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Costs of illegal immigration unclear

Matt Zalaznick
Dominique TaylorJosh Yandle, center, secures fencing to part of a wildlife fence that the Colorado Department of Transport is building along Interstate 70 near Wolcott. CDOT will install 19 miles of wildlife fencing along the interstate from Wolcott to Edwards.
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Eagle County – Agencies that provide health care and education in Eagle County say they don’t know how much providing their services to illegal immigrants costs.

Many undocumented residents seek health care at either the Eagle Care Clinic in Edwards or the Vail Valley Medical Center’s emergency room, health providers say.

The county is prohibited by state law from providing most health care benefits to illegal immigrants.

The county must give immunizations, prenatal care, emergency care, and labor and delivery, said County Health and Human Services Director Jill Hunsaker.

The other option for illegal immigrants is the emergency room. The top emergency room ailments are ear infections, sore throats, respiratory infections and fevers, Hunsaker said.

That could mean that the uninsured are using the emergency room as a walk-in clinic, but the hospital does not know how many of those patients are illegal immigrants, she said.

When the patient cannot pay, the hospital and Eagle County split the costs, Lewis said.

The Eagle Care Clinic serves the uninsured and underinsured of the county, and the patients are predominately Latino, so much so that the entire staff speaks Spanish, said clinic manager Beth Reilly.

But ask how many of those patients are legal immigrants, and Reilly said she doesn’t know ” the clinic doesn’t ask.

The school district doesn’t ask either. Under federal law, undocumented children and young adults have the same right to attend public, kindergarten through 12th-grade schools as United States citizens.

The school district does know that more than 1,800 students in the district had limited or no proficiency in English this past school year.

Plans for improvements and expansion to the Eagle County Justice Center are still about $2 million over budget.

The District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office and courts, who use the space, have been working with county staff to whittle down the plans to stay within the $20 million budget, but it looks like more still needs to be cut.

The growing county has outgrown the Justice Center “offices are cramped, courtrooms are inadequate, and the jail is so full that the county has to pay to have them housed in other jails, said Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy.

Last fall, a poll showed that residents would not support a new sales tax to fund a $25 to $50 million expansion. The scaled-down, $20 million model was the alternative.

However, the agencies using the space said that the current plans already will have considerably less space than originally planned.

“I’m going to be pretty strong in saying that we’re already at the bare bones,” Hoy said.

The jail currently has a capacity of 62 inmates “elbow to elbow,” Hoy said. The expansion will add another 32 beds.

County commissioners are still considering two environmentally friendly additions to the new center ” a geothermal heating system, which would provide the building heat, and a thermal solar system, which would provide the building’s hot water.

However, Hoy said those are additions he would give up if it meant getting more space and getting the project started sooner.

“Those things are expensive, and I don’t know the price tag,” Hoy said. “The longer we wait before breaking ground, the more it’s going to cost with labor and transportation costs skyrocketing.”

Newly approved water quality standards won’t lead to a pristine Eagle River, but should mean less toxic metal in the water and possibly healthier trout.

The new standards, overall, could lead to healthier schools of brown trout in the river, said John Woodling, a biologist and consultant for water advocacy group Eagle Mine Limited.

“At this time there is 118 pounds of zinc in the water per day in March and April, and that’s down from over 1,100 pounds a day a long time ago,” Woodling said.

Metals still flow through the river though, and other species of trout ” like rainbow and the most sensitive fish, sculpin ” can’t survive and have disappeared from the most polluted areas of the river.

The Eagle River Watershed Council is after the cleanest river possible, considering how much of the valley’s economy is based on water recreation.

Arlene Quenon, president of the council, said she had hoped for more stringent standards, especially considering how much progress had already been made, but at least this will lead to more metal being cleaned up.

“I feel that it’s a step in the right direction ” we’ll continue to monitor, and continue to remove zinc,” Quenon said.

People have reported seeing a man peeping into windows of Terrace neighborhood homes more than a half-dozen times since October. Early last week, a man was seen perched in a tree and looking into an 18-year-old girl’s second-story bedroom window.

Less than two months ago, witnesses said a man got on the roof of a townhouse to look into the window of another home, police said.

“There’s no evidence to say that there are not multiple people doing this, but that’s unlikely,” Eagle police Sgt. Terry Simpkins said.

Eagle Police have hired a bloodhound from the Front Range ” which couldn’t make it at one point due to a snowstorm ” and a criminal profiler. That profiler has told police to look for a man who likely lives in the neighborhood and is a loner, Simpkins said.

The reported incidents have occurred between dinner and bedtime. None has come after 10 p.m., nor have there been reports of anything violent or lewd, Simpkins said.

Officers patrol the neighborhood in their cars or on foot every night and have used night-vision goggles at times to monitor the neighborhood, he said.

A monorail from Denver to mountain ski resorts like Vail may be tough to fund.

Transportation and design experts at a meeting in Copper Mountain last week said a transit system meant to alleviate traffic jams only on the weekends might lose funding to urban areas with seven-day-a-week congestion.

Experts also said no model exists anywhere in the world for the type of monorail that would be needed to run in the Colorado High Country.

One concern with transit that surfaced repeatedly was the need for “feeders” to get people from train stations to other destinations. The idea that a Denver family with several kids and a ton of ski gear would get onto a train, then onto a bus and then from a bus stop to a condo was seen as a deterrent to a feasible rail model.

Landscape architect Jennifer Merer, with Jacobs Carter Burgess in Denver, said stations would need to have strong baggage- handling capabilities, as well as provisions for storing bikes, kayaks, skis and other gear.

“You’ve got to be able to get their baggage all the way to the hotel,” she said.


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