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Corby Anderson to take over as new director of Carbondale’s KDNK radio

Longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident and radio voice Corby Anderson has been selected to take the helm of community radio station KDNK in Carbondale, and the first station chief with the title of executive director.

The announcement came in a Tuesday press release from the station’s Board of Directors and follows a nationwide search to replace former General Manager Gavin Dahl, who stepped down in June due to a family move.

“The board expanded the station’s leadership role from general manager to executive director because we felt that the title would better reflect KDNK’s community service beyond being purely a radio station,” Board Secretary Chris Hassig said in the release.

Anderson is a 2006 graduate of Appalachian State University, where he earned a BA in TV and Radio Broadcasting and minored in Media Studies. He is a former news host, sportscaster, DJ and board members for KDNK, and later was director of Colorado Mountain College’s RadioCMC. He was one of the first teachers hired for CMC’s Isaacson School for New Media, teaching courses in radio, audio, film and video production.

“I’ve been passionate about the power of radio to tell stories, entertain and inform since I was a child, and am deeply honored to be given this opportunity to lead KDNK,” Anderson said in the release.  “It is quite literally a dream come true.”

Other changes for the local public radio station and NPR affiliate include naming Amy Hadden Marsh as news director, stepping in for Lucas Turner who will continue as a part-time reporter; and, Raleigh Burleigh will take over public affairs duties, which also had been handled Turner.

Judgment day for Garfield County regarding state variance, but COVID-19 case trend headed in right direction

It’s been two weeks since Garfield County was notified by state public health officials that an alarming rate of new coronavirus cases locally would need to be reversed, or the county could lose its state variance allowing for broader business openings.

While the needle is moving in the right direction on some fronts, an outbreak reported Friday at two Garfield County churches is not likely to help the county’s case any.

Two weeks was the time frame given for the county to show some improvement on several statistical fronts, including the overall trend in new cases and the positivity rate among people being tested for COVID-19.

Otherwise, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment could seek to modify or remove the county’s variance — a move that could severely impact restaurants, gyms and tourist attractions in the area.

The variance, granted May 23, allowed businesses in Garfield County to open more fully than state public health orders have provided in the effort to control the spread of the potentially deadly virus.

Exactly where the county stands is expected to be the lead topic of discussion when the Board of County Commissioners convene at 8 a.m. Monday to hear the latest public health update.

“Yes, the variance is at risk due to case counts,” Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long said in an emailed response to questions on Thursday.

But, it remains to be seen how the state will view the latest statistical data for the county, she said.

As of Friday, the needle was at least moving in the right direction, though the county remains in the state’s highest danger zone for risk of virus spread.

The latest 14-day onset of new COVID-19 cases, from July 18-31, fell to 54, compared to more than 180 cases during the prior two-week period, according to data compiled and reported by the county health department.

Those numbers change daily due to adjustments made for a rolling 14-day period. The county has also been experiencing a lengthy turn-around time for obtaining test results — more than a week in some cases — so that number could go up over the weekend as more results are reported.

The county’s case rate per 100,000 people has also gone down, from more than 110 per 100,000 at one point last week to 89.9 per 100,000 as of Friday.

The state’s thresholds are based on virus spread per 100,000, but because Garfield County’s population is 61,000 that number is also adjusted to a lower benchmark. For the county to return to the medium risk zone, it would need to show fewer than 31 cases over consecutive two-week periods.

Still a major concern is the county’s test positivity rate. As of Friday, the positivity rate was 10.7%, up from 7.9% on Thursday and much higher than the 5.3% positivity rate the county was reporting in mid-July.

To return to the medium-risk categories, Garfield County would need to show fewer than 31 new cases over a two-week period, a case rate of 50 or fewer per 100,000 people, a test positivity rate of less than 10%, and stable or declining hospitalizations.

What that all means for Garfield County businesses and the county’s tourism-based economy headed into the final weeks before Labor Day remains unknown.

In some ways, the county’s variance is actually stricter than the state’s current iteration of the “Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors” public health order that’s now in place, Long pointed out.

“The county is only obligated to follow the least restrictive measure,” she said.

The high rate of virus spread is also keeping Garfield County from seeking approval to move into the less-restrictive “Protect Our Neighbors” phase of opening, she said. 

The county could be asked to roll back to the more-restrictive provisions under the Safer at Home rules.

Key differences between the county’s May 23 variance and the current state public health orders, according to Long, include:

  • Restaurants may be open at 50% capacity under the county variance, including indoor and outdoor dining, with a maximum of 175 people; the state order allows 50% of posted indoor capacity, not to exceed 50 patrons.
  • Bars that do not serve food remain closed in Garfield County, but can be open under the state rules at 25% capacity or 50 patrons, whichever comes first.
  • Houses of worship are allowed 50% capacity or up to 175 people under the county variance; the state limits places of worship to 50% capacity or between 50 and 100 people, depending on the size of the worship space.
  • Fitness Centers/Gyms can be open at 50%/175 people under the county variance, but are limited to 25%/50 people under the state rules.
  • Outdoor recreation facilities can be open at 50%/50 people max under the county variance, but are limited to no more than 25 people under the state rules.
  • Outfitters, such as backcountry and rafting guides, can operate at 50% capacity with up to two households in a group under the county variance, but are limited to household groups of no more than 10 people under the state rules.
  • Group sizes for indoor special events can include 25 people under the county variance, but would be limited to 10 under the state rules.

A big question if the county is asked to roll back to the Safer at Home provisions revolves around Glenwood Springs’ tourism attractions.

Currently, large attractions such as the Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, the Iron Mountain Hot Springs and the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park are allowed to operate at 30% capacity, but with strict social distancing measures and other public health protocols in place.

“The Hot Springs Pool is basically open under our variance, as the county submitted a request for clarification from the state and has not received a reply,” Long explained.

The county had sought further guidance and clarification and included the pool’s social distancing  plan in a follow-up variance request that was not granted. 

“When the original public health order for safer at home and the great outdoors was released, we interpreted that to say they could open,” Long said. 

The state treats hot springs as outdoor pools, which are currently limited to no more than 50 people, or 50% capacity, whichever comes first.

“We define (hot springs) as large tourist attractions, as stated in our letter to the state, and they are operating under those guidelines,” Long said.

In any case, with the exception of two employees at the Iron Mountain Hot Springs who tested positive, forcing a temporary closure of the cafe, it has not been tourist-oriented businesses where cases are showing up, Long added.

Rather, part of the increase has been attributed to the commuter workforce that lives in Garfield County and works primarily up-valley restaurant, hotel, construction and landscaping/property maintenance jobs.

Many of those workers are Hispanic, a statistic that shows up in the county’s numbers. As of Friday, nearly 68% of the county’s total COVID-19 cases involved Hispanic/Latino residents. That percentage has risen steadily from less than 50% in early June, just before many types of businesses began to reopen.

A Washington Post story Friday detailed a trend where Hispanics are making up a growing percentage of overall deaths from COVID-19. The story also highlighted the disease’s outsized impacts on Native Americans.

Tying commuting cases to specific places of employment is difficult, though, Long said.

“Even with active contact tracing, we cannot be positive where people contract COVID-19, unless there is an obvious tie in the same family or some other clear exposure,” Long said.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Locals could be in for a ski season-pass curveball this winter in Aspen

Aspen Skiing Co. plans to open its four mountains on schedule this winter under a controlled environment with outdoor bathrooms and no sit-down dining, and it also is considering blackout-dates for local skiers so it can manage the crowds.

Skico senior executive Rich Burkley brought up the touchy subject of blackout dates — at least among the local ski and snowboard crowd — on Thursday during a video conference meeting with local health care authorities and public officials.

“We are looking at spreading pulses throughout the day, throughout the weeks, and throughout the season,” said Burkley, the company’s senior vice president of strategic planning. “So we may be asking locals to ski a lot more in early December than in the holiday season, when we may have other capacity-constraint limitations in place, as well.”

Skico, like the Aspen School District, Aspen Valley Hospital, local businesses and local government, is grappling with how to efficiently operate during a global pandemic while limiting the spread of the virus.

Much of what they decide is at the mercy of local and state public health orders, which have shown a pattern to change often because of rising and dropping infection rates. Aspen Valley Hospital CEO David Ressler reported at the same meeting that the hospital has returned to “comfortable” status due to a downward trend in the number of coronavirus tests it is administering daily.

That’s a good sign, but Ressler cautioned the hospital’s operating capacity —a driving force behind local public health orders — is a fragile situation during the pandemic.

“We certainly don’t want to send a message of complacency,” Ressler said, “because that is far from the reality. We believe we are doing the right thing as a community. And this is a message to double down and not let our foot off the gas.”

Burkley said no decisions have been made about season ski passes and their offerings. He called the situation the “biggest unknown” for Skico at this time.

“The longer we wait, the better idea we have of what we can offer for our guests and locals,” he said of the 2020-21 passes, which previously have ranged from one- and two-day-a-week passes to unlimited skiing all season.

Skico previously decided to delay the release of ski pass options and prices eligible for the chamber of commerce discount until after Labor Day. The price structures typically are announced and put on sale in mid-August.

Skico also is looking at offering weekday passes, which would signal a new approach toward its business. It could also provide incentives for passholders to ski Buttermilk rather than Snowmass during certain times, Burkley said.

“We are probably going to be looking at changing local skiing habits,” he said “So you may ski Two Creeks (Snowmass) on an afternoon versus other areas that you would normally do on a Saturday morning.”

Skico already is selling its full-season pass for 2020-21 without the chamber discount; those passes are fully refundable through Nov. 20.

“We recognize skiing and snowboarding is fundamental to everybody in this valley,” Burkley said, “and our goal is to be fair and as equitable for all users with all of the capacity restraints.”

Skico shut down its mountains March 15 in response to Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order closing all Colorado ski resorts. It plans to open all four — Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass — this season.

Burkley said that if ski areas can reopen later this winter, “We know capacity is going to be limited. We don’t know how much, and we hope it’s not zero. We’re trying to do everything to prepare for it.”

Skico also is leaning toward not opening its on-mountain restaurants to in-person dining.

“We’ll probably focus on a lot more grab-and-go-type menus,” Burkley said. “I don’t think we’re going to have any sit-down dining on-mountain next year.”

As well, Skico could create picnic areas where people can eat while on the hill, Burkley said. Examples include using the defunct Ruthie’s restaurant near the top of Lift One on Aspen Mountain and the Spider Sabich area at Snowmass, among other possibilities, he said.

“Every little warming hut becomes a picnic area,” Burkley said. “We’re going to have picnic areas all over the mountain. Think of Buckhorn Cabin (on Aspen Mountain) is expanded in a socially distant format.”

Locker rooms likely won’t be accessible, and bathrooms will be located outside, Burkley said.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Judge upholds Colorado air quality rules for oil, gas sites

DENVER (AP) — A Denver district judge has dismissed a lawsuit by Weld County challenging new state regulations designed to cut oil and gas industry emissions.

District Judge Michael Martinez granted a motion by the state to dismiss the case, agreeing with state attorneys that the rules, adopted under a 2019 law that emphasizes public safety and the environment over fossil fuels energy production, don’t pose a threat to Weld County’s economy, The Denver Post reported Friday.

Martinez found that when it comes to air quality regulations, the state Air Quality Control Commission has precedence over the county.

Weld County is home to nearly half of Colorado’s 52,000 active oil and gas wells, and county Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer has said the local industry paid nearly $500 million in property taxes in 2019.

The air commission’s rules went into effect in February to help implement the 2019 law. The rules include increased inspections of well sites and equipment.

“We will continue to aggressively pursue new rules and regulations that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants,” said Andrew Bare, spokesman for Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division.

Weld County’s attorney and commissioners are reviewing the decision, county spokeswoman Jennifer Finch said.

Ten other counties in western and rural Colorado, including Garfield and Mesa counties, have a similar lawsuit pending against the state challenging air quality rules.

Unemployment rate trickles down in Garfield County

Garfield County’s hospitality and leisure businesses were hit hard by unemployment rates during the pandemic, but overall, unemployment is on the decline, a Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) spokesperson said.

“We historically see an uptick of unemployment rates in (the hospitality and leisure sector) during April and May,” said Jessica Valand, the CDLE Northwest Workforce Area director. “But not like this.” 

In the Northwest Workforce Area, which includes Garfield County, the hospitality industries account for about 45% of unemployment insurance claims, Valand explained.

Overall, the county’s unemployment rates were down to 9.7% in June from 10% in May and 13.7% in April, she added.

“Our unemployment rate has been historically low for the last several years,” Valand said. “So, I anticipate we will continue to see higher than previous unemployment rates going into the winter.”

In June 2019, Garfield County’s unemployment rate was 2.7% and July 2019’s rate was 2.3%; whereas, the national average around the same time was 3.7%.

Unemployment percentages are measured by way of a monthly Bureau of Labor Statistic’s survey, dubbed the Current Population Survey, which includes about 60,000 households nationwide.

Driven by the pandemic, Garfield County’s unemployment rates could remain in flux for months to come. 

“Tourism has been hit heavy by COVID-19,” Valand said. “And a lot of Garfield County residents work in Pitkin County, where tourism is a much bigger driver.” 

A person’s unemployment is attributed to the county of residence, not their place of employment, she said. 

“We don’t know what’s going to happen this winter season,” Valand said. “But it’s reasonable to guess that resorts might have less capacity, which could make for less jobs.” 

Of Garfield County’s approximately 32,000 strong workforce, about 36 percent work in the hospitality and leisure sector, according to CDLE data.

During the week of July 18, the CDLE’s most recent data, about 1,700 Garfield County residents applied for unemployment insurance, Valand said. 

As part of the CARES ACT, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program provided people claiming various forms of unemployment compensation an additional $600 per week to help with lack of income as a result of COVID-19.

The extra money, however, made low-wage workers, many of whom are employed in the hospitality and leisure industry, less likely to return to work as pandemic restrictions lifted, Valand said.

When the program closes July 31, she said the county’s unemployment rate drop again.

“We have a lot of employers with increased demand for workers, such as construction and trades,” Valand said. “Outdoor recreation industries have done very well, too, and there is a real demand for people to work in that sector.”

ifredregill@postindependent.com

Business Spotlight: Signet

Editor’s note: Business Spotlights is a business awareness program sponsored by the Bank of Colorado. Spotlights are submitted by business owners and entrepreneurs throughout Garfield County. Do you operate a business in our county and want to submit a spotlight? Go here to do so.

HOW HAVE YOU GOTTEN CREATIVE DURING THIS TIME?

Our business specializes in building online login systems between organizations. As such, while the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for tourism, it has been an unexpected benefit for our small business as so many others are forced towards remote work. We feel a bit guilty about doing well as others are doing poorly, but our most recent client is setting up a hub for academia to consolidate COVID-19 findings, so there’s some moral solace there.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO KEEP YOUR CUSTOMERS ENGAGED?

We’ve had to do very little, as our customers are already highly motivated by their own need to move to virtual work, the dearth of specialists in this field, and the critical importance of protecting personal and other sensitive data while still providing 24/7 login service.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THE COMMUNITY CAN DO TO SUPPORT YOU?

Three words: Complete Project THOR. Make fiber to the home a reality.

WHERE CAN WE FIND YOUR MOST CURRENT OFFERINGS AND UPDATES?

Our website would be the best.

We’re still developing social media and email outreach, given the deluge of customers and our recent foundation.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD REGARDING YOUR BUSINESS?

We perform all our work remotely, but offer our employees the chance to live in our lovely City at the same time. This has been a much better business model than trying to pay premium pricing for sub-par results and happiness in typical technology hubs, such as Silicon Valley. We think diversifying Glenwood Springs’ economic base alongside tourism will make it more resilient and vibrant in years to come.

Business Spotlight: Sol Maya Cruelty-Free Spa & Salon

Editor’s note: Business Spotlights is a business awareness program sponsored by the Bank of Colorado. Spotlights are submitted by business owners and entrepreneurs throughout Garfield County. Do you operate a business in our county and want to submit a spotlight? Go here to do so.

HOW HAVE YOU GOTTEN CREATIVE DURING THIS TIME?

Yes, we added a new addition to the spa: The Secret Garden Boutique

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO KEEP YOUR CUSTOMERS ENGAGED?

Give discounts or deals. We strive to educate our guests about how to take care of their hair, nails or body when needed. We also let them know that everything that is in the store is cruelty-free.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THE COMMUNITY CAN DO TO SUPPORT YOU?

Referring us and visiting us.

WHERE CAN WE FIND YOUR MOST CURRENT OFFERINGS AND UPDATES?

On our website and social media.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD REGARDING YOUR BUSINESS?

Sol Maya and The Secret Garden are a green business. Meaning that we do recycle, reuse and renew anything that can be reused for the better good. We believe that we need to take care of Mother Earth by reducing our carbon footprints.

Business Spotlight: Pollinator Chocolate

Editor’s note: Business Spotlights is a business awareness program sponsored by the Bank of Colorado. Spotlights are submitted by business owners and entrepreneurs throughout Garfield County. Do you operate a business in our county and want to submit a spotlight? Go here to do so.

HOW HAVE YOU GOTTEN CREATIVE DURING THIS TIME?

Developing new recipes, finding new avenues for selling, leaving no stone unturned.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO KEEP YOUR CUSTOMERS ENGAGED?

Post frequently to the social medias, with offers and gifts.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THE COMMUNITY CAN DO TO SUPPORT YOU?

Buy my damn chocolate.

WHERE CAN WE FIND YOUR MOST CURRENT OFFERINGS AND UPDATES?

www.pollinatorchocolate.com, Skips Farm to Market in Basalt, Aspen Emporium and flying circus, Mana foods, Landmark cafe, Batch.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD REGARDING YOUR BUSINESS?

I make the most delicious chocolate on the Western Slope, while I have a long way to go before it’s perfect, it’s pretty damn good right now.

Spa of the Rockies lays off most employees

The Spa of the Rockies has laid off most of its employees effective July 31.

The spa never reopened following the COVID lockdown and is currently closed with no set reopening date, its website says.

“Our spa’s been closed since the day our whole operation was shut down,” said Kevin Flohr, Hot Springs Resort director of operations.

During that time, employees were paid, Flohr said.

“The Glenwood Hot Springs Resort did pay them throughout the closure through the PPP program,” he said.

Flohr said that with coronavirus it is not a safe or productive time for spas to be open. Other amenities at Glenwood Hot Springs Resort remain open.

“Other spas are not being successful. It’s a dangerous environment to be in,” he said.

Guests have not been expressing interest in spa services, either.

“In reality a lot of people don’t want it. It’s one of the things people are not requesting when they book a room,” Flohr said.

While the spa is evaluating how to open safely, there is little guidance available.

“Does anyone have an effective plan for that business model? Currently we can’t find anyone that does. If you look in the state directions and guidelines there’s really not a lot of direction in that area, either,” Flohr said. “So it’s best to wait for direction and wait for guidance and wait to see what the safety protocol is, and right now there’s nothing you can put out there and say, ‘This is safe,’” he said.

The continued closure is about safety, Flohr said.

“A spa is even more intimate than a tattoo parlor or a barber or a hair salon, so in the best judgment it wouldn’t be wise to open to business in that environment for the safety of everyone concerned, our employees being Number One and obviously the guests,” he said.

Flohr said the spa needed to give employees the chance to move on.

“You have to give people the ability to go out and seek employment if they choose to do so, and that’s the best way to do it,” he said.

Flohr said the layoffs were about necessity, not performance.

“It’s a tough decision, but every one of then is welcome to reapply when we get to the point where we can reopen again,” he said.

Flohr would not disclose the exact number of employees laid off.

cwertheim@postindependent.com

A word of warning for small business owners following sentencing in recent Roaring Fork Valley embezzlement case

A Roaring Fork Valley business owner advises that one can never be too careful when it comes to the potential for employee embezzlement, as she learned the hard way in her own recent case.

“My best advice would be to trust, as most folks are good and honest, but always be on the look out,” Nancy Williams said. “A checks and balance system is necessary, regardless of the personal connection or friendship.”

It was that personal friendship connection that she said came back to bite her and her husband, Keith Williams, owners of Valley Collision in Basalt, two years ago.

“We were betrayed by a dear friend of so many years. You just never know,” Williams said. “Trust, but verify.”

Joanna Hunter, 50, of Glenwood Springs was sentenced in 5th District Court in Eagle County on May 6 to four years in Community Corrections, after she pleaded guilty to multiple counts of theft totaling more than $20,000, as well as identity theft. She was also ordered to pay $27,691 in restitution.

According to documents in the criminal case, Hunter had used bank cards or account transfers to fraudulently transfer money for her personal benefit, then covered it up with false financial statements.

Hunter had worked as the accounts manager for Valley Collision, a car and truck repair shop in Basalt. At the time of her arrest in December 2018, the company’s website noted that she had extensive knowledge in account management and held a legal secretary certification. 

Even with such credentials, it’s always good to conduct thorough background checks and verify any such information, and to be sure to have sound accounting system safeguards in place, Williams said.

She also noted that theft from a small business such as hers is much harder to overcome than it is for a large company or governmental entity, which are often targets for insider embezzlement schemes.

jstroud@postindependent.com