RBC issues discussed at interagency meeting

From wolves to coronavirus to Colowyo...

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RBC I The county commissioners hosted an interagency meeting Tuesday afternoon following the regular board meeting. Leaders and representatives from multiple county departments and area entities presented updates on activities and projects.

BLM—Kent Walter, White River Field Manager

Walter said the BLM’s comment period on changes to grazing regulations closes March 6. Documentation for the revisions is available at https://tinyurl.com/rtu8eq8.

Walter also said approval of the travel resources management plan, the  Buffalo Horn land exchange, a wild horse gather plan for outside the herd management area and an environmental assessment for wild horses inside the management area are underway. 

Comments are also open on the proposed sale of six BLM parcels—four in the Strawberry Creek area and two along the Grand Hogback in Garfield County. The BLM considers the parcels “difficult and uneconomic to manage as part of the public lands.” If approved, the parcels would be sold to White River Lodge, LLC.

Walter also said the White River Field Office has several employment opportunities available.


Moreno reported on a meeting in Craig Feb. 10 aimed at educating the public about wolves. Conservation methods, including trapping, were discussed, but Moreno said it’s important to know that those methods only apply to Wildlife Services, not to the general public or to livestock producers.

Ewing said he has been working on the corvid problem—crows and ravens—at the landfill, and this year appears to be getting some help from a pair of golden eagles. In previous years the ravens were numerous enough they chased off the eagles, but the eagles have since “set up a kind of territory” and are taking out crows and ravens on their own.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife–Area Manager Bill deVergie

deVergie extrapolated on the discussion about wolves, responding to a question from Commissioner Gary Moyer about what defines wolves as “established” in an area. If a species is considered established, federal law would negate introducing additional animals. deVergie said there would need to be two reproducing wolf packs existing within the state for 16-18 months for them to be considered established. At this time, there’s one confirmed pack in the extreme northwest corner and a lone male wolf with a radio collar in North Park (Jackson County).

“As long as wolves are federally protected, we [CPW] have hardly any authority to do anything,” deVergie said. “We’re going to have to start working hard to determine where we’re going as a state agency now that we know we have a pack existing. It’s all new territory; we’re going to have to adapt and learn as we go along.”

CPW is also revisiting its plan for management of mountain lions, as problems have increased in rural communities across the Western Slope. CPW is hosting several meetings to discuss the West Region Mountain Lion plan. There will be a meeting in Meeker Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. at Mountain Valley Bank open to the public.

At this point, deer and elk winter survival looks pretty good for Rio Blanco County, deVergie said.


Massey said there have been 21 drilling applications, two spills … “none of them real major,” and three or four pipeline abandonments.


Rangely’s property taxes went up, Nielson said, due to the hospital mill levy. The county’s tax valuation is up about 5.5% due to oil and gas.


Morlan said this summer Road and Bridge plans to widen corners on the Burro Mountain road for public safety and are working on a couple of bridge replacements. The county has received a grant to replace the bridge across the White River at County Road 73, “one of the worst bridges in the state,” Morlan said.

This year’s spring thaw load restrictions in the Piceance Basin are on track to start the first week of March. The restrictions generally last 20-28 days and have an impact on Natural Soda and other industries that haul heavy loads.


Gates said the multijurisdictional hazard mitigation plan is being adopted, along with a countywide emergency operations plan.


“Last year we got beat up hard with the criminal justice reforms,” Mazzola said. Legislation that is “easier” on criminals is hard on law enforcement, such as a bill introduced this year that would allow a 72-hour grace period for people who fail to appear in court. He has committed to spending more time working with other agencies and organizations to “at least make our voices heard as a county sheriff’s office,” at the state legislature.

The Sheriff’s Office has a part-time opening for a nurse at the jail.


Keetch said the Blanco District is moving forward with the Yellow Jacket timber management project. The scoping period starts Feb. 20. Of a 39,000 acre area, the project proposes treating 2,300 acres of forested land. Timber removed would be hauled to a mill in Montrose and a mill in Gypsum. The project would require realignment of two roads in the area to improve the travel corridor.

Keetch said the Buford-New Castle road widening will happen this year and said they have received letters to support a review of the travel plan to allow OHV use.

The Blanco District is also planning a small parking area at Miller Creek at the forest boundary.

Keetch praised the district’s internship program with Colorado Mesa University, established by Mary Cunningham in memory of her son Jake. The program, in its fourth year this year, should place 40 interns. This year will also be the 18th year Cunningham has led the local observance of the World Migratory Bird Day in May, giving students an opportunity to identify local migratory birds.

The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps will return this summer to help replace the roof on the Lost Creek shop, which was damaged in a fire last year. The building itself was spared thanks to the volunteer fire department, Keetch said.

GeoCorps students will be posted at Spring Cave again this year to talk to visitors about the bat population, the cave and white-nose syndrome.

With only four permanent employees on the district, Keetch echoed the sentiments of others—jobs are available.


VonRoenn said the rec district plans to install LED lights at Paintbrush Park to finish the baseball field, is moving forward on pond construction at Circle Park and working with the Town of Meeker to plan additional improvements at Circle Park and conceptual ideas for the in-town river corridor.


Hendrickson said this will be the third year of reviewing the algae bloom on the White River and that they expect a report in 2021.

Water is a focus for the districts, with discussion about water management. She urged people to review a report to be released in the next few weeks and comment. The report will be available online at whiterivercd.com.


PMC will celebrate its 70th year this year, and the Walbridge Wing turns 60, Joy said. Meeker Family Health saw  more patient visits in 2019 than 2018. They’re coming from surrounding areas, Joy said, and not just for ortho visits, although tracking ZIP codes of ortho patients reflects people coming in from as far as Alaska, Vermont and North Carolina.

The expansion will add jobs, Joy said. “…About $2 million in annual payroll once the build-out is done.”

In the second half of 2020, PMC will begin a feasibility study about needed senior services.

PMC’s search for a CEO is still ongoing. “It is a very specialized position,” she said.


Masters, just over a year into her role as RBC Extension Agent, said, “There have been a lot of changes at Extension in the last year or two.”

She said the 4-H program is “going strong” and they are always looking for 4-H leaders. She’s also working closely with the Fair Board and expects this year’s county fair to be better than ever. “We’re so far ahead of the game from where we were last year,” she said.

Masters also said Colorado State University is doing live webinars that are available to the public. The current webinars are on ag marketing.


Carlson said building has been good in the last year, and hopes that trend will continue.


There is a pesticide workshop Feb. 20 in Meeker that will meet continuing education credit requirements for pesticide applicators. (See News Briefs on Page 3A for details.)


Cybersecurity training for county employees has been completed, Merrell said.


The new sales tax rules that went into effect last year has increased the sales tax revenue coming back to the towns and county from online purchases. Morlan said the December distribution report came out to 261 legal-size pages of accounts that paid sales tax back to the towns and county for online purchases.


Cook said the town’s well improvements project should be finished by early summer. The town plans to install a new 8-inch water line down the full-length of Water Street; sidewalks from Market Street to the high school and a crosswalk signal at Fifth and Market streets. The town’s recycling program is now being operated by Eagle River Waste Services and the town is cleaning up and renovating its property at the end of Third Street.

Cook also said there will be additional meetings at the end of April about the updates to the comprehensive plan and the land use plan.


Barton said economic development is working to maintain and be part of the conversations around Tri-State’s decision to close the Craig power plant and the Colowyo coal mine. “Moffat County is obviously the focus, but we don’t want to be forgotten,” she said. “We’re collaborating with the Department of Labor to do some outreach and regional studies.”

Barton, with Commissioner Jeff Rector and Moffat County Commissioner Don Cook are working on a draft proposal to help communities impacted by the loss of fossil fuel extraction to renewables.

Economic Development is also working on marketing, providing county news and department spotlights to the public, and is continuing work with the Small Business Development Center.


While DHS is traditionally reactive, not preventive, Bofinger said they want to “focus on those kids and families who haven’t walked through our doors” to do some prevention and intervene before they have a need.


Harvey shared her progress in creating a community health database to track communicable disease like influenza in the county. With coronavirus in the news, she said the threat in RBC is very small and will probably remain so. Still, they are focused on surveillance, prevention and awareness. “Public health touches everything,” she said.


RBC issues discussed at interagency meeting