Opinion: Rio Blanco County economy shows signs of improvement

phjeffburkheadOther than the rain we had been having, the topic that seems uppermost on people’s minds is the economy.
Out here, I’ve learned we should never gripe about the rain — of course, that doesn’t stop us from complaining. But we’ll take the moisture whenever we can get it, right? Yet, day after day of rain, like the down economy, can make you feel pretty gloomy.
On the bright side, just like we can expect plenty of sunny summer days ahead — at least I hope so — the local economy shows signs of picking up.
The Northwest Pipeline project on the west end of the county has folks in Rangely feeling better these days, though they wonder what will happen next, after the pipeline project is over. It is expected to be completed in about six months.
For now, though, there’s a noticeable uptick in business. Restaurants and motels appear busier. RV parks are full.
Business on the east end of the county seems to be on the upswing as well, if motel and hotel and restaurant parking lots are an indication.
At the paper, we’ve noticed increased interest in our annual fall hunting guide, which is encouraging. With the competition stiff for tourism dollars these days, local businesses recognize that hunting and recreation and community events are an important piece of the county’s economy, and we have to work harder than ever to promote our area as a place where people want to visit.
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Peggy Rector of Rangely, former mayor and county commissioner, is all too familiar with the boom-bust cycle of the county’s economy.
“I feel pretty good about things through September or October, but when those pipeliners leave, what do we have? All of the parks are full now, which is marvelous. It helps the restaurants, it helps the gas stations, but if we don’t have energy (companies), we’re going to be hurtin’. Who’s going to be making up all of those taxes?
“In previous busts, we saw some really good people go down, and I think you’ll see the same thing now. We’ve already had some people tell us they’re going under. We’ve been through the busts, so we’re cautious, but it’s a big impact. It’s going to affect this whole county. This county is truly dependent on energy. Thank God for our college, because that’s an economic diversity we have, and we have tourism, which is great, but it won’t offset the revenue off the taxes that energy creates. It will be interesting to see how we get through all of this.”
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Rector knows from her experience as a commissioner how important it is for both ends of the county and the various taxing entities to work together, especially when times are tough.
“I’ve been a commissioner, and it’s not an easy thing,” she said. “You’re not favoring one end (of the county) against the other. One thing I think the county will have to look at, with the downturn in energy, is they need to continue to fight for our portion of the severance tax to be distributed here. I think it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the attention. You have to be there all the time touting our county.
“But I also think what we’re doing as far as rules and regulations and the energy industry and what everybody is facing … I hope the state and federal boys realize what they’re doing to us.”
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It’s time for people on both ends of the county to work together, Rector said, and put old rivalries and disagreements in the past.
“I would hope that’s gotten better,” she said. “I know people on both ends of the county … both communities are fabulous communities. I think our county is a great county, or I wouldn’t be living here.
“I hear complaints off and on … that comes more from people who aren’t involved and don’t understand the real situation and what people have to face who make those decisions.
“What I would like to see is the RBC commissioners not only go to the state, but go to Washington with the proper information, telling what happened to our county because of the abundance of regulations, and what our economy was prior to what it is now.
“If we all pull together, we can get through this. But it will take everyone in this county pulling together and being willing to talk and communicate about the issues in a proper manner.”
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With all of the activity going on east of Sulphur Creek Road, with construction of the new Meeker school and a new road leading into the area, plans for a new 4-H building at the county fairgrounds have been put on the back burner.
“The new 4-H Extension educational building is currently on hold, pending finding additional funds to help build the building,” said County Administrator Pat Hooker. “The initial estimates for the proposed building came in quite a bit higher than we expected. So, we’ll either have to raise additional funds or reduce the size of the building.
“Bill Ekstrom, Bill Jordan and I will be meeting in the near future to decide what course of action we want to pursue,” Hooker continued. “The new road does change things a bit, as we initially thought about moving the ball field to the north about a 100 feet or so, to make room for the new proposed building. Now with the new road, we’ll have to re-evaluate whether or not that is still feasible.”
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Herald Times delivery driver Shayne Armstrong was back home to Rangely late last week after being released from the hospital.
He was injured in a one-vehicle accident June 7 on Highway 64 while on his way to pick up papers early in the morning and swerved to miss hitting an elk. He underwent surgeries at a Denver hospital to repair a dislocated ankle and hip.
“They’ve got me set up in a recliner chair in the kitchen, so I’m conducting business from my throne,” said Shayne, in good spirits. “I’m feelin’ good. It’s just that achey feeling now. They’re saying six to eight weeks before I’m able to put more load-bearing weight on (his leg). I’m not going to be driving for a while. I appreciate the concern everybody has had for me. I’m thankful to God that Bo (his 15-year-old son who was with him at the time of the accident) walked away from it, and I’m alive.”
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Angie Arnold of Meeker Video — a well-known animal lover — walked across the street Saturday to check out the homemade dog treats and other goodies being offered by 4-H club members at the Community Appreciation Day on the courthouse lawn.
A 4-H member told Angie the samples of dog treats were free, but donations were accepted.
Angie asked if she could have the recipe for the dog treats, so she could try making them at home for her dogs.
“That’ll cost you 25 cents,” she was told by the young negotiator.
Angie gladly paid the 25 cents, along with making a generous donation.
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I received an anonymous call from a reader Monday. The caller said there was a “group of people and everybody was complaining” that there was “no more news” in the paper and it was “becoming too local.” The caller, who was nice about it, went on to say she didn’t care for the articles about “other people’s stories,” which she found “just boring.”
I have to admit the comments caught me off guard. I know everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I respect that, but too much local news? I had never heard that one before. A more common complaint of newspapers is not enough local news. And, as far as the people stories, awhile back I had someone suggest the paper devote more space to writing about local people.
I’m sorry, but sometimes I think we can’t win.
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Like I did last year, I went to dinner at a local restaurant to “celebrate” Father’s Day. I was content to sit alone and read the Sunday paper and enjoy a good meal. Unbeknownst to me, the nice couple sitting at the next table told the owner they wanted to pay for my lunch.
I wish I could identify the couple, but I know they wouldn’t want me to, and they certainly didn’t do it for recognition. But talk about a thoughtful gesture. That’s the sort of thing that restores my faith in people.
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Talking to Erik Brown of Meeker on Saturday about all of the rain we’ve been receiving, I told him I was ready for sunshine and warmer temperatures.
“Just think,” said Erik, who works upriver. “It’s seven weeks until the first frost.”
Thanks. Now I feel better.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.