Moffat County Year in Review: First half of 2018 brings mixed bag of news
Editor’s note: This is the first article in a two-part series recapping the top headlines of 2018. Part 1 focuses on stories published during the first half of the year. Part 2, which will recap news stories from the second half of the year, will be published Friday. All dates refer to the date of publication rather than the date of the actual event.
Jan. 5: It was announced the city water enterprise fund would benefit from a flush of funds in 2018. The windfall was the result of $250,000 in grant revenues and savings of more than $260,000 over 10 years, the latter of which resulted from the refinancing of a 2016 loan.
Jan. 5: Wild West Radio owners Frank and Tammie Hanel announced they were under contract to sell KRAI and 55 Country Radio.
Jan. 12: Sunset Elementary School was among 125 Colorado schools to be honored with the Colorado Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Awards, which are given to schools that demonstrate exceptional student growth.
Jan. 17: Memorial Regional Health and Moffat County signed a lease for a portion of the county shop in Dinosaur to be converted to a medical clinic, significantly expanding primary medical care availability for people living in western Moffat County.
Jan. 19: Due to a fault in the main generator, Craig Station took Unit 3 offline for repairs and combined the work with its scheduled spring maintenance. The unit was expected to be offline for several months.
Jan. 26: A reconstituted Local Marketing District board held its first meeting, electing officers, identifying needs, and setting goals for the year to come. The reconstitution of the board became necessary in late 2017, when most of the previous board members resigned.
Jan. 31: Employees at the Craig Wastewater Plant sprang into action to help rescue a bald eagle that landed in a sewage treatment pool at the plant. Plant employees pulled the eagle from the pool and captured it in a blanket, then turned the animal over to District Wildlife Manager Johnathan Lambert. After several months of rehabilitation, the eagle was released back into the wild.
Jan. 31: Local residents John and Mary Lou Allen were honored with the Bill & Nancy Muldoon Humanitarian Award during the Craig Rotary Club’s Diamonds & Spurs event. The Allens were honored for their work in the community, including their contributions to the Preserving the Last Frontier historical group and their assistance in the reconstruction of the Luttrell Barn Cultural Center.
Feb. 2: The Moffat County Board of County Commissioners engaged George K. Baum and Company, an investment banking firm that specializes in municipal finance, to assist in gathering research and advice on increasing county revenue. The consulting firm was engaged in anticipation of a potential ballot measure.
Feb. 9: Following years of deferred maintenance, it was decided that the Moffat County High School swimming pool would be closing. Superintendent David Ulrich reported the pool was losing 350 to 450 gallons of water per day and “we don’t know where that water is going.” Faced with the option of closing the pool or spending an estimated $1.1 million to replace the facility, it was decided the pool would be closed.
Feb. 14: Jerry DeLong was appointed Craig’s chief of police during a meeting of the Craig City Council. DeLong had been serving as interim chief of police since the August 2017 forced retirement of former Chief Walt Vanatta. During the same meeting Bill Leonard, who had also been serving in an interim role, was officially promoted to police captain.
March 2: Craig officials thwarted an email attempt to defraud the city of $37,000. Craig Finance Director Bruce Nelson became suspicious when he received an email — ostensibly from Mayor John Ponikvar — asking about the cash balance in the city’s general fund and requesting he wire $37,000 to a consultant’s bank account in Clinton, Oklahoma. The situation was the result of a multistep scam that compromised the mayor’s email account, the city’s bank account and a bank account in Oklahoma. The city caught onto the fraud and did not wire any money.
March 9: Transwest announced it would begin making offers to Moffat County landowners for rights-of-way to accommodate the planned Transwest Express transmission line, which would carry 3,000 megawatts of energy 730 miles from a yet-to-be-completed wind farm in Wyoming to the nation’s largest wind farm in California. The project comes with a $3 billion price tag.
March 16: Several dozen students at Craig Middle School participated in a nationwide walkout in conjunction with similar protests happening across the country a month after a deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 people dead. “We’re showing our respect to those kids that lost their lives in the shooting,” said Faith Berkey, 14, who was among the students who walked out of the middle school for 17 minutes. Moffat County High School student Aaron Hill also participated in the walkout.
March 16: The Craig City Council announced it would hold a special meeting to conduct a public vote on the dismissal of outgoing City Manager Mike Foreman. The meeting was called after the Craig Press became concerned that the decision to terminate Foreman’s employment, made without a vote during an executive session, violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law.
March 21: George and Ann Kidder — better known to generations of Moffat County kids as Santa and Mrs. Claus — bid farewell to Moffat County to relocate to Florida to be nearer their family. The news was greeted with a mix of emotions, including sadness, expressed by many people in Northwest Colorado who have come to know and love the Kidders.
March 21: During a special meeting, the Craig City Council voted to terminate the employment of former City Manager Mike Foreman.
March 23: Dustin Jackson, 31, of Craig, was arrested on suspicion of two counts of felony criminal attempt and two counts of felony attempted murder in the second degree following an incident during which Jackson allegedly slammed a woman’s head into the window of a car. Jackson was also potentially facing charges for domestic violence, three counts of third-degree misdemeanor assault, misdemeanor harassment, and criminal mischief.
March 28: Yampa Valley Electric Association CEO Diane Johnson announced she would be leaving as head of the association after five years in the role. YVEA Operations Manager Steve Johnson was promoted to the position of president and general manager of the association.
March 30: It was announced that Moffat County was to receive between $1.6 and $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of the Interior in connection with the former Anvil Points research site, located northwest of Rifle on the Roan Plateau. The settlement was associated with back royalty payments that had been withheld to clean up the former research site.
March 30: Memorial Regional Health officially launched one of Moffat County’s largest construction projects in 2018 with a ceremonial groundbreaking for its new medical office building adjacent to The Memorial Hospital.
April 4: The Craig City Council and the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners each agreed to put up $12,500 to fund the first phase of a plan to build an open-access, high-speed internet network for the county.
April 11: Following an unsuccessful attempt in November 2017 to demolish the old Empire Mine Silo south of Craig — an attempt that left the tower leaning and inspired the nickname “The Leaning Tower of Moffat County” — the demolition was successfully completed the second time around.
April 18: The Moffat County Affiliated Junior College District Board of Control called for a vote of no-confidence in Colorado Northwestern Community College President Ron Granger’s leadership of the institution. The motion failed 3-2.
April 20: Thanks to quick action by the Moffat County School District and the Craig Police Department, potential tragedy was averted after it was learned that two MCHS students might have been planning a school shooting. “The police department will continue to investigate, but there is no immediate danger,” said police Captain Bill Leonard. Both students were quickly located by police.
April 25: Moffat County High School students returned to classes following an alleged school shooting threat, though many parents opted to keep their children at home. CDP Capt. Bill Leonard said reports detailing the incident were to be forwarded to the District Attorney’s office for a charging determination. Neither of the youths implicated in the incident were charged.
April 27: Memorial Regional Health announced it would be outsourcing its medical billing to Zion Revenue Solutions, LLC, a Texas company. The decision eliminated MRH’s billing/coding department, as well as termination of employment of the 24 employees who worked in it. MRH’s initial contract with Zion was for a three-year term and some of the former MRH billing department employees were offered new positions with Zion and/or MRH.
May 2: In what Moffat County School District Superintendent Dave Ulrich characterized as “a pivotal decision,” the Moffat County School District Board of Education unanimously authorized administration supports and the Early Childhood Center to relocate to East Elementary School, marking the end of an era of student service for the Yampa Building at 775 Yampa Ave.
May 9: More than 100 individuals representing elected officials, senior citizens, young professionals, college staff and taxpayers shared their perceptions of the Craig campus of Colorado Northwestern Community College during focus groups held in Craig, Maybell, and Dinosaur. The groups expressed concerns about CNCC’s leadership and direction.
May 9: Three local veterans — Will Montgomery, Tracy Santistevan, and Ryan Fritz — completed a 36-mile hike over Rabbit Ears Pass and back, finishing the second annual PTSD Awareness Hike in about 14 hours. The men were walking to help raise awareness for PTSD and other issues facing veterans.
May 11: Finding themselves in a rare state of agreement, Moffat County officials and conservation groups both expressed dissatisfaction with a Bureau of Land Management draft plan to open an additional 224,200 acres of Colorado land to oil and gas leasing by changing regulations surrounding mineral leases near leks, the areas the greater sage grouse mate. Conservationists were concerned about the impact this might have on leks and the population as a whole. Moffat County officials worried it might unnecessarily curb oil and gas development in an area where grouse populations have been on the uptick.
May 16: Following a six-day trial and nearly seven hours of deliberation, a Moffat County jury convicted Rachel Niemeyer, 40, of second-degree murder in the Oct. 4 shooting death of her husband, Michael Adam Freese, 48. The jury also found Niemeyer guilty of second-degree assault, and two counts of prohibited use of a firearm. She was later sentenced to 18 years in prison.
May 16: The Craig City Council began the search for a new city manager in earnest. Reviewing applications from 46 hopefuls for the job during a special meeting, council members decided to gather more information about 10 of the candidates.
May 18: The Moffat County Board of County Commissioners signed a letter challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s authority to require mitigation for impacts to certain areas in the path of the proposed TransWest Express power line. In the letter to state directors of the Colorado and Wyoming Bureau of Land Management offices, the county challenged the BLM’s legal authority to require compensatory mitigation in areas inventoried as Lands with Wilderness Characteristics within the path of the proposed TransWest Express transmission line.
June 1: The community was outraged to learn thieves had broken into the Community Budget Center, taking a television and an undisclosed amount of cash from the store’s donation box. The culprits also caused damage to the building and unplugged the store’s security equipment. The Budget Center offers emergency assistance to people in dire straights by providing help with rent, gasoline for transportation to verifiable employment, utilities, and other needs.
June 13: The Wild Horse Warriors of Sand Wash Basin — an advocacy group — called a last-minute meeting to coordinate hauling water to the Sand Wash Basin in western Moffat County to alleviate the group’s concerns that wild horses in the basin do not have access to enough water. The group stood ready to haul water for about a month awaiting approval to undertake the project from the Bureau of Land Management, the agency tasked with managing the wild horses and burros of the basin. The group began hauling water July 9.
June 15: At least five fires continued to burn in or near Colorado, and wildfire danger continued to be rated as extreme or very high across much of the state, including in Moffat County, where a red flag warning continued.
June 20: Thousands turned out to hear Big Head Todd and the Monsters, the final concert culminating the 19th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous.
June 20: The Moffat County Affiliated Junior College District Board approved the expenditure of $357,395 from reserve funds to support college programs while providing 100-percent free tuition to county residents.
June 22: Political newcomer Donald Broom, general manager of Sombrero Ranch, became the county’s Republican candidate for the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners after defeating incumbent Commissioner Frank Moe and former Commissioner Tom Mathers in primary voting. As there were no Democratic candidates for the office, Broom secured his place as the county’s next District 3 commissioner in the primary. Voters also elected Tammy Raschke as county clerk & recorder and chose Jesse Arthurs as Republican candidate for county coroner. Arthurs defeated Democratic candidate Alec Brown to win the office in November.
June 29: Stage 1 Fire Restrictions took effect for all unincorporated areas of Moffat County and were set to continue indefinitely. Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume requested the restrictions be passed by the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners due to the unseasonably warm and dry weather patterns, which had created dangerous fire conditions.