Year in Review: Wildfires dominate headlines in 2nd half of 2019
Editor’s note: This is the second article in a two-part series recapping the top headlines of 2018. Part 2 focuses on the tops stories published July through December 2018. All dates refer to the date of print publication rather than the date of the actual event.
July 4: The Divide Fire that burned through grass and sage about 32 miles north of Craig began June 29 and was reported by Moffat County Sheriff ’s Office as fully contained July 1. The fire flared up again July 3, ultimately burning 19,955 acres before final containment. As a result of wildfire fighting efforts, the annual July 4 fireworks show in Craig was canceled. The personnel who would have worked the show were otherwise deployed to fight wildfires.
July 6: The body of 38-year-old Matthew Shelters, of Steamboat Springs, was found along the banks of Soda Creek about 25 yards upstream from an 800-acre parcel known as the Atwood Ranch near the Steamboat city limits. Shelters went missing the morning of April 24 after leaving Back Door Grill on Oak Street in downtown Steamboat, sparking a regional search. The cause of his death remains a mystery as an autopsy and toxicology report provided few answers.
July 13: Moffat County offers its thanks to everyone involved in fighting fires during one of the worst fire seasons on record in the region.
July 13: A blueprint for municipal broadband infrastructure was unveiled. The plan allowed partners to apply for multiple grants, including a $1 million energy impact assistance grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Ultimately, the plan convinced Yampa Valley Electric Association to develop a new plan to bring broadband services to businesses and residences in 2019. As a result, the Moffat County Broadband Initiative finalized its involvement and declared the takeover of the project by the rural electrical utility association a win for the community.
July 18: After 31 years of service to the city of Craig, City Clerk Kathy Larson retired from public service to spend more time with her family and her garden.
July 25: The tally of wildfires reported in 2018 grew to more than 100, as reported to the Craig Interagency Dispatch Center.
July 27: The Downtown Business Association became the latest entity to voice its frustration with the Craig City Council about the abandoned Golden Cavvy building, located at 538 Yampa Ave., prompting the city to remove a sign and stairs that were deemed unsafe and begin researching options to condemn the property or see it redeveloped.
July 27: The National Rifle League reloaded and returned to Craig for the second annual Mile-High Shootout. The shootout was one of 16 events the league holds across the country.
Aug. 1: Thousands of dollars were stolen in a break-in at the Bedrock Diner in Dinosaur, in western Moffat County, causing residents to question the lack of law enforcement in the town when the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office was unable to respond. Sheriff KC Hume explained the town is responsible for providing law enforcement. Town council called a meeting and selected a new town marshal to replace Marshal Taffine Patterson, who had initially investigated the case before stepping down as marshal.
Aug. 3: Bank of the West lost Craig Branch manager of 27 years Stacy Razzano and many local customers, including Moffat County, when its parent company — BNP Paribas — declared it was pulling support for companies involved in extractive industries.
Aug. 3: Craig City Council hired Peter Brixius — who had been serving as Rangely city manager — for the city’s top job. Craig had been without a manager since mid-March, when City Council terminated the employment of former City Manager Mike Foreman. Finance Director Bruce Nelson was to continue serving as interim manager until Brixius’s start date in September.
Aug. 8: A community task force presented Moffat County Commissioners with a request for a mill levy to support the Moffat County Libraries and the Museum of Northwest Colorado in light of budget cuts that defunded the museum and cut the libraries budget to statutory minimums. A proposed mill levy was rejected by voters, making the survival of these entities uncertain.
Aug. 10: Craig residents Alex Perez and Carina Olivera shared their loss and spirit to rebuild after the destruction of their home in a trailer fire that saw the couple lose most of their belongings and one vehicle.
Aug. 10: A group of citizens working to build a new indoor pool for Craig, after the closure of the pool at Moffat County High School decided to take the plunge into politics, planning to ask voters in 2019 to support a recreation district. If successful, the district would see construction of a recreation center, complete with indoor pool.
Aug. 15: A young bull moose was seen hanging around the Yampa River south of Craig. Balloonists flying over Loudy-Simpson Park during the Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival Aug. 4 and 5 first noticed it.
Aug. 17: Retired Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta was honored with the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police’s Charles K. Steele Award.
Aug. 22: Craig resident Jason Davis received a new kidney from his mother Rene Littlehawk after doctors identified her as a match. Davis’s kidney’s were damaged as a result of complications of Type 1 diabetes. The gift from his mother most certainly saved his life. Community members assisted in raising money to help with medical and travel costs not covered by insurance.
Aug. 24: New sidewalks and traffic flow was changed to help make dropping off and picking up students safer and more efficient at Sandrock Elementary and Craig Middle schools.
Aug. 24: Prior to the start of the school year, officers from the Craig Police Department provided school safety training to new teachers and a refresher course that included drills to empower teachers to mitigate harm when confronted by violent threats.
Aug. 29: Jonathan Alexzander Waugh, 36, appeared in court via video conference on multiple felony charges, including attempted first-degree murder, after his aunt — Susan Reeves, also of Craig — accused her nephew of attempting to kill her. Waugh is alleged to have assaulted his aunt, leaving her unconscious in a burning home that they shared on June 21. The case was held over multiple times with an arraignment in Moffat County District Court expected in early 2019.
Aug. 29: The new president of the Colorado Community College System roared into town Sunday on his Harley Davidson motorcycle. Former lieutenant governor of Colorado, Joe Garcia began his work as the system’s new president July 1 and traveled to Craig and Rangely to listen to concerns in Craig, and support in Rangely for the direction set by Colorado Northwestern Community College President Ron Granger.
Aug. 31: The $1.7 million Moffat County received from the Anvil Points settlement is in limbo, according to Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck as federal officials decide if the windfall will result in a reduction in reduce the county’s portion of federal payments in lieu of taxes, or PILT — federal payments made to compensate state and local governments for some of the property tax revenue lost due to tax exempt ownership status of federal public lands.
Aug. 31: Grand Futures Prevention Coalition becomes one of three organizations including Northwest Colorado Health and Memorial Regional Health, to receive large grants to address the opioid epidemic in Northwest Colorado. $50,000 each year for three years will help Grand Futures with youth opioid prevention.
Sept. 5: During a whirlwind tour of Western Colorado, Democratic candidate for governor Jared Polis visited Craig to discuss education, health care costs, and the economy. Polis was ultimately elected Colorado’s new governor, though he lost the Moffat County vote to Republican candidate Walker Stapleton.
Sept. 7: Moffat County School District placed Referred Measure 4A — which proposed replacing the existing seven districts with five newly drawn districts and two at-large positions. Voters approved the change.
Sept. 12: For the first time since the start of Colorado Measures of Academic Success, students in the Moffat County School District exceeded state averages for student performance.
Sept. 14: Sunset Elementary School kindergarten teacher Amy Jones was named among six teachers nominated for Colorado’s prestigious Teacher of the Year award.
Sept. 14: Craig City Council members approved funding for two water improvement projects, including upgrading the city’s water meter reading system and installing a new chloramine secondary disinfection system.
Sept. 19: Country music superstar Michael Martin Murphey, a history buff since his childhood, donated a set of historic maps depicting the historic pioneer and Indian trails to the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
Sept. 19: Following 10 weeks of construction, the historic Swinging Bridge at Browns Park was officially rededicated during a ceremony held at the renovated structure.
Sept. 21: As part of Craig Middle School football’s games with Steamboat Springs at the Moffat County High School Bulldog Proving Grounds, JP Price scored a touchdown to start the second half of the program’s eighth-grade game. The 13-year-old, who uses a specialty wheelchair due to Duchenne muscular dystrophy, took to the line of scrimmage for a handoff from his younger brother, Trystan, and headed straight for the goal line.
Sept. 26: A collaborative health care agreement between SCL Health St. Mary’s and Memorial Regional Health formalized a decades-old affiliation between the two health systems, and in less than 24 hours, the affiliation was already paying dividends.
Oct. 5: The Craig Press hosted almost two dozen elected officials, volunteer board members, and residents at Colorado Northwestern Community College for a workshop about the state’s Open Records Act, Criminal Justice Records Act, and Open Meetings Act, collectively known as “Sunshine Laws.”
Oct. 5: The Moffat County Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution formally opposing Proposition 112, a setback measure that would have required oil and gas wells to be at least 2,500 feet from any structures intended for human occupancy, as well as “vulnerable areas.” Colorado voters resoundingly defeated the measure.
Oct. 17: The Moffat County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the county’s draft budget for 2019, including sharp cuts to “non-mandated” services. Most notable among these is Moffat County Libraries and the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
Oct. 19: After a vote of three in favor and two opposed, the Moffat County Affiliated Junior College District board has sent to the Colorado Community College System a proposal for the third-party development of on-campus student housing with a cafeteria.
Oct. 24: About 65 community members turned out to rally around Neilene Folks, a longtime physician assistant who was terminated by Memorial Regional Health. Folks was later hired as PA with Northwest Colorado Health.
Oct. 26: The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado honored state Rep. Bob Rankin with its first Legislator of the Year award. Rankin, who has since 2013 represented District 57 in the Colorado House of Representatives, serves on the House Appropriations Committee and the Joint Budget Committee.
Oct. 26: The Craig City Council directed city staff to amend Craig’s proposed 2019 annual budget to remove the addition of a proposed the Department of Economic Development.
Oct. 31: Craig Mayor John Ponikvar was named chair of the Colorado Municipal League Policy Committee by CML’s executive committee upon the recommendation of CML’s president and Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell.
Nov. 2: The Moffat County Employee Health Insurance Board considered its options after Memorial Regional Health provided notice it would be ending its employee health and wellness center services for Moffat County employees.
Nov. 14: Northwest Colorado saw the final days of one of its most epic and expensive wildfire seasons to date in 2018. The region is accustomed to dealing with lots of fires, but this 2018’s extreme heat and drought resulted in more volatile fires that consumed vastly larger numbers of acres than in years past.
Nov. 16: Moffat County Jail inmate Geoffrey Duzik, of Craig, allegedly assaulted a detentions deputy, according to a warrantless arrest affidavit filed by Craig Police Sgt. Brian Soper. Investigators suspected the incident might have been gang-motivated. Duzik was charged with first-degree criminal attempted murder, first-degree assault, and second-degree assault — all felonies— and obstructing a peace officer, a misdemeanor. His case remains active.
Nov. 21: Craig Middle School Principal Sara Linsacum was named Assistant Principal of the Year by Colorado Association of School Executives, a Denver-based education group focused on enhancing leadership at schools across the state and recognizing superintendents, principals, and others who stand out in their careers.
Dec. 5: Faced with the ongoing issue of declining revenue, officials from Moffat County and the city of Craig are looking to identify ways in which the two governments can work together to increase efficiency and save money, including the potential consolidation of city and county law enforcement agencies.
Dec. 7: The Moffat County Board of County Commissioners publicly proclaimed its support for Twentymile Coal Mine’s application to lease an additional 3.7 million tons of federal coal. A study of the proposed lease estimated it would have a direct impact of $153 million, supporting 269 jobs in Moffat and Routt counties, and a total impact of about $230 million and 523 jobs.
Dec. 12: A Moffat County jury found former Moffat County High School teacher and coach Justin Folley not guilty on 10 felony counts of child sexual exploitation.
Dec. 12: The Committee to Grow Craig launches a petition drive to place on the ballot an ordinance adopting the growth, manufacture, and sale of recreational marijuana within Craig city limits.
Dec. 14: The Craig City Council, in front of a packed approved the city’s 2019 budget, minus the Economic Development Department originally proposed when the draft budget was introduced.
Dec. 19: Due to a rate increase at the Moffat County Landfill, the Craig City Council voted to increase solid waste disposal rates from $35 to $45 per ton for Craig and Moffat County residents.
Dec. 21: Frustrated over the lack of government support, the Craig Moffat Economic Development Partnership, a public-private partnership, met to discuss the possibility of dissolving the organization. “EDP members are frustrated,” said business owner Scott Cook, also a former board member. “Directors have spent a large amount of time on funding instead of on the work of economic development.”
Dec. 26: A 3-year-old child perished in a Christmas Eve fire that erupted at 1921 Woodland Ave, a residence in the Meadows subdivision on the west side of Craig. Emergency personnel made several attempts to reach the child, but were pushed back by the flames.
The body recovered from a drowning at Harvey Gap Reservoir has been identified.