The year in review: Top happenings of 2014 ~ January-June

RBC I This is Part 1 of our annual review of news stories and local events from the previous year. This week covers January through June, 2014.

• Rio Blanco County has hired Katelin Cook to be the new county economic development director, working closely with the county, Meeker and Rangely town governments and the chambers of commerce in the area to increase economic development throughout the county.
• A house fire broke out early Monday morning south of Rangely, severely damaging the home and resulting in a female living at the residence being taken to Rangely District Hospital with minor injuries, the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office reported.
• Stephanie Kobald has been named the new executive director of the Meeker Chamber of Commerce.
• December financial tables from the Colorado Department of Education led Meeker School Superintendent Mark Meyer to recommend, and the Meeker School District RE-1 Board of Trustees to declare, a state of emergency over district funding.
• Meeker School District unanimously passed a revised budget Tuesday night that included the projected $1.26 million shortfall being covered by the district’s reserve funds.
• A horse barn in Bailey, Colo., that caught fire Friday burned CenturyLink fiber optic lines along the property’s easement and caused outages to more than 17,000 residents across Colorado, public relations manager Randy Krause said Monday.
• Last fall, Adams State University inducted one of the most successful football teams in the school’s history into its Hall of Fame. Among the players honored was longtime Colorado Northwestern Community College baseball and basketball coach Paul Conrad, a middle linebacker for the Adams State College Indians from 1960 to 1962.
• Meeker School District and two other rural Colorado school districts were promised aid from the state Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee (JBC) to fix reductions in their mid-year funding.
• On Friday, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (Colo.-03) announced that 22 students from the 3rd Congressional District, including three from Meeker, have earned his nomination to U.S. Service Academies.
• On Jan. 28, the Colorado State Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee (JBC) refined its decision to cover mid-year shortfalls for three rural school districts in the state, including Meeker, DeBeque and Pawnee.
• Sandra Besseghini and her dog Mik of Meeker took seventh place out of 41 contestants in the Intermediate Sheepdog Trial at the National Western Stock Show in Denver on Jan. 26.
• Voters in the Meeker School District may be asked again in November to pass a tax levy override to fund the district and help bail out the district in its major funding shortfall.
• The Republican Party in Rio Blanco County is amassing a number of candidates who have filed for election or re-election to office in 2014, including a number of incumbents who will be running to remain in office.
• Ranked No. 2 in 2A by On the Mat, the Meeker Cowboys wrestling team finished the regular season with four dual meet wins and will enter arguably the toughest 2A regional tournament (Region 1) in the state, since it features the Cowboys and the defending state champion and No. 1 ranked Paonia Eagles.
• Jim Rundberg of Meeker, a conservative, independent, pro-life, pro-2nd amendment, Christian candidate for Colorado governor, announced Monday that he will begin sending campaign workers into Colorado communities.
• Roughly 135 sleds, several with more than one rider, took part in the third annual “I Ride with James” Poker and Snowmobile Ride, raising funds for the James Sizemore Memorial Scholarships and for Rio Blanco County Search and Rescue.
• Headed up the hill on College Drive, south of Highway 64 in Rangely, you don’t have to travel far to notice a huge monolith of ice on the right as you enter the campus of Colorado Northwestern Community College.
• “We’re improving,” Meeker’s head wrestling coach, J.C. Watt, said about his team’s performance at the state-qualifying Region 1 tournament in Grand Junction.
• The Meeker High School girls’ basketball team is league champion after winning two exciting conference games last weekend and giving them a first round bye in the district tournament. That also assures them a spot in the regional tournament.
• The board of trustees of Meeker School District RE-1 (MSD) accepted the resignation of new school board member Daniel Chinn, renewed Superintendent Mark Meyer’s contract through school year 2014-15 and approved spring coaches in a special meeting on Feb. 19.
• In 2013, the Rio Blanco County commissioners launched the Justice Center Project with the objective of improving facilities that serve our citizens, county and district law enforcement, and improve efficiency of county services based in Meeker.
• Panther senior Lucas Heinle and junior Ethan Allred qualified for the 2014 Colorado State Wrestling Championships, and, although both won at least one match, neither placed in their respective weights.
• For the past three years, the Rangely Panthers boys’ basketball team has had to play in the pig-tail round of the district tournament, and for the past two years, the Panthers lost to end their season. Not this year. Barely.
• During the annual Meeker Area Chamber of Commerce dinner on Friday at the Fairfield Center, Kacey’s Kloset, owned by Jackie and Kurt Pozorski, was honored by the chamber as Meeker’s Small Business of the Year for its activities locally as well as the efforts the business put forth to help those who were victims of the floods on the Front Range of Colorado in 2013, including the collection and delivery of blankets, supplies and clothing.
• The Yampa Valley and Rio Blanco County have a new air ambulance service that will give local hospitals and search and rescue teams quicker access to a medical chopper during emergencies.
• The Meeker police and fire departments escorted the Meeker High School boys’ and girls’ basketball teams down Main Street at 9:45 a.m. on Wednesday as they began the long trip to the Class 2A State Basketball Championships in Pueblo. Both teams won the regional tournament over the weekend to qualify for state. The No. 4-seeded girls are set to play No. 5 Akron at 11:45 a.m. today and the No. 6-seeded boys will face No. 3 Akron today at 1:15 p.m.
• Meeker Fire Chief Steve Allen congratulates and presents the Firefighter of the Year Award to Jacob Jorgensen, who has been with the fire and rescue department since 2012. In 2013, Jorgensen attended 12 business meetings while volunteering 239 hours of service. The award was given on Saturday night during the 81st annual Meeker Fire and Rescue Banquet at the Fairfield Center. The department has been serving Meeker and the surrounding community since 1933.
• The Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners on Monday in Rangely gave unanimous approval to a concept plan for the new justice center in Meeker, utilizing the site of the old Meeker Elementary School as well as incorporating the front of the old school into the design.
• The Meeker Town Board on Tuesday gave unanimous approval to an ordinance requested by Rio Blanco County to close Fifth Street from Main to Park streets to allow the courthouse and old elementary school to encompass the two-block area.
• The seniors on the Meeker girls’ basketball team ended their high school basketball careers with a win Saturday, finishing in third place in the 2014 Colorado State Basketball Championships.
• The Meeker High School girls’ basketball team ended its season on a winning note with a 62-56 victory against Peyton in the consolation championship of the 2014 2A Colorado State Basketball Championships in Pueblo. The lady Cowboys finished with an impressive 23-3 record: Piper Haney, Sydney Hughes, Taylor Neilson, Aly Ridings, Deena Norell and Megan Parker. Assistant coach Karen Dinwiddie, Taylor Morris, Reece Pertile, head coach Greg Chintala, Jenna Walsh, Alex Duell, Jamie McLaughlin and assistant coach Julie Bowman.
• The Meeker High School boys’ basketball team played two very tough games in the 2014 Colorado 2A Basketball Championships in Pueblo over the weekend, finishing their season as one of the top eight 2A teams in the state.
• The Meeker High School boys’ basketball team ended its season as a member of the “Elite Eight,” qualifying for the 2014 2A Colorado State Basketball Championships in Pueblo. The Cowboys will return several players, all of whom played and got state experience, hopeful for a return trip to the “Big Dance” next year. Assistant coach Matt Dupire, Kash Atwood, Matt Frantz, Jeremy Musgrave, Ty Dunham, Dylan Mobley, Joe Newman, Tony Collins, Cade Rowlett, Jake Smith, Raul Lopez, Lane Anderson, Tommy Chitwood and head coach Klark Kindler.
• Tom Allen was selected last week to replace Dan Chinn on the Meeker School District RE-1 (MSD) Board of Education.
• Oil and gas fishing and rental company BTI Services closed its Rangely office this week, laying off eight employees Monday morning and removing equipment from its lease space on River Road this week.
• On Friday afternoon, amid cloudy and breezy skies, more than 120 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Pioneers Medical Center, two miles northeast of downtown Meeker.
• Mountain Valley Bank announced on Monday that it has entered into a definitive merger agreement with Platte Valley Financial Service Companies, Inc., also known as Platte Valley Companies.
• After several months with a temporary postmaster, Meeker now has a new full-time postmaster, although he is no stranger to the post office in town.
• Rio Blanco County usually has good air quality. Air monitors installed in 2011 near Meeker and Rangely have confirmed this. However, long-time residents can tell you that there historically have been long periods when wildfire smoke fills the air and there is an almost yearly dust storm season.
• There was a good dinner crowd on hand Saturday on the Colorado Northwestern Community College campus for the 10th annual CNCC Foundation Dinner and Dance event in Rangely. Roughly 120 people were in attendance for the event, which featured dinner, entertainment, awards and a silent auction, followed by a standard auction. Before expenses are figured in, CNCC officials said Tuesday, more than $55,000 was raised by the event.
• Twenty-two donors ages 6 to 43 donated a combined 247 inches of hair at the Pantene Beautiful Lengths ponytail cutting event on March 20 on the Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC) campus in Rangely.
• The Meeker Golf Course will be under new management this season as long-time golf pro Jim Cook retired at the end of last season.
• Come the fall of this year, Meeker School District (MSD) RE-1 will join Rifle, Rangely and at least 80 other Colorado school districts in adopting a four-day school week.
• W.C. Striegel, Inc., hosted an open house and its own version of a ribbon-cutting ceremony in its new offices in Rangely on Friday. More than 200 people attended to tour the three-story building completed at the beginning of January. From left are: W.C. Striegel, Inc. vice president Deven Striegel; secretary/treasurer Teri Wilczek; and president Bill Willis, who “cut the pipe” in tribute to the oil and gas pipeline work the company does. “We’re not ribbon people,” Wilczek said. “We’re pipe people.”
• Tessa Slagle, right, a senior at Rangely High School, meets with Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C. during a week spent in the nation’s capitol as one of two Colorado students chosen for a U.S. Senate-sponsored program to acquaint students with the workings of the federal government.
• Lifelong Meeker resident Regas Halandras was sworn in Tuesday night as the new mayor of Meeker, having moved up from his termed-out seat on the Meeker Town Board, where he had served eight years.
• Six Meeker Destination Imagination teams traveled to Denver last weekend to compete in the Colorado State Destination Imagination Tournament against 20 to 25 other teams and three teams advanced to the DI Global Tournament in Knoxville, Tenn., in May.
• A semi-tractor trailer hauling approximately 20 one-ton bales of hay caught fire Saturday afternoon, destroying the tractor and closing Highway 64 west of Rangely for four hours.
• Scott Creecy, a six-year resident of Meeker, was sworn into office on Tuesday night, filling the vacancy left on the board when board member Regas Halandras, who was termed out on the board, ran unopposed for Meeker mayor.
• An informal “meet and greet” reception was held in early April to introduce new members of the Rangely District Hospital Board staff.
• History Colorado recently announced the listing of International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) Valentine Lodge No. 47 in Meeker on the National Register of Historic Places, that designation taking place March 19.
• Roughly 590 people joined in the 9HealthFair on Saturday at Meeker Elementary School, within 30 of the total for each of the past three years, according to coordinator Christy Atwood. Between 40 to 60 volunteers helped out at the fair, which was sponsored by Channel 9 in Denver, Rio Blanco Fire Protection District, Pioneers Medical Center and the Meeker Lions Club. Several people had their blood drawn in the school gymnasium.
• Temple Grandin, a Ph.D. who teaches animal sciences at Colorado State University and who is an expert on autism, spoke before a crowd of more than 100 people at the Meeker High School Auditorium on Saturday afternoon as part of the second annual Meeker Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Ag and Business Summit. Grandin, who is autistic, spoke mostly of early education and how, in many ways, young children are like livestock in their early learning years. Meeker Friends of the FFA Alumni co-sponsored the event with the chamber.
• Meeker town work crews have started work on the west side of Highway 13 north and east of town to extend city water lines out to the new Pioneers Medical Center as well as to Meeker Terrace and the Curtis Creek area to accommodate the hospital and future commercial and residential growth in the area. Water and sewer lines are the first step before gas and electricity are run to the area. Meeker Town Administrator Scott Meszaros said he expects the project to be completed by late July.
• Last weekend’s World Extreme Rock Crawling Championship event in Rangely, the second of three Western competitions in rock crawling, saw 18 pairs and individuals compete despite difficult weather that affected performances, WE Rock business manager Shelley Krehbiel-Klein said this week.
• Tradition is tough to surrender. But the possibility of that happening is a serious reality as the Meeker Range Call committee searches for an individual or individuals to direct the Range Call Pageant during the Fourth of July weekend.
• Rangely Junior High School athletes traveled to Baggs, Wyo., for their last meet of the season on Friday, and with sun shining and wind blowing, the Panthers brought home several medals, set new school records and set personal bests.
• After an electrical fire at the Rangely 4-H community pens killed several 4-H project pigs and damaged the structure, residents and sympathizers are responding to the organization’s needs.
• Jeremy Simmons, the director of the Rio Blanco County Department of Environmental Services, and Paul Peronard, take a final look at the exterior of the long-unused residence at 1189 Park St. in Meeker. The home was destroyed Friday and Saturday after official found “substantially radioactive” uranium ore just inside the front right door and similar ore in the back yard.
• In separate meetings during April, the Rio Blanco County Planning Board and County Commissioners approved a conditional-use permit for The Friends of the Tank, the group that initiated a Kickstarter campaign last March to raise more than $46,000 for an unused water tank west of Rangely to become an educational and recording sound space. The approval by the two boards assigns the term “assembly” to the space rather than “water tank” and allows the Friends of the Tank to move forward with building permits, a driveway—which Urie Trucking began earlier this month, and several required changes, among them a larger door and additional ventilation and lighting.
• T.J. Shelton and Halle Ahrens were the fastest 2A sprinters on the Western Slope and they will now, along with 20 of their teammates, compete in the 2014 Colorado State Track and Field Championships, with all five divisions running, jumping and throwing in Jefferson County Stadium in Denver, starting today.
• The Meeker School Board approved the contracts to retain all three school principals for the 2014-15 school year. MHS Principal Kim Ibach’s contract was extended on a 6-1 vote with Bud Ridings the sole member to oppose. Barone Middle School Principal Jim Hanks and Meeker Elementary School Jason Hightower had their contracts renewed on a 7-0 vote.
• Phase 1 of the White River Storage Feasibility Study, released earlier this month, points to a new water storage reservoir within the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District (RBWCD) sometime within 10 to 12 years.
• The Colorado Northwestern Community College aviation team had a successful mission to Columbus, Ohio, two weeks ago as the team from Rangely finished second in the nation for two-year aviation schools at the National Intercollegiate Flight Association competition.
• Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet announced Friday that the Rangely Airport has been awarded a $93,158 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP).
• The cast and dance ensemble at Meeker High School finish up one of the dances featured in FAME, the musical performed three times for the public last week by the Meeker High School Drama Club at the MHS auditorium.
• New Eden Pregnancy Care Services in Rangely moved from a three-room suite in the Early Education Center (EEC), where it first opened in May of last year, to a two-bedroom home at 219 S. Sunset Ave.
• WildEarth Guardians, an environmental organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, filed a lawsuit late last month to halt the continued operation of the Bonanza power plant in Utah unless it makes substantial technological upgrades.
• The Rio Blanco County Road and Bridge Department put planks across County Road 51 where the culvert washed out (mile post 0.7) on the Wyman Lake Road.
• Vicky Tate is retiring after 34 years of teaching for the Meeker School District. Tate was born and raised in Meeker. She was the first female athlete from Meeker to receive an athletic scholarship.
• Most grateful that the news came later instead of never, Meeker Range Call director Kim Ekstrom announced Friday that a new director had surfaced for the annual Range Call Pageant, which brings to life the story of the Meeker Massacre at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds during the Fourth of July weekend.
• A residence at 340 Park St. in Meeker was damaged Friday, when hot grease from the family barbecue grill dripped onto the propane line to the barbecue, which “compromised the propane line,” leading to the fire, Fire Chief Steve Allen said Wednesday. Homeowners Jason Hightower and Mandi Etheridge said no one was injured.
• All the action Tuesday night was on the Republican Party’s primary ballot in Rio Blanco County as Anthony Mazzola easily outdrew Michael Joos as the people’s choice to follow retiring Sheriff Si Woodruff as the county’s top law enforcement officer. The final votes were counted just prior to 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and those final but unofficial vote counts had Mazzola with 916 votes (57 percent) to 667 (41 percent) for Joos.
• A 21-year-old Dinosaur man was killed and three others were injured in a car accident June 17 outside of Rangely.
• The Meeker Lions Club honored Meeker’s Frank Cooley, 91, for his 59 years of service to the club, having joined in 1955. Also honored were Dale Frisby for 30 years of service, Robert “Bob” Pearce for 25 years service and Robert “Bob” Bivens for 20 years of service as well as Red Leavitt for his longevity and service. The awards were presented June 3 at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds. Above, assisting Cooley were Anthony Mazzola and Joy Allen.
To be continued next week…