County Beat: Airport Master Plan, Staff Updates, CR 4 Bridge & Crystal Creek Ranch CPW Sale

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RBC | In work sessions Tuesday the Rio Blanco County Board of County Commissioners heard updates on the Meeker Airport water main supply line and drainage projects from Facilities Manager Eric Jaquez. The airport needs more water pressure and hydrants for fire suppression, and stormwater drainage has caused repetitive problems for homeowners just below the airport.

“I think it makes sense to put this project together while we’re doing this other project,” said Commissioner Jeff Rector, referencing planned repairs to the stormwater drainage.

Jaquez also alerted the commissioners to concerns surrounding some of the trees around the courthouse that sustained damage in an early snowstorm last fall.

“They’re showing some issues,” Jaquez said of four trees — a pine, two elms and an ash tree — that look like they might split or fall over, or show significant signs of rot. Costs for removal vary between $4,000 and $5,000. One of the trees blocks the view of concert goers during music events at the pavilion and has reportedly prompted complaints.

“This can be handled by the facilities budget,” Jaquez said. “The bigger thing is we didn’t just want to go and remove these trees. It’s a very sensitive issue and we respect that. For us it’s a safety concern,” Jaquez said. “It may last another 10, 15 or 20 years and not have an issue, but we thought we should bring it to the board because of the size of the branches.”

Commissioner Gary Moyer asked for an opportunity to look at the trees. “I’d like to have a look myself before we pull the trigger.”

Jaquez said there’s an opportunity to transition the facilities tech position to a seasonal position to save money this year and allow for some flexibility in the department’s staffing.

E.M. UPDATE

Eddie Smercina, emergency manager and natural resources director, updated the board on his activities, which included additional training and connections with various agencies, and accompanying U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert on a tour of the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir.

Smercina said he is working with Callie Hendrickson from the conservation districts to “strengthen the language” in the county’s land use plan, among other activities.

Leif Joy, county surveyor among other titles, asked Smercina about discussion surrounding upgrades to the county’s dispatch software as it relates to the county’s GIS “backbone.”

Commissioner Ty Gates, former county emergency manager, said the new software will bring the county into compliance with NextGen911 as well as legislation passed regarding law enforcement collection of information.

CR 4 BRIDGE

The possibility of replacing an overloaded bridge on County Road 4 was discussed in work sessions with Van Pilaud, who said he would like to use budgeted funds to replace the bridge. The bridge crosses the Highland Ditch.

Commissioner Gates said he had already fielded calls from concerned citizens who do not want to see the ditch shut off.

“I do not want to do that,” Pilaud said. “I want to find out what the window of opportunity is. Whatever the demand on irrigation is, I want those folks to have it.”

Pilaud said inspections by the Colorado Department of Transportation indicated this bridge is in need of repair to avoid load restrictions. Meeker Sand and Gravel and the county’s snowplows would be impacted by load restrictions if they were implemented.

“My fear is that most of these bridges in the county were built in a relatively short time frame to each other and if we don’t start getting a program of improving the existing structures we’re going to have a lot of structures go bad at the same time,” Pilaud said.

ASPEN MANAGEMENT

Public Information and Program Manager Carly Thompson, with Smercina, updated the commissioners on a White River National Forest plan for management of aspen groves that is open for comment through April 20.

Scan the QR code to view the full PDF and maps of the proposed plan, along with instructions for submitting public comment.

The proposal would improve habitat through the use of burning and mechanical operations in aspen habitat.

Commissioner Moyer said a presentation from Club 20 this month connected forest health and water. “Through the last 40 years of activism we’re really seeing some detrimental results,” Moyer said. “Anything that’s active management we should support.”

“I would agree,” Gates said. “If we were more proactive in mitigating our forests we wouldn’t have the big wildfire seasons we’re having.”

Adding logging activities back into forest mitigation might provide an economic benefit to the county, as well. “That’s the tool that ultimately has the ability to pay the cost for forest management,” Moyer added. “When they lost that industry they lost the funding to be able to actively manage our forests.”

The proposal would provide for 20,000 acres per decade of mitigation efforts.

PUBLIC HEALTH

“My guess is we won’t be seeing it [Johnson & Johnson vaccine] here anytime soon,” Public Health Director Alice Harvey said in response to the CDC’s report that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may be causing blood clots. Of more than 6.8 million doses administered, a handful of negative reactions were reported, prompting a warning from the CDC, but not a withdrawal of the vaccine.

Harvey said the Moderna vaccine available in Rio Blanco County is considered safe and encouraged those who are still unvaccinated to consider the Moderna option.

The county issued an official request to the state to be exempt from the mask mandate, but hasn’t had a response back from the state.

“Nothing has changed on our end,” Harvey said. Specific situations and businesses will still be subject to the mask mandate statewide, including child care centers, indoor children’s camps, public-facing government facilities, emergency medical and other health care settings (like hospitals, urgent care facilities, clinics and doctor’s offices); personal services (like hair and nail salons, barbershops, esthetician services, tattoo shops).

Harvey said the number of positive cases, despite the presence of the variant strains, is down and she hopes that will continue.

CRYSTAL CREEK RANCH CPW SALE

The debate about whether the owners of Crystal Creek Ranch, which adjoins and includes part of Moffat County, can sell their property to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) continued in a work session. Moffat County Commissioners have not weighed in on the topic.

The family that owns the property, the Seelys, asserted their rights as private citizens to sell to CPW. Neighboring property owners presented opposing concerns, from traffic to dust control to ditch maintenance to property values to change of use.

Outfitter Joe Wood shared his concerns about increased pressure on elk herds in the area.

Area Wildlife Manager Bill deVergie said he anticipates none of the perceived problems. “We are good neighbors,” he said.

Commissioner Moyer said his concern is that the public (via CPW) isn’t obligated to purchase private property, and if asked to support such a purchase can also oppose a purchase.

The board agreed to table the discussion of a letter about the Crystal Creek Ranch transaction in support of, against, or neutral till the next meeting.

In the regular meeting the board:

  • Went into executive session to discuss “threatened or pending litigation.”
  • Appointed Donald Steerman as interim county attorney at $225 per hour. A contract fee is expected to be negotiated in the next few weeks. Steerman has been handling human services cases for the county for more than a year.
  • Passed a resolution opposing Ballot Initiative 16 (Pause Act).
  • Passed a resolution opposing the 30 by 30 land conservation plan. “This is a really scary program,” said Commissioner Rector. “I strongly encourage everyone to go research this.”
  • In commissioner updates, all three commissioners commented on the meeting with U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert in Rangely.

By NIKI TURNER – editor@ht1885.com