Two months after the flood and mud slides on Sweetwater Road in western Eagle County, county crews, volunteers and residents are still dealing with a mess.
"There is nowhere to put the dirt right now," said Eagle County Planning Director Bob Narracci.
Debris from the July 24 flood and Aug. 6 mud slide is currently being spread around wherever it can be useful or out of the way.
"We're currently giving material away to residents, trucking it away to Bureau of Land Management Land site and trying to fill in the road edges here and there," said County Road and Bridge Director Gordon Adams.
There is still more dirt to deal with, however.
"We're thinking of putting the dirt over the edge of the road, which requires a grading permit," Narracci told county commissioners on Monday. "The Army Corps of Engineers has definite rules about what can happen to the stream."
In proximity to the stream, any alterations have to remain within the footprint of the impacted area.
Adams hopes to use some of the dirt to help raise and support sections of Sweetwater Road. Some of the material is also going to residents for building berms that might mitigate future floods.
Volunteer excavators have been helping with the work and the county is trying to streamline the process as much as possible. On Monday, Narracci talked about having a county engineer work directly with the excavators to eliminate a draft and appeal process for designs, such as a berm's location, height and width.
"We want to help volunteers as much as possible by saving some permitting steps, and of course permitting fees are waived," said Commissioner Jon Stavney.
A concern Stavney raised is that the material was being put back where it came from and would simply wash over the roads and properties again in the next flood.
Adams said mud slides and debris flows will happen again in a big event. However, in that case it would be new dirt going over the dirt being packed away now. That means the dirt work now will be more of a help than a threat in the future.
Still, it's a lot to deal with.
"Even two months later, it's bad," Narracci said.
- Derek Franz
The ECO buses are rolling into a little more green.
For starters, Eagle County is getting a huge savings on two replacement buses. Second, ECO Transit is going to be getting some extra revenue soon - a minimum of $101,000 per year - thanks to advertising space being sold on the outside of the buses.
Eagle County Commissioners approved the ad-sales contract and the bus buy at Tuesday's meeting.
The entire ECO fleet already has ads inside its 31 buses but this will be the first time any have had ad "wraps" on the outside, said ECO Transit Director Kelley Collier.
"We don't exactly know when you'll see the wraps, since we just got the contract approved and have not started selling the ad space yet," she said.
That's why it's also too soon to gauge how much revenue might be expected beyond the minimum annual amount of $101,000.
"Right now we're just balancing our bottom line," Collier said. "With any additional revenue, we'd love to put it back on the road in the form of service."
Commissioners pointed out that some municipalities such as Vail have strict requirements when it comes to things like ads on the outside of vehicles.
"We've been working with the towns on this for about a year and a half, and they're all on board," Collier said.
ECO is currently funded by a mass-transit dedicated sales tax, bus fares and a federal operating grant, which is applied for annually.
For more information about buying ad space on a bus, contact Jill Anderson at 970-855-0199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for the new buses, the county is getting $280,000 worth of buses for $56,000, Collier said.
"We have two buses with a 12-year cycle that ends next year. This deal will give us an extra six years," she said. "This is really going to help us out."
The buses are coming from Colorado Springs, which is getting rid of 10 buses in all. They are dated from 2007. The two buses being replaced in Eagle County's fleet are from 2001.
- Derek Franz
Apparently, Eagle County has been doing pretty good job keeping things under budget and avoiding unplanned costs.
For starters, Eagle County Finance Director John Lewis said the county is coming in under budget for all funds by about $724,000 in payroll alone.
"There will be additional savings on top of that in payroll and other areas by the end of the year," he said. "Almost every line item will have at least a little bit of savings. It's difficult to tell exactly how far under budget we are so far but we will finish the year under budget."
One indicator of the county's tight ship is the mere handful of supplemental budget requests for 2012. Lewis presented the fourth request of the year at Tuesday's commissioner meeting, fewer than the number of requests in recent years.
In Eagle County's case, supplemental budget requests are made for approval of spending that was not anticipated when the commissioners approved the initial budget last December. Many of the requests are the result of increased grant revenue. For increased spending requests that do not have a corresponding revenue match, $500,000 was set aside in the general fund. To date, a little less than $180,000 has been needed from that contingency fund.
"Not too long ago we had countless supplemental requests, like every week it seemed," said Commissioner Peter Runyon.
Commissioners Sara Fisher and Jon Stavney were also impressed that only four requests have been made.
"Thank you for doing a phenomenal job," Fisher told staff members. "Now we're going to hold you to it even more."
Stavney said what might account for the difference is that four years ago the county was growing fast and the economy was still strong.
"When you're growing quickly, it's easier to lose track of things," he said. "Departments might not plan ahead for costs as much."
That's not the case anymore.
Lewis anticipates a fifth supplemental request will be made in December.
"I don't think it will be much, though," he said. "I think we'll still end up using substantially less than the half million that was budgeted as a contingency fund, which will add to the payroll and line-item savings we are realizing."
- Derek Franz
County commissioner candidates for Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties spoke last week in Carbondale at a candidate forum on water and agreed they need to work together to protect the Roaring Fork watershed.
"The one thing we need is more of a spearheaded committee," said Courtney Holm, Republican candidate for Eagle County Commissioner District 2. "It really comes back to that collaboration. It should come back to all three counties working collaboratively together."
The Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative and Roaring Fork Conservancy teamed up to host the candidates' forum Thursday at the Third Street Center. About 60 people attended the event, which featured eight commissioner candidates from the three counties. Eagle County District 1 candidates Jill Hunsaker Ryan and Jeff Layman, and District 2 candidate Dale Nelson did not attend the forum.
Incumbent District 3 Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson, a Rifle Republican, agreed with Holm that politicians should continue the collaborative tone of the conversation about the importance of water issues in the Roaring Fork Watershed.
"We want to continue to work with the Roaring Fork Conservancy in supporting them and funding them," he said.
Samson said there are many questions surrounding water issues, including how the three counties are working together to ensure water quality and quantity in Western Colorado.
"You have to know all the problems," he said. "How are we working together in Garfield County?"
Aleks Briedis, a Rifle Democrat challenging Samson for the District 3 seat, stressed his backing of the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan, as well as the value of providing more education on water issues.
"I support the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan. I mean, it's that simple," he said. "It's important we have a voice. Garfield County needs to take more of a proactive approach to public education. We need to educate our citizens and engage our citizens."
Sonja Linman, Democratic candidate for Garfield Commissioner District 2, said when it comes to water in Colorado, the issue is a matter of the heart for many people she has met during her campaign.
"I've spent the last five months touring the county, meeting with constituents," she said. "The bottom line is we give water a lot of lip service. We are going to get fierce. Our water is our wealth. It will be my absolute priority."
John Martin, a Glenwood Springs Republican seeking a fifth term for Garfield Commissioner District 2, spoke of working on the original team that devised the watershed plan. He also agreed that commissioners should embrace the idea of collaborative efforts to protect and restore the area's rivers.
"What we need to do is open this up to every municipality," he said. "Our water is our lifeblood."
Steve Child, candidate for Pitkin Commissioner District 4, said he intends to work regionally with all of the Roaring Fork Valley on water issues.
Child said he supports municipalities paying for their own water conservation measures. He mentioned his own conservation efforts, such as switching to water-saving appliances, as well as working with his ranching neighbors up Capitol Creek to not waste water.
"There are years when there's not enough water to go around," he said. "I've lived here for 51 years and this summer has been the second driest year. We are being very neighborly."
Forum moderator Carolyne Heldman asked candidates how they would rectify the trend toward wasting water, and how the "use it or lose it" provision in Colorado water law can hamper water conservation practices.
John Young, candidate for Pitkin Commissioner District 4, said he supports the idea of water banking.
"We're blessed in Pitkin County. We have an open space program. One of the criteria I would like to look at when it comes to acquiring land is water rights," Young said.
When asked the most pressing water-related issue in the Roaring Fork Valley, Young spoke of global warming and energy development, specifically the effect gas drilling and fracking could have on the region's water supply.
"I believe in global warming. I don't want to believe in it but I do," he said. "We need to reduce our consumption. We are oversubscribed on the river."
Jon Stavney, incumbent Democratic candidate for Eagle Commissioner District 2, spoke of the waters in his district - Ruedi Reservoir and the Fryingpan River, categorized as Gold Medal waters for flyfishing, a boon to an economy hit by the recession.
"Most of the uses of Ruedi have not been specified," he said. "Coming off Ruedi, we have the longest stretch of Gold Medal fishing in the state. It's actually a healthier river than it used to be. That's $2 million to the local economy."
The forum, which ran for two hours, closed with a few questions from the audience. Fly fishing guide Dave Johnson of Carbondale asked about the issue of building a dam on the Crystal River. The consensus among the candidates was there was no need to dam the Crystal River.
Jason Carey, a water engineer for the whitewater park on the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, asked how the Western Slope could come together to retain the Shoshone water right in Glenwood Canyon. Xcel Energy owns the water right, which controls flows in the Colorado during the months when farmers aren't irrigating. Candidates agreed that a roundtable and collaborative meetings on the topic with representatives and water attorneys from all three counties would be worth pursuing.
To find out more on local candidates platforms on water issues and the Roaring Fork Watershed, download a copy of the "2012 Voters' Guide to Water Issues" at www.roaringfork.org, or call 927-1290 to request a printed copy.
- April E. Clark
Special to the Enterprise
Union Pacific Railroad urges hunters to resist the temptation to hunt on railroad property this season. Wildlife will migrate and feed along the edges of freshly harvested fields, making these areas prime hunting spots. With many fields adjacent to Union Pacific tracks, hunters find it very tempting to hunt on or near the tracks.
"Too many people have been injured or killed trespassing on railroad property over the years. As part of our UP CARES initiative, we want to remind hunters that walking on or near railroad tracks is extremely dangerous because you never know when a train will come along," said Robert Morrison, Union Pacific Chief of Police.
"It can take a mile or more to stop a train, and, by the time a locomotive engineer sees you on the track, it is too late to stop," said Dale Bray, Union Pacific director of public safety.
"Locomotives and rail cars overhang the tracks by at least three feet on either side of the rail. If you are too close to the tracks, you can be hit by the locomotive or a rail car," added Bray.
Union Pacific is committed to public safety through various outreach channels such as community events, media, Union Pacific Railroad police, employee resource groups and Operation Lifesaver. The UP CARES (Union Pacific Crossing Accident Reduction Education and Safety) public safety initiative brings together communities in a collaborative and caring effort to promote railroad grade crossing and pedestrian safety.
UP CARES activities include:
• Grade crossing enforcement with local, county and state law enforcement agencies;
• Safety trains that provide local officials a first-hand look at what locomotive engineers see daily while they operate trains through a community and
• Communication blitzes that educate the community at events or media outreach.
Hunters are not the only ones drawn to railroad tracks - hikers, bikers, fishermen and snowmobilers are as well.
Anyone choosing to walk on or near railroad tracks could face a tragic consequence. Last year, 411 people died and 361 were injured while trespassing on railroad property throughout the United States, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
People who enter railroad property can be arrested for violating trespassing laws. They could serve jail time and/or have to pay a fine. Do not become a statistic; stay away from railroad tracks during this hunting season.
- Staff report