Regional partnership hopes to wrangle grant money for coal communities
The Northwest Colorado Development Council has been working for nearly a year to unify various communities affected by the impending closure of coal-fired power plants.
Xcel Energy plans to close both units at the Hayden Station by 2028. In Craig, the first of the three power generators is slated to close in 2025, and all three are expected to shut down by 2030.
“We’re all in the same leaky rowboat,” said Routt County Commissioner Tim Redmond, referring to other communities in the development council. “If we didn’t start now, by the time this all got here, it was going to be way too late.”
The development council is a regional effort between Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, the towns of Oak Creek, Hayden, Yampa, Meeker and Rangely and the cities of Craig and Steamboat Springs.
Each of these communities, except Steamboat, is expected to be affected by the transition away from fossil fuels, and there is state and federal money available to help.
Redmond, the chair and Routt County’s representative on the council, has been thinking about how to give these communities a “softer landing” since he was elected mayor of Hayden in 2018. After winning a county commissioner seat in 2020, Redmond said he felt like there needed to be an even bigger group.
“This region’s interconnected,” he said in reference to housing, child care and transportation being major issues in communities across the Western Slope.
“We’re facing the same problems. Maybe we could avoid duplication of effort and, more importantly, avoid being in competition for the same money,” he continued.
Since starting to pull the group together last spring, the council has received grants from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to hire a consultant and some administrative support, Redmond said. This has provided extra staffing, allowing some of the smaller towns with limited time and resources to put a greater focus on economic development.
All of the member communities — except Steamboat, which isn’t eligible for grants geared at coal communities — have come up with a project and are hoping to get funding from the Colorado Office of Just Transition, which was created to help the communities adjust.
Yampa’s project aims to produce a strategic plan for growth in the town. Hayden’s plan would help fund the town’s industrial park project near the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
Redmond said each town presented its ideas to the council over the last month and got feedback designed to improve the proposals. With the council’s help, these projects can be better organized, more coordinated and carry more weight for funding.
The partnership helps when applying for grants because it can spread the benefits over a larger area rather than just for a rural town of 2,000 people, said Hayden Town Manager Mathew Mendisco.
“That’s what the federal government wants,” Mendisco said. “When you’re competing for federal dollars, they like to see that it benefits the region.”
Eventually, projects might have a broader reach than just one municipality with multiple or potentially all members making a collaborative proposal.
Still, Redmond said the council is a bit of a test case, as it’s one of the first of its kind in the state, and there are still some kinks to work out.
“That’s a price that we’re happy to pay, because we’re moving forward,” Redmond said. “We’re bringing resources and, more importantly, hope to our communities.”
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