property includes lots 37 through 48 in subdivision “Original Craig.”

The land alone is worth $213,750, some $4,376 less than the savings the district might reap from its pending agreement with MRH. The Yampa Building by itself is valued at another $1,427,914. In all, 775 Yampa Ave. is worth $1,641,664, according to Moffat County tax records.

MRH and MCSD have been in talks about the building for nearly two years, Ulrich said, since July 2017. The decision to enter into real estate negotiations with MRH was decided during a public board meeting held on Feb. 21.

According to previous Craig Press reporting, MRH will be an investor, not an operator, of the proposed Providence Recovery Services of Colorado treatment facility. The addiction treatment center will operate with the help of three private out-of-state partners. Mississippi-based Sunflower Management Group will provide managerial oversight and program development; Affinity Healthcare, Inc. will provide business development and coalition building assistance; and Ascension Recovery Services, headquartered in Morgantown, West Virginia, will provide technical assistance and support.

MCSD administrative support staff will move to the former East Elementary building June 19 to 21, Ulrich said Tuesday.

The transformation of the Yampa Building into a private, for-profit treatment facility would take approximately three or four months, hospital officials said.

Board Secretary Dr. Elise Sullivan voiced her approval of the proposed treatment facility.

“I think if you don’t see addiction in your life, you may not understand, but I’d just like to point out that anyone can experience addiction, whether you’re a CEO of a hospital, a doctor, a lawyer, or a teacher, every single person can have addiction issues,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to be changing the face of Moffat County right now. I’m super excited about this model.”

Sullivan abstained from voting on the partnership in February citing a potential conflict of interest, as she might directly benefit financially as a provider at the proposed treatment facility.

On Tuesday morning, at least two Moffat County Commissioners expressed their approval for the school district’s plan to transfer ownership of the Yampa Building to MRH and to make the building into an addiction treatment facility.

“It’s the school board’s choice with what they do with that building, but I do think it’s a good use for that building,” said Commissioner Ray Beck.

Beck said the building’s continued cost of operation won’t burden taxpayers any longer.

“Alleviating the upkeep and maintenance on that building will save them millions every year,” Beck said.

Don Cook said he and his fellow commissioners weren’t involved in the deal to donate the Yampa Building.

“We did not know much more than anyone else did,” Cook said. “By the time we knew about it, it was pretty much already struck.”

But Craig resident Jayne Morely said she’s appalled by the plan.

“So many of us were shocked that the hospital was working with the school district to transfer this building,” Morely said.

Morely and other community members have expressed their displeasure to Craig City Council about the Yampa Building deal. Many feel the school board is cheating the next generation out of a public asset that can still benefit the community’s kids going forward.

“You’re cheating our children,” Morely said of the Yampa Building’s transfer of ownership to MRH. “That school board has a responsibility to our kids.”

The next public BOE workshop and regular meeting will be held at Colorado Northwestern Community College at 4 p.m. Thursday, June 20.

Craig’s new USDA grant will help develop economic plan

The city of Craig is one of only three entities in Colorado to receive a planning and assistance grant last week from the United States Department of Agriculture.

According to an email announcement from the city, Craig and Moffat County were among 47 communities across the country that applied for and received assistance through the USDA’s Rural Economic Development Innovation program.

“We are elated to hear about our selection for this project,” said Melanie Kilpatrick, Craig’s executive assistant to the city manager. “We had a great variety of application support letters from our local community partners so we are optimistic about the opportunities that await.”

Those entities include the Moffat County School District, Moffat County Tourism Association, Memorial Regional Health, Tri-State Generation & Transmission, Bank of Colorado, Identity Graphics, Craig City Council, Craig Chamber of Commerce and Moffat County Visitor Center, Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, and Colorado Northwestern Community College.

Kilpatrick said all of Craig’s community partners will have a role to play going forward.

“These entities committed their role to the City of Craig and the REDI initiative to include forming a genuine partnership to actively support planning to overcome multi-jurisdictional challenges in our community — designating one representative to work on this effort,” Kilpatrick said, adding the partners are “committing their efforts in sustaining implementation of this grant beyond its initial completion.”

According to a news release from USDA announcing Craig and Moffat County as a recipient, the grant will be used “for planning assistance to help complete a broadband build-out plan titled ‘Developing High-Speed Connectivity. The planning will also help develop workforce housing and senior independent-living housing.”

USDA officials said they know the importance of broadband in Craig.

“Broadband is a necessity for economic development and critical infrastructure to ensure rural prosperity,” said Sallie Clark, Colorado state director of USDA Rural Development. “The assistance provided will benefit residents of the city of Craig and Moffat County.”

Craig City Manager Peter Brixius has pushed hard for faster internet since taking his position at the city. Brixius plans to utilize the plan that REDI representatives will help develop to apply for even more grant funding.

“Once the economic development plan is put together, it will qualify us for future state and federal funding that we may not have qualified for without this plan,” Brixius said.

Though the REDI grant does not have a specific dollar amount attached to it, the deliverables are nonetheless tangible.

“The deliverable for this project is a well-thought-out economic development plan that centers around technology and infrastructure,” Brixius said.

Colorado exploring program to pay farmers for temporarily stopping their water use

As the West faces more demand for water and less water available to meet that demand, decision makers are working to figure out how Colorado could implement recently signed agreements to reduce water use in the Colorado River basin, which includes the Yampa River.

The collective group of agreements is called the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.

It aims to raise the unprecedented low water levels in the largest reservoirs on the Colorado River system, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, to enable them to continue to deliver water and produce hydropower.

In Colorado, it calls for three possible actions:

  • Creating a bank of stored water in federally owned reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell. This water would be released into Lake Powell in order to make sure Colorado continues to meet obligations to deliver a certain amount of water to downstream states under the Colorado River Compact.
  • Increasing cloud seeding and removing deep-rooted, invasive plants that take up a lot of water, such as tamarisk.
  • Creating a voluntary program that would temporarily pay agricultural water users to fallow their land and send water they have a right to downstream. This is called demand management.

Of the options on the table, demand management — the option that would pay farmers not to use their water — is the one most likely to impact Routt County.

“Demand management is a temporary, voluntary and compensated water banking effort,” said Jackie Brown, who represents the Yampa, White and Green River basins at the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

She said without a federal reservoir in the Yampa Valley, local water managers will monitor the additional storage in federal reservoirs, “but it’s not something that’s going to directly impact Routt County citizens.”

Brown added that it’s unlikely increased cloud seeding would occur at a level that would be meaningful to the Yampa Valley.

Demand management is still only a hypothetical, so the Yampa River Basin could opt out of a program if it doesn’t work for the area.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has assembled workgroups on topics related to demand management. These groups are now meeting behind closed doors to develop preliminary reports outlining how the program might work.

Brown said once these reports are completed and released to the public, there will be opportunities for community members to provide input on the idea. She said there will be the “opportunity for a real, thoughtful conversation, especially in the Yampa and White (river) basins.”

“We’ll be able to react to those as citizens of the county and of the basin, as water users,” she said. “After that, it will be ‘Does this program look like a good idea?’ If it looks like a good idea, then great. What does implementation look like for the Yampa (River) basin? If it doesn’t look like a good idea, then we move on to hopefully preparing for an unknown future.”

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.comor follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

Dinosaur’s EPA grant dollars will help fund community center

The Environmental Protection Agency has some late spring cleaning in store for the town of Dinosaur.

In a news release Wednesday, the EPA announced it awarded Dinosaur a Brownfields grant worth $200,000 to clean up some nine acres where a school building sits near a playground, baseball field, and a basketball court.

“The building was constructed in 1962 and has been vacant for more than a decade,” the release said. “The town recently had an environmental assessment completed of the property through the EPA Targeted Brownfields Assessment program, which identified various contaminants of concern, including metals, PCBs, and inorganic materials.”

In an interview Wednesday moments after the grant award was announced, Dinosaur Assistant Town Clerk Linda Hedge said they had just heard about their winning the award.

“I haven’t even informed the town council yet,” Hedge said.

Nonetheless, Hedge is excited about the grant helping her small town get a new community center, which is the plan for the site.

“I’m excited about it,” Hedge said. “I know this is really going to be an asset to the town.”

In its statement, the EPA said was among 149 communities selected to receive grant awards totaling more than $64 million in Brownfields money.

“EPA Brownfields grants are helping Colorado communities address environmental hazards and create new amenities that bring people together,” said EPA Regional Administrator Gregory Sopkin. “We look forward to the cleanup of the former Dinosaur School property and its revitalization as a much-needed community center.”

Façade fever: Craig businesses spruce up storefronts with grant program

A handful of small businesses in Craig are getting a serious facelift with the help of a new matching grant program that aims to spruce up businesses downtown. 

Craig City Manager Peter Brixius said the city’s economic development committee awarded nearly $50,000 to five local businesses.

Eyecare Specialties on Pershing Street took $15,000, as did the Victory Building on the corner of Yampa Avenue and Victory Way.

Action Services, Inc. on Mack Lane received $7,500, while Just Dance LLC on East Victory Way was awarded $5,500.

The shared building of Downtown Books and Sundrop Custom Framing on Yampa Avenue received $6,900.

Each grant must be matched by the business and must be used for façade or capital improvements, among other requirements.

While Brixius helped spearhead the rollout and implementation of the city’s new grant program, he credited Craig City Council and its economic development committee, among others.

“I don’t wanna take full credit for that,” Brixius said.

Pam Young’s Sundrop Custom Framing was perhaps the first to begin work on their façade Monday. As a crew worked Wednesday laying fresh stucco on the façade she shares with Downtown Books, Young said it was a hard decision at first to invest more in a building she’s close to paying off entirely.

Pam Young talks from her Sundrop Custom Framing shop Wednesday, June 5.
Clay Thorp/Craig Press

“Then you kinda see what’s going on across the street at the brewery and I thought it would be nice to keep that momentum going,” Young said Wednesday of construction crews who are close to finishing Yampa Valley Brewing’s Barrel Cathedral.  

Young’s façade was completely torn off and replaced as part of the project, which also includes upgrades to the side of her building.

“We’re getting a lot of bang for our buck,” Young said.

Young’s frame shop is small and simple, unassuming compared to the glitzy frames that cover almost every empty spot on her walls. She said without the city’s matching grant, she would have been unable to afford such improvements.

“We’re not wealthy business people,” Young said.

Young said she’s glad to contribute to the city’s beautification.

“We’re glad to contribute to that and help beautify the town and give back, help revamp business a little bit,” she said. “The bookstore has been here probably as long as I’ve been. So it’s two businesses that get a new look.”

Darrell Whitmire (front) and Noel Serdna work on the façade of Downtown Books Wednesday, June 5.
Clay Thorp/Craig Press

Brixius said there’s a possibility “in the very near future” they will ask for additional funds for the city’s new business grant program as Craig’s façade fever continues to spread.

“I think if everybody sees each other making those efforts, it’s going to bring some confidence to others in the business community and hopefully we’ll see some more of it,” Brixius said.