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O’Neill Column: Taking in the views from Mountain View Trail

Max O'Neill

On the morning of Saturday, Feb. 20, I went snowshoeing as part of a program with City of Craig Parks and Recreation Department, and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Program, where we climbed up the Mountain View Trail near the northeast access point of Elkhead Reservoir State Park.

The experience was my first in Craig — or anywhere else for that matter— and it was a good experience. I was a little nervous going in with the number of miles (a little bit over 2.5 miles) daunting. While it was hard, it was also a very rewarding experience when I did reach the top and looked out at the landscape and knew that I accomplished the hike.

While I am not a huge winter sport person, let alone a snowshoer, I enjoyed the hike, especially with the people that I hiked with. I was surprised about how well the snowshoes grabbed onto the snow and what the difference probably would be if I had not been wearing the snowshoe, instead of just my normal snow boots.

The people that I hiked with were good people. Surprisingly, I even hiked with my neighbor, which was an entertaining surprise when I pulled up to the meeting spot at the Northeast Access Point of Elkhead Reservoir State Park. I got a late start to the climb due to interviewing CPW Senior Park Ranger Mark Lehman, so David Morris — one of the guides on the hike — and I got to know each other, which made the trip all the more enjoyable.

I enjoyed the snowshoeing though, after adjusting to the somewhat weird feel of the snowshoes at the very beginning. It was not that hard either, which surprised me.

Leslie Hockaday (left) and Tami Foth (center) walk ahead of Mike O’Brian (right) up the path along Mountain View Trail Feb. 20 at Elkhead Reservoir State Park. (Max O’Neill / Craig Press)

I didn’t sink in the snow; my feet did not collapse into the snow in the same way that they would have if I was only wearing my Timberland boots. In what might be obvious to some but not to me, a born and bred city slicker, I really felt like it was somewhat easier to hike in the snow shoes, which crushed the snow below my feet and made walking along the path easier. It also didn’t allow my feet to slip off the snow on some of the uneven points, especially at the beginning and end of the hike.

The path was clear as Morris and his nephew, Craig Parks and Recreation recreation director Travis Sanford, hiked the path on Feb. 19, clearing the path for the eight or so total people that participated in the hike.

Once we reached the top of the trail, the views from the top were amazing. Seeing the ranches across the way and the ice fishermen down below hoping to catch dinner was surreal.

I arrived in Northwest Colorado in early November and this was one of the first times that I have explored all that the local landscape has to offer. I think the beauty will really come out when the weather clears up. So, instead of ice fisherman on the lake, there will be fisherman and other summer sport enthusiasts at the park.

As a city kid, I climbed up the rocks when I was a kid near my apartment and I could see over to New Jersey, and I could see into the playground down below. That view from my childhood pails in comparison to the views I saw Saturday. The best views where I’m from in New York City come from apartments in sky scrapers. Don’t get my wrong: those are beautiful views of a place that is one of my favorite places on earth.

Views from the top of Mountain View Trail at Elkhead State Park. (Max O’Neill / Craig Press)

But, the fact that I was outside, breathing the fresh air, getting a view all the way up was truly amazing. The name of the trail — Mountain View Trail — was very accurate; all around, the only thing the eye could see with few exceptions was the mountain ranges.

Every time I go up to the mountains, I am struck by the beauty and I really understand why people around town have told me that they moved to Craig at various points because they were struck by the beauty of the landscape.

The hike definitely made me want to try it again when the weather warms up in the spring. It was also really good exercise as I worked up a pretty good sweat by the time I got down the mountain from the hike up and the walk down.

It was an enjoyable experience even if I did slip on some ice…in the parking lot.

Writer’s on the Range: The West badly needs a restoration economy

Jonathan Thompson / Courtesy Photo

Farmington, a city of 45,000 in the northwestern corner of New Mexico, has run on a fossil fuel economy for a century. It is one of the only places on the planet where a 26-kiloton nuclear device was detonated underground to free up natural gas from the rock.

The city’s baseball team was called the Frackers, and a home run hit out of their practice park was likely to land next to a pack of gas wells. The community’s economy and identity are so tied up with fossil fuels that the place should probably try a new name like Carbonton, Methanedale or Drillsville.

Over the last decade, however, the oil and gas rollercoaster here has shuddered nearly to a halt, and one of two giant coal-fired power plants is about to shut down. The carbon corporations that have been exploiting the local labor and landscape for decades are fleeing, taking thousands of jobs with them. Left behind are gaping coal-mine wounds, rotting infrastructure and well-pad scars oozing methane.

The pattern of abandonment is mirrored in communities from Wyoming to Utah to Western Colorado to the Navajo Nation. Community leaders scramble to find solutions. Some cling to what they know, throwing their weight behind schemes to keep coal viable, such as carbon capture, while others bank on outdoor recreation, tourism and cottage industries.

Yet one solution to the woes rarely comes up in these conversations: Restoration as economic development.

Why not put unemployed miners and drillers back to work reclaiming closed coal mines and plugging up idled or low-producing oil and gas wells?

The EPA estimates that there are some 2 million unplugged abandoned wells nationwide, many of them leaking methane, the greenhouse gas with 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, along with health-harming volatile organic compounds and even deadly hydrogen sulfide.

Hundreds of thousands of additional wells are still active, yet have been idled or are marginal producers, and they will also need plugging and reclaiming.

Oilfield service companies and their employees have the skills and equipment needed and could go back to work immediately. A 2020 report from the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy found that a nationwide well-plugging program could employ more than 100,000 high-wage workers.

Massive coal mines are also shutting down and will need to be reclaimed. Northern Arizona’s Kayenta Mine, owned by coal-giant Peabody, shut down in late 2019, along with the Navajo Generating Station, resulting in the loss of nearly 300 jobs. The Western Organization of Resource Councils estimated that proper reclamation of the mine could keep most of those miners employed for an additional two to three years.

Peabody, however, still has not begun to meet its reclamation obligations. This is a failure not only on Peabody’s part but also of the federal mining regulators who should be holding the company’s feet to the fire.

Who will pay for all of this? Mining and drilling companies are required to put up financial bonds in order to get development permits, and they’re forfeited if the companies fail to properly reclaim the well or mine. Unfortunately, these bonds are almost always inadequate.

A Government Accountability Office report found that the Bureau of Land Management held about $2,000 in bonds, on average, for each well on federal land. Yet the cost to plug and reclaim each well ranges from $20,000 to $145,000. An example: In New Mexico, a company can put up as little as $2,500 per well that costs at least $35,000 to plug.

Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet tried to remedy this last year by crafting a bill that would increase bonds and create a fund for plugging abandoned wells. Republicans kept the bill from progressing, but with an administration that touted reclamation of mines and abandoned wells in a climate-related executive order, and a new Senate in place, the bill stands a good chance of going forward.

Economic development focusing on restoring the land once miners leave is a natural fit for beleaguered towns suffering the latest bust. Plus, by patching up the torn landscape these communities will help clear the path for other types of economic development, such as tourism or recreation.

“Restoration work is not fixing beautiful machinery … It is accepting an abandoned responsibility,” wrote Barry Lopez, the renowned nature writer who died recently. “It is a humble and often joyful mending of biological ties, with a hope clearly recognized that working from this foundation we might, too, begin to mend human society.”

Jonathan Thompson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is a veteran reporter specializing in economic and environmental issues.

Lauren Boebert’s campaign amends reimbursement report that raised red flags

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert’s campaign has publicly acknowledged that a prior campaign finance report — which raised ethical red flags and led to multiple requests for investigation — was inaccurate. Still, the campaign defended a large payment to the congresswoman.

On Feb. 2, The Denver Post reported that Boebert, a Republican from Silt, was paid more than $22,000 in mileage reimbursements from her campaign account, an unusually large amount that several ethics experts said raised questions. To justify the reimbursement, Boebert would have had to drive 38,712 miles last year during a pandemic that limited travel for several months.

Most of that money was paid on Nov. 11, when Boebert received $21,200 from her campaign coffers for mileage, according to her campaign’s original report, filed in December.

On Monday, Boebert’s campaign filed an amended report to the Federal Election Commission, reiterating that Boebert received $21,200 on Nov. 11 but claiming it was a reimbursement for mileage, travel expenses and hotel stays. Mileage accounted for $17,280 of the reimbursements, the campaign says.

“I represent one of the largest districts in the country and was proud to have driven to every nook and cranny in it to help win my election,” Boebert said in a statement Tuesday. “The reimbursement was for appropriate travel expenses, as reflected in the filing. We were happy to provide further detail. Nothing changes the reimbursable amount or the campaign’s operating expenses.”

Boebert called the controversy “much about nothing” and said it was generated to distract from Reps. Ilhan Omar and Maxine Waters, two Democratic congresswomen who have paid family members with campaign funds.

To read the rest of the Denver Post article, click here.

Xcel commits to no employee layoffs when retiring Hayden power plant

To feed the Hayden Station power plant, Xcel is proposing installing a railroad line that would go over U.S. Highway 40 near an existing bridge that crosses the Yampa River.

Xcel Energy announced Wednesday morning that it’s committed to avoiding any employee layoffs when closing its coal-fired power plants, including the two stations in Hayden set to retire later this decade.

In a virtual presentation, representatives of Xcel, the state’s largest power utility, unveiled details of the company’s plan to reduce carbon emissions by 85% by 2030 and to adopt a fully carbon-free system by 2050. The plan includes adding 5,500 megawatts of wind, solar and energy storage to the Colorado system, enough to power 1.8 million homes annually, according to Ben Fowke, chairman of Xcel Energy.

“That’s more than double the amount of renewable energy in the Colorado system,” said Fowke, who added that if approved the plan will transform the state’s energy policy.

The clean energy plan, which is expected to be filed with the state at the end of March, also calls for all of Xcel’s coal-fired plants in Colorado to be fully retired or repowered by 2040. The two stations in Hayden are set to retire in 2027 and 2028.

No employee layoffs are anticipated with the plant closures, according to Xcel. Instead, the company will work with employees on a transition plan, including offering training opportunities to work in renewable energy or other energy sectors.

“We are committed to working with our employees and the communities we serve as we make significant strides leading the nation’s and Colorado’s ambitious clean energy transition, while also ensuring reliability and affordability for our customers,” Fowke said.

Rich Meisinger, business manager of IBEW Local 111, which represents over 4,200 energy workers throughout Colorado, said Xcel and the union have been forced to think outside the box to find new avenues for impacted workers, including the 68 employees at the Hayden Station.

“We can’t just transfer the impacted workers to another power plant anymore,” Meisinger said. “I think the company and union are working more closely than they ever have to secure opportunities to good union jobs in Colorado.”

While a transition plan was already a component to the state’s Office of Just Transition, Gov. Jared Polis said during the presentation that announcing there will be no layoffs “makes the job easier.”

“It’s a strong commitment to make upfront,” Polis said. “It’s not every day our economic incentives line up with our environment incentives, but that’s what’s happening here.”

While Xcel seeks to eliminate all carbon emissions, the company will continue to rely on natural gas to ensure a reliable grid, according to Fowke.

This story will be updated following an interview with the president of Xcel Energy Colorado later this afternoon.

Moffat County asks Colorado for permission to move to Level Green: Protect Our Neighbors

Moffat County is requesting a move to the less-restrictive Level Green: Protect Our Neighbors in the COVID-19 dial from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Commissioners and Board of Public Health members Donald Broom, Melody Villard and Tony Bohrer — with the support of Craig Mayor Jarrod Ogden, Public Health Director Kari Ladrow, Sheriff KC Hume, Public Health Medical Officer Allen Reishus, and Memorial Regional Health CEO Andy Daniels — approved a letter to CDPHE requesting the move to Level Green Wednesday during a special Board of Public Health meeting.

A potential move into Level Green by Moffat County would mark the first county in Colorado to move into the dial level under the new guidelines.

In Level Green, bars would reopen at 50% capacity, while personal gathering sizes would be left up to local guidance. Capacity sizes across the board would increase to 50%, or 500 people depending on the space and the location, according to the COVID-19 dial.

Commissioners unanimously approved the letter requesting the move.

“I believe Moffat County is in a good position; I really do,” Broom said following the approval of the letter.

Currently, Moffat County has just seven active COVID-19 cases, and has 777 total, marking an increase of just four cases since Friday, Feb. 19.

When asked what she feels the decision will be from CDPHE, Ladrow said it’s an “optimistic yes.”

This is a developing story. The Craig Press will provide more updates as they become available.

Vallarta’s Mexican Restaurant announces temporary closure due to water pipe issues

 

The logo for Vallarta's Mexican Restaurant, which has announced their indefinite closure.

Vallarta’s Mexican Restaurant announced on Facebook Wednesday morning that they will be closed until further notice due to a water pipe issue within the area.

Wednesday’s post announcing a closure was the second post in two days regarding water pipe issues from the restaurant’s Facebook page. The restaurant first posted about issues that their neighbor was having with a water pipe on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

Wednesday morning’s post reads, “Sorry customers, but we are having to close our business for now until further notice. Our neighbors are still having issues with their pipes and at this time (the) city has no idea how long the water will be shut off and when it’ll be restored. We will keep you posted. Sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for your understanding!!!”

It is unclear when the business, located at 2705 W. Victory Way, will reopen.

This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

MCSD elementary students compete in Western Slope Rise Above Vex IQ competition

Ridgeview students Curtis Kuberry and Yahir Duarte listen to the judges in front of the robotics board in their classroom. (Courtesy Photo)

Through robotics, a handful of Ridgeview and Sandrock Elementary students connected with students across the country and around the world Friday in the Rise Above Vex IQ competition.

As part of the Project Lead the Way, Ridgeview Elementary’s fifth-grade class had five students participating in Friday’s competition, including Curtis Kuberry, Yahir Duarte, Nate Steele, Mel Chamberlain and Logan Miller. The students were separated into two teams, known as Triple Threat and the Shark Hunters.

Team Triple Threat was made up of Kuberry and Duarte, while Steele, Chamberlain and Miller made up the Shark Hunters. The competition was supervised by the three Project Lead the Way teachers in Allison LeWarne, Ty Kuberry and Rhonda Counts. Ridgeview elementary school had a total of three teams participating, and Sandrock elementary school had three of their own teams.

Sandrock’s teams were made up of fourth and fifth graders. The fourth grade had two teams in the Bulldog Botics and the Braniacs, while the fifth grade had one team called the Code Breakers. The Bulldog Botis were made up of Teagan Siminoe, Evan Torres, and Dylon Reno. The Brainiacs were made up of Bella Bergstrom, Kolby Smith, Avenly Lowe, and Diego Garcia. The sole fifth grade team to compete in the competition was made up of Josie Terry, Carson Haskins, Ari White and Koda More.

Friday’s competition saw 13 teams participate, including teams from California, Washington, Virginia, Florida, Arizona, and even Russia. The six teams from Moffat County School District did not place in the top three in this competition.

For the competition, students had to construct robots as a team without help from the teachers, except for the occasional motivational word. The competition was judged by two Vex IQ-certified referees, and Counts timed the students giving the teams a minute for each challenge.

The goal of the competition was to stack blue towers on top of each other. If the team completed a row of towers it was worth 30 points. The teams also had to switch which team member was controlling the robot at the 30-second mark of each challenge.

The teams enjoy the spontaneity of building the robots for these competitions.

“You really don’t know what you’re going to do until you do it,” Kuberry said. “It’s because, with the new challenge, when you finally get your robot changed to fit the new challenge then you’re pretty happy with it and proud of it.”

The students also enjoy the rush that stacking the pieces on top of one another successfully gives them.

The robots have license plates and omni-directional wheels that can go 360 degrees, which allows them increased freedom to move, according to Counts. They also had to measure their robot, make sure that the controller could properly communicate with the robot, let the judges know how many motors they have, and how many battery packs they have.

While building the robots doesn’t take very long, the students said they spend a lot of time in the editing and fixing process that goes into making the robots competition-ready.

The Project Lead the Way program is used throughout the Moffat County School District, which allows the students to continue this process as they enter sixth grade in the fall. When asked if they will continue into middle school, the students responded with a resounding yes.

“I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. Any type of engineer you can think about, I’ve thought about,” Steele said.

Scranton Column: Precisely!

Regardless of your political persuasion, George Orwell should be on the minds of everyone who is concerned about the state of our republic.

His writing has always fascinated me and as high school literature students hack (it’s a tough one) their way through his dystopian novel – 1984 – some culturally relevant concerns begin to permeate through the thick walls of teenage self-obsession. Teens, by their very nature, have, since the beginnings of teenagerhood, been mostly preoccupied with themselves and the insulated world they have constructed.

Through little fault of their own, the meaningful evaluation of issues more complex than what to watch on Netflix is sometimes a difficult proposition to attempt in class.

But, don’t despair! The state of our future isn’t without some bright lights and big reasons to celebrate. Those of us who are quickly entering that third phase of existence are acutely aware that the older we get, the more we can find it difficult to understand the machinations of people more than three times our junior!

Orwell does such a good job of pointing out the obvious contradictions through the delineations of characters designed to evoke a sympathetic and even guttural response from readers and many students recognize the thematic elements!

Orwell was writing in response to the state of the world back in the early and mid 20th Century when things were looking fairly bleak. His story centers around Winston Smith who finds himself in a culture obsessed with controlling just about every facet of existence — especially information.

What the students find especially unbelievable is how the government subverts any attempt to know what is really going on by the subtle, and sometimes obvious, ways in which Big Brother controls the narrative.

The very language we speak, read, and use is constantly being revised down to fewer words so that the usefulness of their meaning can become lost. Precise language is necessary in order for free-thinking people to make informed decisions. But when words like insurrection, traitor, fascist, nazi, and even democracy are hijacked as descriptions for something or someone that makes you roll your eyes or shake your head — look out!

This isn’t the first time young people have been constantly beat over the head with a narrative that is designed to cut off any kind of discussion or debate.

Winston rebels as only someone in his predicament can, but is eventually found out and taken to the “Ministry of Truth” for some evaluation, questioning, and re-education. All turns out well in the end as Winston realizes that he loves Big Brother but students can’t believe that he would just give up!

Young people are used to superheroes and rebels who buck the system and help others see clearly how the government has taken advantage of their sensibilities, exposes the corruption of false ideas and manipulation and eventually sets people free to make their own decisions and maintain their right to self-determine (think any Marvel Cinematic Universe movie).

But 1984 is just dystopian fiction and could never really happen — could it? Hopefully we got some regular heroes that are gonna make sure it doesn’t.

Moffat County boys basketball picks up second win in a row, topping Meeker 59-50 Tuesday

Moffat County Bulldogs athletics.

Fresh off of a big win over the Delta Panthers Saturday in 3A Western Slope League action, the Moffat County Bulldogs’ boys basketball team make the trip south to Meeker Tuesday night to take on the Meeker Cowboys in non-league action.

Unlike Saturday’s win, the Bulldogs needed an overtime session Tuesday night to knock off the Cowboys, 59-50, moving above .500 on the season at 5-4.

Tuesday’s non-league battle between the Bulldogs and Cowboys started slowly as the two teams for just 13 points in the first quarter as Moffat County held an 8-5 lead after eight minutes of action.

Following a slow first quarter, the Bulldogs and Cowboys found their offensive game. In the second, Moffat County outscored Meeker 16-9 to take a 24-14 lead at the half behind a key block and layup by junior Myles Simpson, and late free throws by senior Wesley Counts.

Despite the strong first half, the Bulldogs came apart in the second half, allowing the Cowboys to battle back from a 35-21 deficit to force overtime. The Bulldogs were outscored in the final frame 15-9, as they got into foul trouble late Tuesday night, allowing the Cowboys to battle back and tie the game at 48-48 with 29 seconds left on a 3-pointer from Ethan Drake.

Moffat County righted the ship in overtime though, outscoring the Cowboys 11-2 in the extra session, pulling away for the 9-point win.

Counts’ 15 points led the Bulldogs. Counts scored most of his points from the charity stripe as he contributed eight points at the line.

Moffat County had a balanced scoring attack Tuesday night as eight players scored at least three points, with the three leading scorers in Counts, Simpson and junior Jordan Carlson combining for 34 points in the win.

Sitting at 5-4 (1-1 3A WSL) on the year, the Bulldogs return to action on Friday, Feb. 26 at home when they welcome the Grand Valley Cardinals to Moffat County High School for a league matchup. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Obituary: Charles Louis Mansfield

Charles Louis

Mansfield

August 6, 1934 – February 18, 2021

Charles Louis Mansfield was born August 6, 1934, Craig Colorado, the 6th child of Dorothy Louise Gammill and Walter William Mansfield, and died February 18, 2021 Craig Colorado. Early childhood was spent on the family homestead on Elk Head Creek north of Craig. The family moved into Craig in the early 1940’s. He served honorably in the US Army from 1957 to 1959. While working in Salt Lake City, he met his love of 60 years, Beth Richenbach. They lived in Colorado and Wyoming before returning to Craig in 1973, where he lived for the remainder of his life. He worked for Trapper Mine for 23 years. After retirement, they spent summers at their mountain property in Cimmarron, Colorado. He enjoyed fishing, 4 wheeling, watching wildlife, traveling, snowmobiling, restoring antique tractors and tractor pulls. They have 2 daughters, 5 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren. He is survived by his wife, Beth and daughters Marlene & Scott Bonner, Brenda Blake, and sister Alta Dell (Jerrie) Simpson. He is preceded in death by his parents and 5 brothers. A viewing will be held from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., Thursday, February 25, 2021 at The Grant Mortuary Chapel. Funeral services will be held at 1:00 p.m., Friday, February 26, 2021 at The Grant Mortuary Chapel. Interment will follow at Craig Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to Northwest Colorado Health and Hospice in care of Grant Mortuary.