Responses to county survey run the gamut

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Besides the buzz created by the report a severed hand and foot had been found last Thursday night in the grassy area by the skateboard park in Meeker — it turned out they were bear paws — another hot topic of conversation was the countywide survey.
phjeffburkheadResults of the survey, conducted in February and March, were reviewed by consultants at a public meeting — also last Thursday night — at the county administration building in Meeker, and also available by videoconference at the county annex in Rangely.
Copies of the survey were mailed to 2,689 households in the county, and could also be completed online. Of the 506 responses received — representing about 19 percent of the total sent out — 92 were filled out online.
Here are some other demographic numbers from the survey:
Of those who responded, more than half — 55 percent — have lived or owned property in Rio Blanco County for more than 20 years. The vast majority of respondents — 87 percent — own their home, while 10 percent of the respondents are renters.
Of the respondents, 52 percent are between the ages of 45 and 64, with an average age of 53 years old. Forty percent of the respondents have an income between $40,000 and $79,999, while 21 percent have an income of less than $40,000, and 8 percent have an income of $150,000 or more.
The majority of respondents work close to home, the survey revealed, with a median roundtrip commuting distance of four miles. While some respondents commute to work in places like Craig, Rifle, Grand Junction and Utah, most respondents work in the same community in which they live — 81 percent of Rangely respondents work in Rangely, and 81 percent of Meeker respondents work in Meeker. Almost half of the respondents, overall, work in Meeker (50 percent), while 28 percent work in Rangely, and 21 percent work in rural Rio Blanco County.
At the heart of the survey was a question about the general state of the county. A majority of respondents — 45 percent — indicated they thought the county was on the wrong track, while 25 percent thought the county was moving in the right direction, and 30 percent said they “did not know.”
Respondents living in the unincorporated parts of the county were more likely to think the county was on the wrong track — 56 percent of residents living in unincorporated areas vs. 45 percent of overall respondents.
Respondents with incomes of more than $60,000 were also more negative about the direction the county was moving.
In addition to answering the question about whether the county is headed in the right direction or the wrong direction, respondents had the opportunity to offer their opinions. Here’s a sampling of some of the comments, first, from those who think the county is on the right track:
“I think that developing our natural resources is the right thing to do.”
“More growth in the area has been better for the county.”
“I think the county has done quite well, given the resources available to us.”
Now, some comments from those who stated they thought the county was on the wrong track:
“Greed is going to ruin the county economy, if not controlled.”
“I believe the locals are being over-regulated, and the big companies under-regulated.”
“Oil and gas exploration and development is out of control in the Piceance Basin.”
“The roads are deteriorating, and with oil and gas causing most of the damage, they should be the ones footing the bill.”
“Too much growth too fast.”
Under the “don’t know” responses, some of the comments were:
“At times I have hope — they must be more progressive and smarter.”
“Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but areas of concern often cannot be fixed by the county.
“We were told that oil will pay for hospital, rec center, schools … Now who is going to pay for all these increases since oil is declining?”
While only one out of five people responded to the survey request, the results are an indicator of what a portion of the population thinks about the county and the direction it is headed. Or, as the consultants said, the survey represents a snapshot of the county’s residents and what they think.
The survey is part of an ongoing effort to gather information and solicit input, which will eventually culminate in the adoption of a new master plan for the county. That master plan is intended to serve as a guide for the next decade.
Even if you didn’t take part in the survey, there will be opportunities in the future to make your voice heard.
“In addition to the survey process, we will have a series of public meetings, to present information and get feedback on that material,” said Davis Farrar, a consultant for the master plan and one of the presenters at last Thursday’s meeting. “Toward the end of this process, we are scheduled to have two hearings before the planning commission. That’s a more formal process. It’s an opportunity for you to weigh in on the final stages and give us feedback, as this thing comes to a close.”
So, stay tuned.
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The county had seven companies submit applications to conduct the survey. That list was narrowed to three, before the county settled on RRC Associates of Boulder.
“The selection was made by a review by the Board of County Commissioners, the planning commission and several county departments,” said Jeff Madison, natural resources specialist and planning director for Rio Blanco County.
“The cost of the master plan project is being paid by a grant from DOLA (Colorado Department of Local Affairs), with a match from the county,” Madison continued. “$97,500 from DOLA, and $36,000 from the county. About half of the county’s part is in in-kind services — personnel time and the administrative support. The cost of the survey, specifically, is about $10,000 of the total.”
Colleen Hannon, who has been a contract planner for the county on an as-needed basis for about three years, Madison said, is serving as a consultant for the master plan project, along with Ryan Mahoney. She is a former county planner for Gunnison County.
Meanwhile, Davis Farrar has been involved in master plan projects for Western Slope communities since the oil shale days in the 1970s, and is a former town planner and town administrator for Carbondale, Madison said.
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Bill Wille, a Meeker taxidermist, whose business, Antler Taxidermy, is not far from where the bear paws were discovered last Thursday, speculated the body parts could have come from his dumpster.
“I guess anything is possible, as we have had many dead parts taken off our property over the years,” Bill said.
Bill had recently skinned a bear.
“We have found full deer and elk hides on neighbors’ properties,” added Bill’s wife, Donna. “Dogs have stolen deer and elk skulls right out of the dumpster, if it was left open. The bear Bill skinned was put into the dumpster and we have our trash pickup on Fridays. It is possible these parts were taken by a cat or dog.”
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Meeker’s skateboard park — called the Fay Action Park — has yet to open for the season.
“We were looking at opening on April 6,” said Scott Pierson, director of the Eastern Rio Blanco Metropolitan Recreation and Park District. “However, the weather has set that back a few weeks.”
Other projects have taken precedence for the recreation district.
“We’re trying like everything to get the ball fields ready for action, so the Meeker High School baseball team can get their home games played,” Pierson said.
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Last Thursday, staff from the Meeker Chamber of Commerce visited with members of the Rangely Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors to initiate a discussion about how the two chambers could work together for the good of the county.
David Cole, the new executive director of the Meeker Chamber of Commerce, invited members of the Rangely Chamber of Commerce to join LinkedIn, a business-oriented Internet networking site.
“Their members will be joining this discussion group, which will bring over 400 voices to the table,” Cole said. “Additionally, they will participate in the Meeker Chamber’s Business Essentials educational series, via CNCC’s PicTel facilities.”
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Jane Miller, Rangely Chamber of Commerce president and owner of Quality Carpet and Furnishings, said last week’s meeting with representatives of the Meeker Chamber of Commerce went well.
“It was a really good meeting,” Miller said. “There’s going to be some stuff coming up on that. We are talking about merging the two (chambers), so we’ll see how that goes. But that could be great for this county.”
Miller’s daughter, Angie, was added to the Rangely board, while Kathy LaNoue resigned. Phyllis Henley recently resigned as vice president, but was not replaced.
“We’re not going to do a vice president,” Jane Miller said. “We’ll just have the three officers, and we elected one more board member, Angie.”
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A fire last Thursday night caused about $300,000 in damage to White River Electric Association’s Yankee Gulch distribution substation, near the Enterprise gas plant. The fire started about 8:30 p.m. and was extinguished about an hour later. The Meeker Fire Department responded to the call. Power to affected customers was restored by about 11 p.m., using the Black Sulphur substation. The Enterprise gas plant was unaffected by the outage.
“It would appear that the outage and the fire are the result of a failed electrical device within the substation, known as a voltage regulator,” said Dick Welle, WREA general manager. “Repairs will take several weeks.”
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Rick Heming, general manager of NC Telecom, said “things are going well,” as far as the company’s bankruptcy reorganization.
“We have a hearing in Denver (this week), and the court is expected to confirm the plan of reorganization,” Heming said. “After that, we still need to set a closing date, draft a final report and a motion for a final decree.”
Last December, UBET Wireless of Roosevelt, Utah, a subsidiary of UBTA-UBET, was the highest bidder in a bankruptcy auction to take over ownership of NC Telecom’s assets, with a winning bid of $4.15 million.
“The plan provides for multiple parties to make use of the fiber assets, and for UBET to own and manage the remaining property and telecom operations,” Heming said. “UBTA-UBET will also be assuming both the Rio Blanco and Moffat County prepaid service agreements, and will continue to offer all current services. So, in the end, things will be about the same, but with others owning some of the existing unused fiber strands. It’s a very good situation that addresses the needs of multiple interested parties and continues to expand the telecom and data services in the region.”
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A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. Friday at the site of the new Meeker Elementary School, east of the recreation center. A construction crew began excavation work last week.
“It’s exciting,” said Meeker School Board President Mary Strang.
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I was picking up a few things at Nichols Store in Rangely last weekend, when Bill Hume, the owner, said, “Hey, you got it wrong in your column last week.”
“Uh, oh,” I said. “What now?”
Bill proceeded to read aloud an excerpt from my column where I wrote that Rangely High School senior wrestler Christian Holcomb finished fourth at the state tournament, when he actually placed second.
It turns out Christian works part time at Nichols Store, and it just so happened he was the one who was ringing up the items I bought.
I promptly apologized to Christian.
“It’s OK,” he said. “It’s no big deal.”
Again, my sincere apologies to Christian, who not only is a standout wrestler and a silver medal winner at the state tournament, but he’s also a very understanding young man.

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