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VP Mike Pence to attend Aspen fundraiser Monday

Monday’s $35,000-a-couple fundraiser starring Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to take place at a private club in Aspen owned by two gay men, sources said Friday.

The Caribou Club in Aspen’s downtown core is set to host the VIP reception with Pence, according to sources who declined to be named. Billy Stolz, one of the owners of the club, did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Bob Jenkins, vice chair of Pitkin County Republicans, said Friday that he expects about 25 couples to attend the $35,000-per-couple VIP reception with Pence starting at 5 p.m. on Monday.

Jenkins, however, said the location of the event will not be released to the public.

“If people know, there will be protests,” he said. “It increases security (demands) drastically. Why do we Republicans want to create extra costs for the city of Aspen?”

Jenkins, who said he didn’t know the location of the event, also declined to say who is hosting the event.

Jenkins said he’d heard rumors of about four different locations in downtown Aspen for the fundraiser, though he doubted it would actually take place in that area.

“We are trying to have the event happen without messing with businesses in Aspen,” he said. “I don’t expect it will be at any of the rumored locations in downtown Aspen.”

Asked about Pence’s possible appearance at a gay-owned business, Jenkins said if it were true it would be immaterial.

“(The gay issue) doesn’t affect whether we’re at the Caribou Club or we’re not at the Caribou Club,” he said. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

Throughout his career in Congress and as governor of Indiana, Pence repeatedly opposed efforts to legalize gay marriage and other measures meant to improve the lives of gays and lesbians. President Donald Trump even joked in 2017 that Pence “wants to hang” all gay people.

The last time Pence visited Aspen — in December 2017 — neighbors of the Owl Creek-area home where he stayed displayed a rainbow “Make America Gay Again” banner on a pillar near the home’s driveway.

Regardless of the fundraiser’s location, Trump and the Republican Party stand to reap quite a windfall after Pence’s visit.

Out of each $35,000 donation, Trump will receive the maximum allowed donation of $2,700 per person, while the Republican National Committee gets the rest, Jenkins said. A joint fundraising committee made up of those two entities called Trump Victory is sponsoring the Aspen event.

Pitkin County Republicans received an invitation from Jenkins to the event with Pence earlier this week.

“This event is an intimate high dollar reception, and we would like you to participate if possible,” according to the invitation. “Additionally, please quietly spread the word.

“Additional details will be provided upon RSVP.”

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, RNC Co-Chairman Tommy Hicks Jr. and National Finance Chairman Todd Ricketts “cordially” invited the donors to the Pence event, according to the invitation.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Friday he didn’t know where the fundraiser would be held or who was hosting the event. He said he was attempting to locate the host so he can send the expected $10,000 to $20,000 bill for security his deputies will have to provide.

Summit County leaders, activists push for ski area fees be used for forest health, not just skiing

For years, Colorado ski areas have been heavily pushing the passage of the Ski Area Fee Retention Act in the U.S. Congress, a bill that would allow forest service districts in ski areas to retain 50% of permit and lease fees ski areas pay to use federal land in the forest districts they originate from, money which usually goes directly to the federal treasury.

But local conservation groups and government officials in Summit County have raised concerns about the bill, saying it is far too narrowly tailored to serve ski areas and their quest to rapidly improve their resorts, with no money going to preventing wildfire or protecting forest health in the communities the ski areas do business in.

Ski areas across Colorado pay about $25 million annually in permit and leasing fees to the federal government. The $25 million from Colorado ski areas represent the vast majority of the $37 million annually sent to Washington by ski areas nationwide. Currently, all of that money goes to the feds for forest service projects across the country, not just the forests the money comes from.

Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., introduced the bill in Congress in their respective chambers last year, and reintroduced the bill again this session.

“The Forest Service is a critical partner to Colorado communities and our outdoor recreation industry,” Bennet said in a press release when the bill was reintroduced last month. “By retaining some of the ski area fees for use in our local national forests, we can strengthen the Forest Service’s ability to serve our mountain towns and the businesses that drive our economy.”

“It’s important that our skiing communities don’t just send money to Washington and not fully benefit from fees they generate for the federal government,” Gardner said in the same release. “My bipartisan legislation with Senator Bennet will make it easier for our skiing communities to make the capital improvements they need by keeping the fees they generate.”

The ski resort industry was also effusive about the introduction of the bill, which they heavily lobbied for. In a Denver Post article, a ski industry lobbyist said the retained money would be used primarily for the benefit of ski areas and their guests.

“Ultimately resort guests benefit from ski fee retention,” said Geraldine Link, policy director at the National Ski Areas Association, the main federal lobbyists for ski areas in Washington. “It will help move the process along when a ski area wants to upgrade its lifts or add snowmaking or invest in a mountain bike park.”

Link referred to the fact that the bill — introduced this session as H.R. 2509 in the House and S. 1723 in the Senate — specifically allocates the retained fee money for ski area improvements and expedition of federal approval of capital improvements to ski areas.

The bill specifically prohibits funds from being used for “wildfire suppression” or “biological monitoring” of forest service land.

The specific exclusion of funding for forestry projects outside of ones that benefit ski areas is what drew consternation from Summit County’s Forest Health Task Force, a local forest conservation council.

The task force’s concern is drawn primarily from the massive slash to the budget of the White River National Forest, the most visited national forest in the nation, over the past decade. The funding for the district has been decimated from $270,000 in 2008 to $40,000 in 2018.

The organization sent a letter to both senators on July 5 asking language to be modified to allow using retained funds for wildfire suppression and forest health projects.

“My major issue with this well intended bill is that the the scope of the fund usage by land managers is very limited,” said Tom Koehler, a member of the Forest Health Task Force who contributed to the letter. “It would be great to have more funds to take care of the public land parcel, for wildfire suppression, and preserving the adjacent ecological system.”

The letter follows similar letters sent last year to the senators by regional government organizations, including the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

Those organizations include Summit County government and every town government in the county, where residents have paid millions of dollars over the years to do wildfire mitigation work on land owned by the Forest Service to do work they are unable to do because of budget cuts.

“The language in the ski area fee retention bill kind of flies in the face of the real needs and priorities here,” said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. “We support the concept of having ski fee retained in our forest district, but we also want the priorities and needs for the money to be determined by forest supervisor or district ranger, not exclusively the ski areas.”

An argument may be made that ski areas are justified in retaining money for their own use, given that they are the ones giving the money to the feds in the first place. But that is not how local conservationists see it.

“While they’re the biggest payers of these fees for using public land, they’re not the only ones,” Koehler said, pointing out that anybody who does business on federal land pays the same kind of fees. “It’s a reasonable mechanism to pay the public for use of public land, which they profit off.”

“Even though they pay the fees, those fees are supported by patrons, users and the community in various ways,” Forest Health Task Force president Howard Hallman said. “Without the community infrastructure and blessing, the ski areas wouldn’t be able to generate the income they generate in the first place.”

There is also concern that if 50% of the retained fees are specifically earmarked for the benefit of ski areas instead of general forest service use, as it works now, that money would be taken out of the pool for wildfire suppression and forest health projects nationwide, compounding the problem of dwindling forest service budgets.

“Were this legislation to go into effect, it would preclude using half the money for wildfire mitigation, and that can actually put us in a worse position when it comes to funds for wildfire suppression,” Stiegelmeier said. “That’s taking away potential funds that could be used for preventing wildfire and building healthier forests.”

Requests for comment from the senators about pushback to the bill were not available as of publication.

Former Glenwood Springs City Councilor, colleague admit to bid rigging

Former Glenwood Springs City Councilor Todd Leahy and his real estate colleague both admitted rigging trustee foreclosure auctions on a few occasions, but took plea deals for lesser charges in a court hearing Thursday.

Leahy, 54, and James Gornick, 49, were each charged with bid rigging, a class 5 felony, through a grand jury indictment filed May 23.

Leahy, who finished his final term on City Council in April, and James Gornick, both pleaded guilty to second-degree perjury, a misdemeanor, and were sentenced in the same hearing to three years probation and 100 hours of community service.

They also paid restitution, in the form of payment to a Roaring Fork Valley charity, for what prosecutors called their “ill-gotten gains.”

As a stipulation of their plea deal, Leahy paid $16,000 and Gornick paid $7,278. Judge Denise Lynch did not impose any additional fines.

As part of the lesser perjury charge, Leahy and Gornick’s plea stipulated that they had intended to mislead in an official proceeding.

As a result of their pleas, both Leahy and Gornick are barred from serving in an elected office by the state constitution.

Robert Shapiro of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office argued that Leahy and Gornick deserved punitive sentences with jail time for violating the public trust.

The indictment details several cases of bid rigging that occurred in 2013 and 2017, but Shapiro told the court that he doesn’t believe that those were the only questionable auctions Gornick and Leahy were involved with.

“This was not a one-time incident,” Shapiro said.

Garfield County Treasurer Karla Longhurst (formerly Bagley), who runs the public trustee auctions for the county, spoke during the sentencing portion of the court hearing.

Leahy and Gornick “undermined the integrity of the foreclosure sale and system,” Longhurst said.

“It’s my opinion that the acts of the defendants were outrageous, and occurred over a period of four years or more,” she said.

Expressions of remorse

Both Leahy and Gornick, who have been partners for years and recently joined other realtors to form Integrated Mountain Properties, apologized for their actions and accepted responsibility for rigging the auctions.

After reflecting over past several months, Gornick said he has realized, “I’m the one that has caused undue stress to my family, business partners, and my real estate clients.”

“I can’t tell you how humiliating that is to me,” Leahy said. He then apologized to his family, friends and the greater community.

“Nobody deserved this humiliation except myself,” he said.

The maximum sentence for second-degree perjury is 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine, but lawyers for both Gornick and Leahy pushed for sentences without jail time.

“We weren’t able to find, in the last 15 years, any prosecutions for bid rigging,” attorney Kevin McGreevy said.

The lawyers also stressed that neither man had a criminal record, and both had strong ties in the community.

Several community members, including an unnamed former mayor of Glenwood Springs, wrote letters attesting to Leahy and Gornick’s ties to the community.

 “We understand and we agree, that interfering with the trustee (auction) process is problematic, and illegal,” said attorney Rick Kornfeld, representing Leahy.

Kornfeld asked that Judge Lynch consider the greater context of Leahy’s work for the community.

“Public service courses through his veins,” said Kornfeld of Leahy.

Both men also had been punished, though not officially, due to their loss of reputation, the defense lawyers said.

Judge Lynch declined to impose punitive jail time or additional fines, saying that serving their community was appropriate.

“You’re going to suffer some collateral consequences, I’m sure, and you already have,” Lynch said.

Both Leahy and Gornick are at risk of losing their state licenses to practice real estate.

“This has been a very public case, so I’m sure your reputation in the community has been damaged,” Lynch said.

She added that no one likes to be on the front page of the paper.

“I don’t even like it when they cover my courtroom,” Lynch said.

tphippen@postindependent.com

Trump administration says moving BLM to the West will save money, improve decisions

The Trump administration said Tuesday that it can save taxpayers millions of dollars, make better decisions and trim a “top heavy” office in Washington by moving the headquarters of the nation’s biggest land agency to Colorado and dispersing scores of jobs across 11 states in the U.S. West.

Interior Department officials said they hope to open the new Bureau of Land Management headquarters in the western Colorado town of Grand Junction and complete most of the job shifts by September 2020.

Moving the bureau, which is part of the Interior Department, out of Washington is a long-cherished goal of Western state politicians who cite the preponderance of public lands in their part of the country.

The bureau oversees nearly 388,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers) of public land — 99% of it in 12 Western states — and balances competing demands from oil and gas drilling, mining, ranching, outdoor recreation and environmental protection.

Energy and ranching interests praised the move as an overdue step to give them better access to officials who have considerable power over their businesses. Environmental groups say it will make the bureau a less important part of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Joseph Balash, an assistant secretary of the Interior, said in a conference call with reporters that the moves could save at least $50 million and up to $100 million over 20 years because office space is usually cheaper in the West than in Washington, and cost-of-living differentials for federal employees are lower.

Congress allocated $5.6 million for the move this year, but future cost projections weren’t available.

Balash said nearly half the Bureau of Land Management’s senior executives are in Washington, even though the vast majority of its approximately 10,000 employees are in the West.

“The Washington, D.C.-based personnel are, for lack of a better term, top-heavy,” he said.

Moving senior executives into Western offices would allow them to mentor younger employees and share their knowledge, Balash said.

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said he suspected the true motive was to force out some employees not willing to transfer. The Interior Department has denied that.

In a letter to Congress, Balash said about 300 jobs would move to Western states, but fewer than 30 appeared headed to Grand Junction, a city of about 63,000 people 250 miles (400 kilometers) west of Denver. They would include the bureau director and other top officials.

The department said about 85 jobs would be shifted to Colorado, with most of them going to suburban Denver, where the federal government has a large campus with regional offices for several agencies.

Nevada was in line for nearly 50 jobs, Utah about 45, and Arizona and New Mexico about 40 each, the department said.

About 60 positions would stay in Washington to handle budget and policy questions and work with Congress.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement that shifting bureau leaders to the West would lead to better decisions, but neither he nor other officials described what decisions that would shift from Washington or how they would improve.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the oil industry trade group Western Energy Alliance, said more people who are affected by bureau decisions would be able to meet with agency leaders.

“The whole focus will be on the West, where it should be,” Sgamma said. “Right now, it’s easy to sit in D.C. and deny a rancher a grazing permit. It’s not so easy when he’s sitting across the table from you.”

Mike Noel, a rancher and former Utah state lawmaker, said it will be easier for him to drive to Grand Junction than fly to Washington to talk with bureau staff.

“Having the BLM out here and closer to the ground, we’re going to get better decisions,” Noel said. “There’s a different philosophy out here than there is in Washington, D.C.”

Jennifer Rokala of the Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group, called the move “nothing but a PR stunt” and said it could diminish the role of the Bureau of Land Management within the Interior Department.

Tracy Stone-Manning of the National Wildlife Federation said it was “expensive and unnecessary.”

The headquarters would be in a small city nestled against the Colorado River with views of the orange and brown rock cliffs that are part of nearby Colorado National Monument. Grand Junction has a small college and touts its wineries that sprung up from the fruit-growing region.

Critics have cited potential difficulties flying between Grand Junction and Washington. Grand Junction Regional Airport does not have a direct flight to Washington but has nonstop service to Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and other cities.

The Bureau of Land Management traces its roots to the General Land Office, created in 1812 to distribute territory that the U.S. was acquiring through wars, treaties and purchases. In 1946, it merged with the U.S. Grazing Service to form the bureau.

Last year, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke raised the possibility of moving the bureau west as part of a larger reorganization of his department along new regional borders. Zinke said the changes would streamline the department and align its regions more with ecological zones than political borders.

Zinke stepped down in January amid ethics allegations, and Bernhardt has kept planning but with less fanfare.



Eagle County eyes tougher regulations for trailer parks

Editor’s note: This is part 3 of an ongoing series on water-quality issues in Eagle County. Click here to read part 1 and here to read part 2.

The Eagle County commissioners will take a hard look at a new state law allowing them more regulatory authority over mobile home parks. That’s what one commissioner told the Vail Daily after a series of stories exposing poor water quality at Eagle River Village in Edwards.

“We’re not exactly certain how that is all going to work out, but we’re sure taking a look at it since the public-private partnership that we thought was going to happen fell apart,” Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said. “That doesn’t leave us with much other choice.”

In April, a $4.4 million deal to scrap the massive mobile home park’s antiquated well system and connect it to the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority system, using nearly $2 million in public and nonprofit funding, fell through when Eagle River Village owner Ascentia pulled out.

“It’s certainly not unreasonable to have a [county] regulation that says that you have to provide clean, safe … water that is drinkable and that you can shower with and cook with safely,” Chandler-Henry added. “Hopefully, the state health department could help us figure out what standards that would be.”

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials told the Vail Daily that the well water at Eagle River Village meets minimum safety standards under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act but acknowledged it’s a problem when many residents of the park say they don’t drink, cook or bathe with the water because it tastes, smells and looks bad.

Late last week, CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan — an Edwards resident and former Eagle County commissioner involved in negotiating the public-private partnership deal that fell through — issued a statement to the Vail Daily:

“Access to clean, palatable water is about as basic as it gets. No one in Colorado should have to drink foul-smelling, discolored water, even if it meets federal standards from a health and safety perspective,” Ryan said in an email.

Calling in a coach

The CDPHE has offered the services of a water system coach to Ascentia, if invited, in order to try to improve the overall quality of the park’s well-water system. It’s estimated that more than 2,000 people, representing 7 percent of the Eagle River Valley’s overall population, live in the 381 mobile homes in Eagle River Village.

“Although the Eagle River [Village] mobile home park is on a private well system, CDPHE will do everything it can to help improve the situation for residents,” Ryan added. “This is why we are deploying a water quality coach to the area and will continue to monitor the situation.”

Ryan did not address the possible need for more stringent state regulations next legislative session. Nor did she discuss the possibility of new county regulations under the Mobile Home Park Oversight Act (HB 1309) that passed last session and was signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis in May.

In an email statement, Eagle River Village owner Ascentia also chose not to address the possibility of tougher local or state regulations that could compel a major upgrade of the park’s water system.

“At Ascentia, our top priority is providing a safe, comfortable and quality community for our residents, which has been our objective for over 40 years of operation,” Ascentia President and CEO John J. Eberle wrote.

“Recently, articles released in the Vail Daily newspaper have questioned the integrity of the water at Eagle River Village. Contrary to what these articles represent (and prior to them being published), we have been actively monitoring our water systems and working to ensure that our residents are being provided with quality water,” Eberle added.

“We are working closely with a team of engineers to assure the system is safe and compliant with all governing laws and regulations. We are also committed to working with local and state agencies in all matters related to the well-being of our residents and will continue to take action to ensure safe and quality water for our residents at Eagle River Village,” Eberle concluded.

More than a half a dozen current residents of the mobile home park, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation by Ascentia, said the park’s well water is undrinkable and cannot even be used for cooking or bathing. The problem with high mineral content dates back to the 1970s, and residents have been openly complaining about the water for at least 15 years.

Updating a toothless law

State Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat, first decided to update the state’s 1985 Mobile Home Parks Act when several constituents brought to her attention a trailer park in Leadville that lacked adequate water supplies and had therefore instituted rationing. She said she quickly realized the old law lacked any real enforcement mechanism and didn’t really facilitate complaints.

McCluskie was the lead House sponsor of HB 1309, which sets up a state dispute resolution program effective May 1, 2020, and immediately allows counties to start drafting regulations to enforce public safety at private mobile home parks within their boundaries. The law also extends the eviction notice period from its current 48 hours to 30 days.

McCluskie told the Vail Daily she was unaware of the size or scope of the problem in Eagle County, which is not in her House District 61. But the text of the law, which applies to the whole state, points out that as of 2018 more than 100,000 people lived in manufactured homes across Colorado, making a medium income of $39,000 as of 2015.

“Particularly in Summit County, Pitkin County and Lake County, three of the counties I represent — but Eagle County mirrors those three — mobile homes are an essential solution to our housing crisis,” McCluskie said, adding many Leadville residents work in Summit and Eagle counties. “They’re one of those larger sources of unsubsidized affordable housing in our rural communities.”

Most residents own their mobile homes but pay monthly lease rates of $1,200 or more at Eagle River Village to park their trailer on the owner’s land and hook into the utilities. Ascentia is a Littleton, Colorado-based company that owns five other parks around Colorado and another 28 mobile home communities in six other states.

“Because these are big corporations that own mobile home parks all over the state and nation, their connection to the community is so limited that I don’t know that there is the same level of interest or care or compassion,” McCluskie said, adding she included a provision in the law requiring communication in English and Spanish.

“It’s such a vulnerable population,” McCluskie said of the immigrants who predominantly call the parks home in resort areas. “When I heard the stories about Lake County, it certainly pulled at my heartstrings that we needed to take a stand for people who were living and working in our community and just not being treated fairly.”

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, co-sponsored the bill in the upper chamber. State Rep. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat and Eagle County deputy district attorney, co-sponsored McCluskie’s bill in the House.

“I believe the bill could help in a major way because it explicitly gives county governments the authority to enact ordinances to provide for the safe operation of mobile home parks,” Roberts said. “Before this bill, that authority was left explicitly to the state government.”

Roberts is particularly eager for the complaint and arbitration component of the bill to kick in.

“Before this bill, complaints regarding sub-standard living conditions and predatory practices by park owners were either ignored or tied up in a confusing bureaucracy,” Roberts said. “[The Vail Daily] investigation is clear proof that it is time for the state to have a centralized and dedicated enforcement division to protect Coloradans.”

McCluskie wants park owners to make improvements voluntarily without the state and counties stepping in, but concedes there are cases where tougher regulations become a necessity.

“I’m hoping, by getting the dispute resolution process in place and giving counties a little more authority that that’s going to force our mobile home [park] owners to come to the table and really be more willing and interested, for obvious reasons, to engage in problem-solving,” McCluskie said.

Aurora, Colo. Springs seek to drill on lower Homestake Creek dam sites

MINTURN — The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are increasing their efforts to develop a reservoir on lower Homestake Creek in the Eagle River basin that would hold between 6,850 acre-feet and 20,000 acre-feet of water.

The two Front Range cities, working together as Homestake Partners, have filed an application with the U.S. Forest Service to drill test bores at four potential dam sites on the creek, renowned for its complex wetlands.

And Aurora spent $4.1 million in 2018 to purchase a 150-acre private inholding parcel that accounts for about half the surface area of the 20,000-acre-foot version of the reservoir, removing one obstacle in the way of submitting a comprehensive land-use application to the Forest Service.

“We are in preparation to permit this overall project, to try and get that larger application in, so every piece of the project has had more time and effort spent on it,” said Kathy Kitzmann, a water resources principal with Aurora Water.

The Whitney Reservoir project is defined in part by the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, a 1998 agreement that gives Aurora and Colorado Springs a basis to pursue 20,000 acre-feet of water from the Western Slope.

Whitney Reservoir takes its name from Whitney Creek, which flows into Homestake Creek just above the four potential dam alignments now being studied. The dam that would form Whitney Reservoir would stand across Homestake Creek, not Whitney Creek. Homestake Creek flows into the Eagle River at Red Cliff.

Asked how serious the two cities are about the Whitney Reservoir project, Kevin Lusk, the principal engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities, said, “We’ve been serious about it for the last 20 years.”

And he said the recent drilling application “is another step in the continuum from concept to reality.”

On June 25, the two cities submitted an application with the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District for permission from the White River National Forest to drill 13 test bores 150 feet to explore the geology under the four sites.

The sites are clustered on the creek between 3 and 5 miles above the intersection of U.S. 24 and Homestake Road, shown as Forest Road 703 on most maps. The intersection is not far below Camp Hale, between Minturn and Leadville.

The drilling application says Aurora and Colorado Springs are conducting “a fatal-flaw level reservoir siting study” that “comprises subsurface exploration to evaluate feasibility of dam construction on lower Homestake Creek.”

White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said review of the drilling application itself is “fairly standard stuff.”

“We’ll definitely send out a scoping statement, asking for public comment, but it won’t be about a dam,” he said. “It will be about drilling the holes.”

Each of the 13 borings would take up to five days to drill, so there could be 65 days of drilling this fall or, if the application is not approved this year, in 2020, according to Lusk.

The project includes taking a “track-mounted drill rig or a buggy-mounted drill rig,” a “utility vehicle pulling a small trailer” and a “track-mounted skid steer” onto public lands along 10-foot-wide “temporary access routes.”

The drill rigs are about 8 feet wide, 22 feet long and 8 feet high. To get the rigs to drilling sites, some wetlands may need to be crossed and trees will be cut as necessary.

The information about the geology under the four sites will help determine the size of a dam on a given alignment and how much water a reservoir would hold, Lusk said. And that could affect how much wilderness area might be encroached on.

The 20,000-acre-foot version would flood a corner of the wilderness area but would also require moving Homestake Road farther up the mountainside, impacting 500 acres.

An adjustment to a wilderness boundary requires an act of Congress and the president’s signature. In April, representatives from the two cities described the potential boundary change to staffers of U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, Jason Crow, Joe Neguse and Doug Lamborn.

Fitzwilliams said Monday the Forest Service won’t accept a full-blown land-use application for Whitney Reservoir until the wilderness boundary issue has been worked out through federal legislation, if that is still needed after the final version of the reservoir is better defined.

Kitzmann said she is reaching out to stakeholders to continue to refine the legislative language and the map showing the extent of the proposed boundary change.

On another front, Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities staffers are hosting a tour this week for the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board of the Homestake Plant and Fen Relocation Project, near Leadville.

The CWCB directors, holding their July meeting in Leadville, also will hear a presentation at their meeting about the fen-relocation effort, which consists of moving “fen-like organic soils and plant life” from one location in blocks or bales to another location and “reassembling them in a specially prepared groundwater-fed basin.”

Many regulatory agencies do not believe it’s possible to re-create complex fen wetlands, according to a CWCB staff memo, but that regulatory stance “may be related to the lack of scientific investigation on fen mitigation.”

A 2016 study estimated between 26 and 180 acres of wetlands on lower Homestake Creek would be impacted by Whitney Reservoir.

“This is one of the finest wetlands we can find on our forest — it’s unbelievable,” Fitzwilliams said. “From an environmental impact standpoint, this would not be a project that we would be favorable to.”

But Lusk said the fen-relocation project near Leadville is “proof of concept” that replacing fens, while “a tough nut to crack,” can be done.

Fitzwilliams may be hard to persuade.

“You can mitigate,” he said, “but you can’t replace 10,000 years of work.”

Despite the wetlands and wilderness challenges, Lusk and Kitzmann said no fatal flaws have been found yet in what they view as an important future element of their water-supply systems.

The new reservoir would serve as a collection point for water brought in via tunnels from the Eagle River and Fall and Peterson creeks, and for water captured from Homestake Creek.

The reservoir would also serve as a forebay, as the water captured in Whitney Reservoir would be pumped 7 miles up to Homestake Reservoir. Once there, it can be sent through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville, and then on to Aurora and Colorado Springs.

The two cities own and manage Homestake Reservoir, the upper end of which is in Pitkin County. The reservoir opened in 1967 and normally stores 43,600 acre-feet of water from seven high-mountain creeks behind a 231-foot-tall dam. About 25,000 acre-feet a year is sent through the Homestake Tunnel each year to the Front Range.

Homestake Partners also has a conditional water-storage right — dating to 1995 — to store 9,300 acre-feet of water behind a potential 110-foot-tall dam in what is called Blodgett Reservoir, located on Homestake Creek below the Whitney Reservoir sites. That reservoir was originally conceived to hold 30,000 acre-feet of water.

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.


What the BLM HQ move out West really means for Garfield County

Many elected officials lauded the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to move 249 employees to western states, including 85 to Colorado.

But just 27 positions will move to Grand Junction, which will be the new headquarters for the director’s office.

Having the BLM closer to the lands they manage will be a benefit to Garfield County and the rest of the West, County Commissioner John Martin said. The BLM manages nearly a third of the land in Garfield County. 

“They have a closer ear now,” Martin said of the move.

It will still be the federal government, but Martin said the officials will no longer be able to hide behind the distance between D.C. and the western lands they manage.

“They’re more on the front lines. I think we’ll see efficiencies as well as better relationships,” he said.

Garfield County has supported the relocation of BLM headquarters to Grand Junction since former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke started discussing the idea in February 2018.

The vast majority of the BLM’s workforce of nearly 9,500 employees already works in the field.

The bulk of BLM positions coming to Colorado will be located on the Front Range, to give the headquarters in Grand Junction some distance, Joe Balash, BLM assistant secretary for lands and minerals, said on a Tuesday conference call with reporters.

“We decided on Grand Junction, at least in part because we wanted the headquarters to stand alone, not overshadow the state offices,” Balash said. The BLM’s state offices are already located in Denver.

After the move, which officials hope to complete by late 2020, the D.C. office will have a staff of around 60 people for congressional relations and budget issues.

A big reason for the realignment was a disparity between where the work was being done, and where the decisions were being made, officials said.

“Fully 46 percent of [senior executive officials], nearly half, are located here in D.C.,” Balash said.

“When it comes to the business of the BLM, it gets done on the public lands, with the people who use public lands, and those are all out in the West,” Balash said.

Many of the positions that will be relocated to western states are unfilled, and the BLM will advertise the openings in the new locations, Balash said.

Critics of the realignment say it will weaken the institutional knowledge concentrated around Washington, D.C., and hampers Congress’ oversight of the department.

“The BLM officials based in Washington are here to work directly with Congress and their federal colleagues, and that function is going to take a permanent hit if this move goes forward,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

“The agency will lose a lot of good people because of this move, and I suspect that’s the administration’s real goal here,” Grijalva said.

Grijalva also noted that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt grew up in Rifle.

“This administration has been handing over public lands to fossil fuel companies at record speed, and this move is part of that agenda. Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt’s hometown just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability,” Grijalva said.

Erin Riccio, Western Slope field organizer with Conservation Colorado, indicated that the move wouldn’t make much of a difference for environmental issues.

“We’re excited that the BLM is coming to Grand Junction. But regardless of where the BLM calls home, Coloradans want a fair public process with a more comprehensive lands management focus than the ‘energy dominance’ agenda of the Trump administration and [Colorado Sen. Cory] Gardner,” Riccio said.

The planned move does have bipartisan support, including from Colorado’s Democratic governor, Jared Polis.

“We are thrilled to welcome the Bureau of Land Management and their employees to the great state of Colorado. As I stated to Secretary Bernhardt many times, Grand Junction is the perfect location for the BLM because of community support, location closer to the land BLM manages, and the positive impact it will have on our western Colorado economy,” Polis said in a statement issued Monday when the news was first announced by Sen. Gardner.

Who’s signing the petition to recall Gov. Jared Polis? People who feel left out in Colorado.

The petitions sat on counters at businesses and volunteers set up tables in public areas.

On Facebook, people from across Colorado asked where they could sign or how they could get copies of the recall petition to circulate.

This is a glimpse at what the first weekend looked like in the effort to recall Democratic Gov. Jared Polis. In three counties, the people eager to sign the petitions said they were motivated by complaints about new oil and gas regulations, red flag gun laws and the national popular vote compact

The conversations also reflected a broader dissatisfaction with the urban-rural political divide and a general sense that their voices aren’t being heard. All of those interviewed by The Colorado Sun said they did not vote for against Polis less than a year ago.

The recall campaign started July 8, the governor’s six-month mark. Now his critics face a mammoth task of collecting more than 10,521 a day by the Sept. 6 deadline. There’s confusion among some who want to sign the petition because divisions persist among various groups advocating for a recall.

Read more via The Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.

BLM headquarters moving to Colorado

The headquarters of the U.S. government’s largest land agency will move from the nation’s capital to western Colorado, a Republican senator said Monday, a high-profile component of the Trump administration’s plan to reorganize management of the nation’s natural resources.

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner said in a statement that the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management would move to Grand Junction, a city of about 63,000 people 250 miles (400 kilometers) west of Denver.

A spokesman for Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop said Colorado, Nevada and Utah could each gain 50 bureau jobs as part of the reshuffling of the agency, and another 150 bureau jobs could be moved to other Western states.

The spokesman, Austin Hacker, said it was not yet certain whether all 300 relocated positions would come from Washington — where the bureau has only about 400 workers — or if any would move from other parts of the country.

A Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman who declined to give her name said she couldn’t confirm or deny the move. An announcement about the agency’s plans was expected Tuesday.

“The problem with Washington is too many policy makers are far removed from the people they are there to serve,” Gardner said in a news release. “This is a victory for local communities, advocates for public lands and proponents for a more responsible and accountable federal government.”

Bishop said public lands decisions would be made in the West, “not by bureaucrats from thousands of miles away.”

The bureau, part of the Interior Department, oversees nearly 388,000 square miles (1 billion square kilometers) of public land, and 99% is in 12 Western states including Colorado. The lands are rich in oil, gas, coal and grazing for livestock, as well as habitat for wildlife, hunting ranges, fishing streams and hiking trails.

The bureau is in the vanguard of President Donald Trump’s campaign to step up fossil fuel production on public land, and it has often been in the crosshairs of Democrats and conservationists who say the administration is more interested in mining and drilling than in protecting the environment.

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, attacked the headquarters move and noted that Grand Junction is not far from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s hometown of Rifle, Colorado.

“Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt’s hometown just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability,” Grijalva said. “The BLM officials based in Washington are here to work directly with Congress and their federal colleagues, and that function is going to take a permanent hit if this move goes forward.”

The bureau has 9,000 employees, most of them scattered among 140 state, district or field offices.

Grijalva said he suspects the bureau’s true motive is to force out some employees who would not be willing to move. The Interior Department has previously denied that was a reason.

Key details of the move were unknown, including how much it would cost, how many employees would remain in Washington and, most importantly, whether the move would have a significant impact on land-management decisions or would be more a symbol of the administration’s determination to decentralize the bureau.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, welcomed the change but included a reference to his party’s disputes with Trump over protecting the environment and recreational access on public lands.

“Hard to think of a better place to house the department responsible for overseeing our beloved public lands,” he said in a written statement.

Interior Department officials have said they also considered Denver; Salt Lake City; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Boise, Idaho, for the new headquarters.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke initiated the plan to reorganize his department. Zinke stepped down in January amid ethics allegations, and Bernhardt has continued the planning but with less fanfare.

Glenwood Springs area residents rally against immigrant detentions in vigil

Roaring Fork Valley residents gathered in Sayre Park Friday for a “Lights for Liberty” vigil to raise awareness about human detention camps in the United States.

At the eight-o-clock hour, local musician Frank Martin strummed a Woody Guthrie tune as children, parents and grandparents held signs around the park’s gazebo that read, “Stop Governing by Fear and Hate,” “Stop the Trauma, Close the Camps” and one which asked, “Where are the ‘All Lives Matter People?’”

Calling the vigil a way to shine a light on the “systemic mistreatment of immigrants,” event organizer Maureen Biermann cited how over 60 percent of detainees were being held in facilities managed by private companies such as GEO Group.

According to geogroup.com, the for-profit company contracted out by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) operates 69 corrections facilities in the U.S. alone.

“This community does have a huge population of immigrants, and children of immigrants and it is important to show them that we are here and that we care,” Biermann said.

Additional “Lights for Liberty” vigils occurred Friday across the state, country and world, including one directly outside an immigration facility in Aurora managed by the GEO Group.

On a separate but related topic, local attorney Colin Wilhelm addressed the crowd about what to do in the event that ICE shows up locally at someone’s doorstep amid the Trump administration’s threat of mass deportations.

“You don’t have to speak to an ICE agent if they come to your door without a valid warrant,” Wilhelm said before a translator interpreted the message in Spanish.

“A valid warrant means one that is signed by a judge for your arrest,” he said. “So, if they hold up a piece of paper that claims to be a warrant and it’s not signed by a judge, it’s not valid and you do not have to talk to them.”

Those in attendance Friday erupted into applause when Wilhelm said, “The only way we can end these concentration camps is by rallies like this tonight. … And, we need to end that by our voices out here tonight, through the rest of the year and into 2020 to get that man out of the White House.”

Originally from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico but raised in Glenwood Springs, 30-year-old Zabdi Fuentes said she attended Friday’s rally in Sayre Park simply to raise awareness.

“I really want people to see these people’s lives and what they are going through,” Zabdi said. “… So that they understand it’s not because they’re evil or wanting to abuse the system, but because they want to have the same thing we all want in this life — happiness and the ability to provide food and shelter to their families.”