COUNTY BEAT: March 11, 2021

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RBC I In work sessions Tuesday, the board of county commissioners heard a reopening plan for White River Roundup. The senior nutrition program will resume in-person meals for all but homebound clients and those who choose curbside pickup unless the county returns to Level Red on the COVID dial. The Meeker program will resume two weeks before the Rangely program at Radino by about two weeks, “to work out the kinks with opening.” During the pandemic, home delivery has been provided. The commissioners were excited by the “return to normal” for the program.

In opposition to the governor’s proposed “Meat Out Day” on March 20, where Colorado residents are encouraged to avoid eating meat, Rio Blanco County will celebrate “Meat In Day,” working with local restaurants and local meat producers. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association is setting up donation jars at local restaurants and businesses to help support school backpack programs.

Various Meeker restaurants are participating in the Meat In event, while Rangely is planning a barbecue at the county’s road and bridge shop. Commissioner Jeff Rector said he plans to prepare about 300 lbs. of beef.

The board passed a formal resolution supporting Meat In Day. Rector encouraged everyone in the county to “clean the shelves” at the local grocery stores and to each as much beef as possible that day. The governor’s proclamation has been met with significant backlash around the state.

The board interviewed applicants for various open board seats. The appointments will be made at next week’s meeting.

Former game warden and former county employee Jeff Madison presented a draft resolution to designate RBC a “sanctuary county” related to wolf reintroduction.

“I was a little flummoxed by the resolution itself in essence pitting east versus west Colorado,” Madison said of the resolution passed in the general election. “I have watched with interest where cities and states across the country have established sanctuary in obvious violation of federal and state regulations.”

Madison’s proposed resolution would declare Rio Blanco a “wolf reintroduction sanctuary county” that would send a message to legislators that the county does not want to be included in the designated lands for wolves to be reintroduced.

The board agreed to have legal staff review Madison’s draft resolution and revisit it next week. Rector said he believes there are multiple groups and counties that would sign on as well.

“I agree with being on the forefront of this,” added Commissioner Ty Gates.

Commissioner Gary Moyer and newly hired Natural Resources Director Edward Smercina gave testimony to the Colorado Energy and Environment Committee late last month on two proposed bills associated with the wolf introduction plan. One bill, which would have limited where wolves could be released, failed in committee, the other, introduced by Rep. Perry Will, passed with bipartisan support. HB-1040 would require payments for livestock deprivation to be paid from funds other than the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.

During the regular meeting, the commissioners approved a retail liquor license for Kum & Go; approved the 2021 Wildfire Operating Plan; approved FAA reimbursement for the Rangely Airport in the amount of $7,572 and the Meeker Airport in the amount of $5,250 from FAA and CDOT and sponsor commitment; and approved a recommendation from CDOT that the CR73 bridge replacement project be given to United Companies not to exceed $1.933 million.

Rector commented on the CR 73 bridge project. “We’ve got minimal traffic down there, and what ended up making this decision for us is if we spend this month now or do we kick it down the road and it costs more.”

Road and Bridge Engineer Van Pilaud said there has been an ongoing struggle for four years on this project, but is hopeful there will be a solution by this fall.

The board also approved an agreement for equipment location with Union Telephone for Douglas Pass Communication Facility not to exceed $7,800; approved an agreement with Van Diest Supply for 2021 weed and pest herbicides in an amount not to exceed $116,713; approved a temporary construction easement between the BoCC and Caerus Piceance LLC and Puckett Land Co for a CR5 stock pass project. Pilaud said the funding for this project to replace a small bridge on CR5 is DOLA funded. The project has to wait for BLM approval later this month.

In public comment, Meeker resident and former Town Manager Sharon Day offered suggestions for combating the threats to the local economy, including having a commissioners’ column in the HT to let citizens know what is going on at the state legislature, organizing once or twice a year with various agencies and groups to work together in reaching out to legislators, or inviting state legislators to spend a weekend here, for example.

“I believe those things really have an impact,” Day said. “I think if we all get on board together … we can make a difference.”

Following commissioner updates, the board went into executive session to discuss legal matters. At the end of the interagency meeting later Tuesday, County Attorney Todd Starr announced that he has tendered his resignation to the board. Asked by Commissioner Moyer for “the logic” behind his decision, Starr replied, “I know what you’d like me to say, and so I will. It has nothing to do with any of the nonsense that you’re reading about in the local paper.” His original contract, Starr added, named him as the “interim” county attorney.

PUBLIC HEALTH

Public Health Director Alice Harvey announced the third COVID-related death in Rio Blanco County occurred on Monday, March 8, saying, “We’re not completely through this yet.” However, as vaccinations increase and case counts continue to fall, the state is offering greater flexibility for rural counties when it comes to the COVID dial framework, which may allow RBC to go into Blue Level as early as this weekend.

The county also anticipates receiving the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine from the state in the near future, which Harvey said “lots of people are waiting for.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, the commissioners hosted the quarterly interagency meeting and heard from representatives of various local agencies and county departments with updates on projects and plans.