The news year that was in Craig |

The news year that was in Craig

A list of some of the most important happenings of 2010 in Craig and Moffat County

Brian Smith

The past year was one marked by several major events in the Craig and Moffat County community, from a state bill that many contend could threaten local coal jobs, to discussions on how the city should manage its deer population.

And there were others, to be sure, including ongoing discussions of energy development, a prestigious award for an innovative local teacher, and closure of a high-profile court case.

The following are the top stories of the year, in a nutshell, compiled by the Saturday Morning Press staff.

Coal in the crosshairs

In the spring, state legislators introduced Colorado House Bill 10-1365, also known as the Clean Air, Clean Jobs act.

The bill, which sought to convert several coal-fired Front Range power plants to natural gas, was introduced, passed and signed into law in 36 days — a speed concerning to many Northwest Colorado residents.

Several local organizations and governments opposed the measure from the outset, including the Moffat County Commission, which signed on with the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado in taking several measures to fight the passing and effects of the bill.

Those opposing the bill contend its fallout could severely hinder the Northwest Colorado coal industry and may mean the loss of hundreds of jobs usually considered stable and high paying.

After being signed into law, a contingency of coal miners, residents and organizations came forward protesting Xcel Energy’s plans to comply with the bill. They protested in the hundreds during public comment hearings hosted by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in Grand Junction in late August and in Denver in late September.

The PUC heard a total of 140 public testimonies between both hearings including the submission of about 22 written statements, in addition to thousands of pages of evidence filed by about 30 intervening parties.

The PUC issued a ruling in mid-December to shut down seven units of coal-fired generation at three Front Range power plants and re-power some of them with natural gas.

The plan also calls for building new gas-fired power plants to replace some of the lost coal-fired generation, and emission control technologies to be installed at two plants including the Hayden Station.

Near and deer

In late October, the Craig City Council was prompted to examine possible solutions to dealing with the city’s deer population.

The council was motivated by concerns from some residents that deer have become too comfortable in the presence of humans, and some claimed deer attacked their dogs. Fears of deer attacks on residents prompted Craig Mayor Don Jones to contact the Colorado Division of Wildlife for help.

The DOW presented three options to reduce the deer population — establishing a limited archery hunting season outside city limits, trapping and killing a large number of the deer, and to bring in a team of trained marksmen to shoot and remove deer from the city during the night.

The DOW presented these options to a packed council chambers and received initial support for the plans.

However, when the council addressed the matter again weeks later, audience sentiment differed, most of which favored leaving the deer alone.

The city received hundreds of letters, emails and several petitions from local residents and even members of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals about the issue.

Ultimately, the council took no action on the deer.

Instead, they are encouraging residents to report sick, injured or aggressive deer to the DOW and are considering more educational meetings for residents to understand the root of deer conflicts.

Vermillion surprise

In the spring, the 77,000-acre Vermillion Basin became the center of attention for many residents after two controversial announcements.

In early March, documents were leaked from the national offices of the Bureau of Land Management listing the basin for consideration of special management or congressional designation.

Some residents feared the documents indicated the Antiquities Act would be used to designate the area as a national monument, which would have likely limited public access and use of the land.

However, in late June, the BLM’s Little Snake River Field Office announced it would close Vermillion to energy development as part of its proposed resource management plan.

If approved, the plan would ban oil and gas leasing and drilling in the basin for the next 20 years. Leasing has not been allowed in the area for the past 15 years.

The issue was debated during various public settings and meetings throughout the summer and continues to be a point of conversation of those advocating for either drilling or conservation of the basin.

The Moffat County Commission approved an open letter to the public in July explaining their support of a plan to allow 1-percent of the basin to be drilled at one time, writing it would “conservatively” translate to $700 million of resources, $25.6 million of which could go to Moffat County taxing districts.

Kendall’s kill

In late November, Craig native Richard Kendall shot a 703-pound black bear, a possible state record, after he tracked it to its cave in Moffat County.

Kendall said he shot the bear from about six feet away after entering the cave.

News of Kendall’s kill struck a cord with some residents who said that even though it might have been legal, it was unethical.

Letters to the editor of the Craig Daily Press included both sides of the controversy such as: “As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing brave or courageous in this act,” and “You don’t have any idea of the skill involved in tracking bears, nor the guts it takes to be able to hold his composure enough to make the shot necessary to harvest this animal.”

Prompted by news of the manner in which the bear was killed and some public concern, the Colorado Division of Wildlife decided in mid-December to consider whether to propose a legislation banning such an action.

DOW officials said hunting ethics factored into their consideration of a rule.

However, no decision has yet been made and the Colorado Wildlife Commission has the final say on any new DOW regulations.

Lodging tax not 2B

Craig City Council member Terry Carwile started an initiative in mid-March he hoped would help boost the local economy in years to come.

That initiative came in the form of a proposed 6.9-percent city lodging tax that was shaped with the help of a committee of residents over several months.

The committee proposed the collected funds be divided into four categories related to the improvement of tourism in the area.

However, the local lodging industry scoffed at the measure, contending the tax percentage was too high.

Fifteen area lodging representatives signed a petition against the measure stating they would support the lodging tax up to 4.9 percent.

The measure, designated Referendum 2B, failed in November’s general election with about 72 percent of Craig voters voting against it.

Carwile said after the election he would consider lowering the tax percentage and putting it back to the voters later on, but no action has been taken.

Healthy discussion on Safety Center

Prompted by an expiring sublease, the Craig City Council and Moffat County Commission began negotiations of how much the Craig Police Department’s space in the Moffat County Public Safety Center would cost.

For a decade, the city has received free rent in the safety center for the police department in exchange for a deal struck 10 years ago. The city agreed to provide the 17 acres the safety center was built on to the county in exchange for free rent, but that agreement ends in August 2011.

The commission began talks by presenting possible future lease costs based on the current operating costs of the building, which would have cost the city $256,591 per year.

Unable to reach an agreement on a lease price, the city and county organized a small negotiating team, which soon began talks of the city purchasing outright the police department’s space.

The county asked the city for $1.083 million for the 5,258-square feet of space but the council balked at the price.

Craig Mayor Don Jones suggested the council examine building a new space for the police department and, in the meantime, work out a short-term lease with the county.

The commission, however, stated it would like to continue discussions of a purchase or lease price.

Classroom has worldwide reach

Sunset Elementary School teacher Cheryl Arnett was honored twice in 2010 for her innovative approach to classroom instruction.

In August, Arnett traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend Microsoft’s 2010 U.S. Innovative Education Forum, and in October, she traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, for Microsoft’s worldwide forum.

The impetus was “Digital Stories: A Celebration of Learning and Culture” — a collaborative project between Arnett and Rawya Shatila, a teacher in Beirut, Lebanon.

The project, which began during the 2009-2010 school year, connected Arnett’s first- and second-graders to Shatila’s second-graders through wikis, blogs and more.

Arnett and Shatila submitted their project to Microsoft as a contest entry. In July, their project was chosen along with finalists from around the U.S.

The two teachers were flown to Washington, D.C., where they met for the first time.

A week later, they returned to their respective homes as winners of the Educators’ Choice and the overall contest.

They were also chosen to attend the worldwide forum in Cape Town.

Arnett and Shatila were among 125 teacher teams to present projects at the worldwide forum.

They weren’t recognized with an award, but Arnett said winning wasn’t the point.

“We were all made to feel that what we do is important,” she said.

Seats up for grabs, measures to decide

In a year with several local candidates and hot-button issues on the ballot, Moffat County voters made their voices heard.

In the primary race for Moffat County Commissioner, incumbent Audrey Danner narrowly defeated Tony St. John for the District 2 seat, and Frank Moe lost to incumbent Tom Mathers for the District 3 seat.

Danner was contested in the November election by Moffat County write-in candidate Tami Barnes, but prevailed.

Frank’s wife, Kerry, also registered as a write-in candidate against Mathers in the general election, but lost to the incumbent commissioner, as well.

County treasurer Robert Razzano defeated deputy assessor Carol Scott in the primary race for assessor. Jennifer Riley, who was then the chief appraiser for the assessor’s office, filed as a write-in candidate but withdrew leaving Razzano with the seat after the general election.

County clerk and recorder Elaine Sullivan defeated Mike Brinks for county treasurer in the primary and won the general election uncontested.

Moffat County Sheriff’s Office deputy Larry Dalton and local chiropractor Kirk McKey vied for the coroner position, but McKey won the seat in the primary and went uncontested in the general election.

Incumbent Sheriff Tim Jantz was re-elected, Lila Herod was elected county clerk and recorder, and Peter Epp was elected county surveyor — all of whom were uncontested in both elections.

Voters also decided to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated parts of Moffat County and Dinosaur.

Cases closed on Johnson, Merwin

In the summer, Craig residents got closure on a high-profile case regarding an alleged relationship between a former Craig Police Department detective and a Craig woman with prior felony convictions.

Ken Johnson, also a former All Crimes Enforcement Team officer, allegedly lied to police about his relationship with Craig resident Tausha Merwin in 2009. Johnson allegedly provided Merwin with information about ongoing law enforcement investigations and helped her violate probation during his time as a law enforcement officer.

Johnson was initially charged with attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony, and accessory to crime and embezzlement of public property, both Class 5 felonies.

Johnson reached a plea agreement with the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in April and pled guilty to attempting to influence a public servant. The other charges were dropped in the agreement.

Johnson was sentenced to seven days in jail, 53 days of jail work release, 150 hours of community service, and two years of probation by Judge Shelley Hill.

Merwin was convicted of attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony, after a three-day trial. She was sentenced by Hill to 30 days in jail, 30 days of work release, and three years of probation.

Major Adams’ long-overdue recognition

A somber but reverent ceremony took place in November on the side of Colorado Highway 13 as local residents and veterans gathered to dedicate Moffat County’s portion of the highway to a late Craig resident and honored soldier.

By decree of Colorado Senate Resolution 10-009, the highway was renamed the Major William Adams Medal of Honor Highway.

Adams, a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, was killed in action in 1971 while trying to evacuate wounded soldiers from a hostile area in the Kontum Province of Vietnam. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

“This man is worthy of far greater recognition than mere words or markers,” said Larry Neu, a Vietnam veteran and quartermaster for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 in Craig, during the dedication. “The sacrifice he made and the deeds he performed shall be written in history and shall remain alive in our memories for generation to come.

“We express sincerely our pride and gratitude for the sacrifice he made.”

Adams’ wife, Sandra Adams, daughter Jean Wayne, and son John, a colonel intelligence officer in the Marine Corps, were able to attend the ceremony, as were the late Army pilot’s grandchildren.

Although past efforts to recognize Adams fell short, there are other plans to further honor him in the community.

For now, however, his proud name will stand with the highway, thanks to efforts of community members and officials who were compelled to honor the heroic and fallen soldier.

Other noteworthy stories:

COMA no more

In November, board members for Communities Overcoming Meth Abuse voted to disband the organization and a month later, after eight years of service, COMA was gone.

COMA was established as a volunteer effort to raise awareness in the community about the dangers of methamphetamine use through education, outreach and advertising.

Board members cited a lack of new volunteers and a reduced need for education as reasons for ending the organization.

COMA board members voted unanimously to distribute its remaining funds to four organizations the board thought would carry on COMA’s mission.

The group dispersed its remaining funds — more than $8,400 — to the Boys & Girls Club of Craig, Moffat County Drug Court, the Colorado Meth Project, and the Substance Abuse Prevention Program.

The Boys & Girls Club will assume hosting duties of COMA’s annual Not Even Once Week. It was also agreed that a meth awareness billboard — a long-time fixture on the western end of Craig — would be taken down.

Colowyo sale considered

Rio Tinto officials announced in March they were in the early stages of sale considerations for the Colowyo coal mine.

Colowyo had been in discussions about selling the mine for several weeks trying to solicit interest in purchase of the mine located in southern Moffat County.

The possible sale announcement came on the heels of Colowyo’s announcement it would cut 10 percent of its staff because of lower anticipated coal production.

Officials said the company was investigating all options including securing long-term contracts with coal-fired power plants.

Officials said they needed a long-term contract to support large mining investments such as mining reserve areas of coal. The lack of a contract, officials said, was cause for declining coal production at the mine.

No decision on the mine’s fate has yet been made.

Hatch Act claims two candidates

In April, the federal Hatch Act challenged two residents’ candidacies for local office.

Lila Herod, then the county elections supervisor, was found to be in violation of the act because of a grant she helped secure for the Hamilton Community Center.

She was given the choice to withdraw from the election, or resign from her position, which she had held for more than 20 years.

Herod ultimately decided to take her chances and resign from her post — a gamble that paid off for the now clerk and recorder-elect.

Craig resident K.C. Hume also withdrew his bid for county coroner due to the Hatch Act in February.

During the summer, the two participated in helping pass a state resolution weighing in against the law.

The resolution was a House joint resolution aimed at limiting the Hatch Act’s scope and was passed by the Senate and sent to the federal level.

Emission controls proposed at Craig Station

Tri-State Generation & Transmission officials began in December to foster local support for a state initiative aiming to install new emission control technology at the 1,300-megawatt Craig Station power plant in Craig.

The power company, which favored technologies totaling $40 million and nitrogen oxide emission reductions of 15 percent, went up against a coalition of environmental groups, which lobbied for $660 million technologies and emission reductions of 80 percent to be installed at the plant.

Instead of installing a certain technology on all three of Craig Station’s units, the state’s Air Quality Control Commission approved a compromise, of sorts, between both technologies.

The AQCC’s plan calls for installing cheaper selective non-catalytic reduction technologies, or SNCR, on units one and three at Tri-State, and installing the more expensive selective catalytic reduction technologies, or SCR, on unit two.

However, those plans are subject to review and final approval by the AQCC in early January and need a state legislative review before being sent to the federal level.

Tri-State officials said the company supports the AQCC’s approved plan. The company, however, needs to complete an analysis of the new plan to determine what the plans would cost.

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