Concerns over accuracy prompt Garfield County Public Health to change free COVID-19 testing service
A curative mobile van that provides weekly COVID-19 tests to cities across western Garfield County is changing the way it collects samples after state officials raised concerns over the accuracy of results, according to a public health news release.
Earlier this week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced that they will no longer be using oral swab testing for residential facilities due to the results yielding “false negatives.” State officials say the oral swab test type isn’t sensitive enough to detect COVID-19 in asymptomatic people.
Garfield County Public Health responded to concerns by replacing the mobile van’s curative testing method with “nasal swab” tests, the release states. Nasal swabs are said to be more accurate and will be administered to patients at the mobile test sites.
The curative mobile van makes weekly visits to Parachute, New Castle and Rifle. Testing is free and does not require health insurance.
There are no additional safety concerns with curative testing, the release states. Public health continues to encourage people, whether asymptomatic or symptomatic, to get tested by providers located throughout Garfield County.
Terra Energy to cease oil, gas production in Battlement Mesa area
Natural gas production in Battlement Mesa hit a new milestone this week.
Garfield County Oil and Gas Liaison Kirby Wynn announced that Texas-based Terra Energy Partners LLC has plans to soon abandon all permits for oil and gas wells within Battlement Mesa’s Planned Unit Development (PUD), according to a Western Colorado Alliance news release.
“I’m certain that Terra has better things to do — especially now after acquiring Ursa,” Grand Valley Citizens Alliance chairperson Leslie Robinson said. Grand Valley Citizens Alliance is a grassroots community organization that has over the years challenged natural gas production in Western Garfield County.
Terra, which in late December finalized a $60 million acquisition of a myriad of assets formerly owned by Ursa Resources Group II LLC, now oversees hundreds of oil and gas wells in northwest Colorado’s Piceance Basin.
Ursa’s presence in the unincorporated community of Battlement Mesa Community began in 2016, when they began production on drilling pads and hydraulic fracking practices within hundreds of feet of residential areas. Ursa originally planned to implement a two-phase plan that included drilling 100 wells between four well pads.
Energy development, however, has so far finished phase one of the project. Phase one included pads “D” and “B.” The intended phase two would comprise drill pads “L” and “A,” with Pad A to be created 1,500 feet downstream of the Colorado River of Pad B, right next door to the area’s water treatment plant, said Robinsin.
“The development of the A Pad was a bad idea from the start,” Battlement Mesa Betsy Leonard said in the release. Leonard is also a member of Western Colorado Alliance’s board of directors, another grassroots organization that has also over the years challenged natural gas production in Western Garfield County. “The location was ill-chosen being 900 feet from the Colorado River, and 600 feet from the water supply for Battlement Mesa. But most grievous was the mere 500 feet that separated the location from the homes of low-income residents.”
Ursa has been mired in an amalgamation of civil litigation and legislative regulations.
In 2019, amid a downturn of oil and gas prices, the Colorado Legislature passed Senate Bill 181, a sweeping regulation that has tightened regulations on natural gas production. One such new rule is that production cannot occur within 2,000 feet of homes and schools, among other institutions.
Garfield County commissioners have used $1.5 million from their oil and gas mitigation fund to combat the regulations.
Meanwhile, by 2020, Ursa owed at least $5.3 million to Garfield County in back taxes. In addition, the company also separately owed $500,000 to Battlement Mesa Service Association and almost another $800,000 to Rio Blanco County.
By September, Ursa had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said it’s just the most recent sign of trouble for the extractive industries.
“Well, that’s because they just purchased Ursa and since they did not issue the permit there on A Pad, and it’s been two years and the lawsuit…” he said. “Who knows what’s going to happen, energy is going to be zero and Colorado as well as the U.S. will depend on China and everybody else to take care of us.”
“So we won’t be independent.”
Martin also acknowledged that with announcement coming during a downturn in the industry, Garfield County could be negatively impacted.
“I don’t think the hot springs pool can get enough people in there and charge them $20 a head to keep the county going,” he said. “But we’ll find a way, we always find a way, we are always optimistic in one way or another… we’ll find it and we’ll be self-sufficient somehow.”
Robinson was more optimistic about making up for any revenue shortfalls.
“With climate change and solar being more important in producing energy and the future of electric cars looking bright… John (Martin) needs to get into the 21st century,” she said. “We’re not going to be fossil fuel driven in the future. I don’t understand why Garfield county continues to support an industry that is dying essentially.”
Glenwood Springs mayor apologizes for social media post about Lauren Boebert
Mayor’s Facebook post resulted in vitriol, death threats
Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes apologized in the opening moments of the city council meeting on Thursday night for a social media post he made last week regarding U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.
The issue centered around a photo of Boebert from 2019 outside of the Colorado State Capitol that featured members of right-wing militia groups, some of whom were flashing a sign of “3-percenters,” a militant group that erroneously believes only 3% of American colonialists fought back against the British during the Revolutionary War, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The image resurfaced following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building earlier this month by hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump, with some falsely claiming on social media that the men pictured were rioters and Boebert gave them a tour of the Capitol prior to the assault.
Godes shared the image of Boebert on his mayoral account once it resurfaced. In the post, Godes quoted his mother, who told him that he was judged by the company he kept.
“These are not the people I know who live in western Garfield County or Glenwood Springs,” Godes wrote in the post. “Please Congresswoman, for the sake of your actual constituents, keep better company.”
Five people were killed in the riots. Multiple people called for Boebert’s resignation for comments she made on Twitter prior to, during and after the insurrection.
Godes said the post criticizing Boebert was up for 12 hours and that he received numerous hate comments and even death threats in its wake. He ultimately disabled his entire Facebook account due to the intense negative reaction, adding that he even took the death threats to the police.
“As an elected official in a community that is represented by the congresswoman, I felt it was important to make a clear distinction that these people and these hand signs do not represent the citizens of Glenwood Springs,” Godes said during the council meeting.
He apologized for potentially misidentifying the hand signals and for any other possible misunderstandings that came from the post.
However, Godes was adamant about condemning white supremacy, the Capitol attack, anti-government militia groups and Boebert’s tweets and “rhetoric that might have inspired the insurrection.”
He also noted he wasn’t responsible for the post going viral and that it had been circulated by a Denver news anchor who has more than 120,000 followers on Twitter and other Colorado news publications.
Garfield County resident Sherronna Bishop was the only person who spoke during the public comment portion of the council meeting, using her three minutes to condemn Godes’ social media post and apology.
“The original posts that you made…you immediately connected them to trigger words like ‘white supremacists’ and ‘Nazis’ and ‘terrorists,’” she said. “When you did that, Mayor…you have drawn all kinds of parallels falsely. You have again, without discretion, without really considering what your role is as the mayor of Glenwood Springs, you’ve put people in harm’s way.”
Bishop added that the post about Boebert went viral after Godes’ remarks on social media, saying it started because of his dislike or hatred for Boebert.
She concluded with a reminder that Glenwood Springs elections were upcoming, and Godes should know there will be consequences for his actions.
Final days for Post Independent/Citizen Telegram Locals Choice nominations
Who’s your favorite realtor? What’s the best dessert ever in Garfield County? Where’s the best place to buy a mask?
Weigh in on these questions and more during the Post Independent and The Citizen Telegram’s 2021 Locals’ Choice nominations.
Go here to help select this year’s nominees by midnight Sunday, Jan. 24. So far this year, we’ve received over 6,000 nominations from over 800 people. As with all things pandemic, we’ve updated this year’s categories and included some COVID-19 related ones such as best remote instructor, best front line worker, best business reinvention/adaptation and more.
Voting will go from Feb. 1-12, with winners announced March 26 in the Locals’ Choice special section and at postindependent.com.
Garfield County District Court judge denies bond reduction in kidnapping case
A Garfield District Court judge on Thursday denied a motion to reduce bond for a man accused of forcing his way into a Silt foster home at gunpoint.
After highlighting multiple felonies — including menacing, kidnapping, burglary and false imprisonment — charged against suspect Janvier Pinkard, 35, judge Denise Lynch said the original $100,000 bond is “appropriate.”
“The allegations (in this case) are very serious and are of significant concern to the court,” Lynch said over an online communications meeting. “This was a residential burglary — not a business burglary. (Pinkard) was on probation at the time, there was an allegation that there was use of a deadly weapon in an attempt at kidnapping, which are very serious charges and have potentially mandatory minimum sentencing.”
On Dec. 20, 2020, Pinkard was arrested after allegedly breaking into the Silt residence. According to arrest records, Pinkard was searching for a safe inside the house at the time in which he alleged stored child pornography.
It was during this time Pinkard pointed the firearm in a woman’s face, demanding to see the safe, arrest records state. The woman, who has a restraining order against, would tell Pinkard that there’s no safe in the residence.
There is no further mention of a safe or child pornography in the affidavit. The subject has so far yet to be brought up during Pinkard’s court appearances.
Pinkard also swept the house, checking various rooms while still holding the firearm, arrest records states. At one point, Pinkard was accused of sweeping the barrel of his firearm in the way of a small child.
Meanwhile, after Pinkard demanded the woman’s husband come downstairs, he fled through the front door.
Pinkard was arrested a day later on an arrest warrant and placed on a $100,000 cash surety bond. Beyond the felonies, Pinkard was also charged with misdemeanor counts of violation of protection order, child abuse, harasssment, felon in possession with a weapon and intimidating a victim.
Pinkard, however, would go on to receive additional charges after being booked into the Garfield County Detention Facility. According to arrest records, Pinkard was caught during a strip search trying to destroy baggies of methamphetamine and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) by personal ingestion and flushing them down the toilet.
In total, the substances weighed 33 grams.
Afterwhich, Pinkard was charged with felony tampering of physical evidence, introducing contraband in the first degree as well as misdemeanor unlawful possession of a controlled substance. The charges prompted an additional $7,500 cash surety bond.
Public defender Elise Myer on Thursday argued to Lynch that Pinkard’s $100,000 bond be reduced to between $5,000 to $10,000 because she has yet to receive a case discovery. A discovery allows for involved parties to know what evidence is to be presented and to take dispositions prior to further court procedures.
“I am a bit hamstrung there relative to that because all I can see is the basic police report,” Myer said of not having the discovery. “I don’t have other information, and I am sure there is a significant amount of information in this case.”
Myer then requested that Pinkard’s additional $7,500 bond be reduced to between $1,000 to $2,000.
Myer argued that Pinkard’s $100,000 bond be reduced because his felony history is old, dating back 15 to 20 years, saying, “He has had certainly some run-ins but this is certainly of a different variety.” Meanwhile, Myer said Pinkard does have accommodations in place, if he were to make bond.
Upon a possible release, Pinkard would live in Basalt, said Myer.
“(Pinkard) does have a family that is supportive of him, that he’s in contact with,” she said. “He has the ability to work. He had a few different jobs before his incarceration… he can get back to support himself.”
“Given that he does have stability in the community, I don’t believe he’s going to be a flight risk for this case,” she later added.
Myer said Pinkard does have a pending juvenile case involving his daughter, who was under the supervision of the foster home in Silt at the time of his arrest. She said she plans to file further motions regarding the juvenile case as it is relevant to Pinkard’s most recent arrest.
Deputy District Attorney Ben Sollars argued, however, that Pinkard is a multi-state offender — he has a criminal history linked to California, Florida, Kansas, Illinois as well as Colorado. In fact, his past record shows felony weapon charges in Florida, Sollars noted.
So Sollars objected to the proposed bond reduction, arguing that if Pinkard makes bond and is released, he could potentially intimidate witnesses.
“The charges are very serious. The allegations are very serious, and the way that I view this case is also very serious,” Sollars said.
Paul Kapturkiewicz, who operates and lives in the Silt foster home, said Lynch should maintain the $100,000 bond because Pinkard has established that he is in fact dangerous.
“Monday Dec. 20, my family’s been living in fear of this individual. The thought of him getting out — and what he would do if he did — is very concerning to myself, my family and the community as well,” Kapturkiewicz.
“His potential to return to our home is substantial, and that there would be in several people that would be in fear of their own safety and their own lives,” he later added.
Pinkard’s next court appearance is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Feb. 18.
Glenwood Springs River Commission highlights what to expect moving forward from 2020’s Grizzly Creek Fire
With the 20 worst wildfires in Colorado’s history all occurring since 2002 — including 2020’s Grizzly Creek Fire — officials and experts have begun addressing what the Roaring Fork Valley should anticipate in relation to long-term impacts of wildland fires.
Flooding and water quality remain the highest concerns.
The Glenwood Springs River Commission hosted an online meeting Wednesday, detailing a one-year plan that includes protection, conservation, use and development of the Colorado River Basin.
“(2002) really marked the beginning of this drought period that we are living though — extremely intense warming and drying,” said Colorado River District Deputy Chief Engineer Dave Kanzer.
According to a presentation given by Kanzer, the plan is to conduct an expanded data collection program that should help detect warnings and signs of impending disaster earlier.
The next step for the river district is to take water samples from two locations on the Colorado River: above Glenwood Springs near No Name and near downtown.
“We want to have an understanding of what’s in the river,” Kanzer said.
The exposed expansion of this water quality monitoring network also aims to add automated samplers, web cameras and electronic sensors along the Colorado River watershed. Meanwhile, new water quality information will help better detect sediment levels as well various water quality indicators, including firefighting foam and organic materials used to combat and extinguish wildland fires.
“We are faced with this warming climate,” Kanzer said. “We cannot rely on this historical data anymore.”
The desired results of the data collection program include streamflow analyses, correlations between various water-quality constituents, streamflow, rain intensity and burn severity.
1. Cameron Peak Fire, 208,663 acres — 2020
2. East Troublesome, 193,812 acres — 2020
3. Pine Gulch Fire, 139,007 acres — 2020
4. Hayman Fire, 137,760 acres — 2002
5. West Fork Complex Fire, 110,405 acres — 2013
6. Spring Creek Fire, 108,045 acres — 2018
7. High Park Fire, 87,284 acres — 2012
8. Missionary Ridge Fire, 71,739 acres — 2002
9. 416 and Burro Fire Complex, 54,129 acres — 2018
A final interpretive report, which will eventually be made public though the U.S. Geological Survey website, will detail a comparative analysis to historical conditions related to erosion and contaminant loads. It will also help water and land managers and stakeholders gain a better perspective regarding possible links between water quality, water quantity and wildfires.
Coalition & Collaboratives, Inc., CEO Carol Ekarious provided details of how the Grizzly Creek Fire — which consumed 32,431 acres in the region — caused potential hazards.
She said potential flooding is not just water, but debris and mud that can cause potential disasters and negatively affect the watershed in the long term.
“These impacts can last for years or decades,” she said.
Referring to a map highlighting areas just east of Glenwood Springs affected by recent fires, Ekarious said tens to hundreds of thousands of eroded cubic meters could be the equivalent of “washing machines” rolling down the mountain during ensuing large rain events.
“Your grandkids are going to see a different landscape than you saw,” she said.
Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes said the area not only needs to be thoughtful of their lifestyles — such as what cars they drive and livestock consumption — but prepare for what could happen.
“All these things that contribute to global warming and climate change are really something we need to be very very thoughtful of as a society,” he said… “We need to be thoughtful but we need to prepare.”
Late-night fire at base of Carbondale’s Red Hill points up mid-winter fire danger
A brush fire caused by a propane tank explosion at a homeless encampment near the base of Red Hill outside Carbondale on Tuesday night was brought under control by local firefighters in fairly short order.
However, concerns about the potential for a large-scale event prompted a multi-agency response, Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District spokeswoman Jenny Cutright said.
The local fire department was paged at 10:28 p.m. Tuesday to a report of a “loud explosion” near Colorado Highway 82 by the scenic overlook, just north and west of town, Cutright said.
“When the crews arrived, they found a man at a homeless camp who had a fire get out of control,” she said.
Given the potential for the fire to spread through the brush along the hillside, Glenwood Springs Fire was called in for mutual aid, she said.
“We were able to catch the fire before it got very large, and extinguished it,” she said. One male who was at the camp was taken to Valley View Hospital with unspecified minor injuries, Cutright said.
Normally this time of year the ground would be mostly covered with snow, helping to keep such incidents in check. But with the persistent dry winter conditions on the heels of an extremely dry summer and fall, the fire danger remains a concern.
“Snowpack is only 68 percent of average now and definitely lower than where we were at this point last year,” Cutright said. “The drought doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.”
Looking ahead, a dry winter could mean another stressful year for area firefighting agencies.
“This summer could be similar conditions as 2018, based on the current snow pack chart,” she said. “Of course, we could get a rainy spring that changes everything, but as of right now, we are concerned.”
Carbondale Police and Garfield County Sheriff’s deputies were also on scene for the Tuesday night incident, making the emergency response highly visible to passing motorists and from parts of Carbondale.
Carbondale Police Chief Kirk Wilson said flames were visible at one point, and firefighters were on scene well into the night with spotlights shining on the hillside at times.
Community Counts stays active despite decline in oil and gas activity last year
A continued decline in natural gas industry activity in Garfield County resulted in fewer members and fewer complaints from residents over the past year for Community Counts Colorado.
But, the nonprofit organization that partners with Garfield, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties to serve as a liaison between residents, landowners and Piceance Basin oil and gas operators still had a productive year, Executive Director Nita Smith reported to Garfield County commissioners this week.
“Community Counts was fortunate to lose just six members last year, with a current membership of 62,” Smith said.
One big change in Garfield County was the sale of Ursa Resources holdings in the Piceance Basin to Terra Energy Partners following Ursa’s September 2020 bankruptcy filing.
That wasn’t the only change of hands among operators in the region — changes that could ultimately result in a loss of $7,500 in memberships, Smith said.
“Community Counts will work with these operators that have acquired these other assets to help with this loss, but that won’t be possible until operations have stabilized,” she said. That could take another year, Smith said.
Meanwhile, Garfield County commissioners unanimously approved the county’s $10,000 commitment to remaining part of Community Counts for 2021.
Community Counts provides a toll-free, 24/7 response line (866-442-9034) for the public to reach out directly to operators in the region with any questions or complaints, or to coordinate around any industry activities that are planned.
In 2020, the number of concerns raised through the network was down due to the slowing of new drilling activity, Smith said.
For the year, there were three noise complaints related to the use of truck jake brakes, one odor complaint, one complaint about a gate being left unlocked and a rancher’s cows getting into a wellpad site, and one county road issue.
While Garfield County started last year with three active drill rigs, that number dropped to two in the spring and as of year end it was down to one. However, one rig has been operating back and forth across the Garfield and Rio Blanco county line, said Kirby Wynn, oil and gas liaison for Garfield County, who sits on the Community Counts board.
The organization was also active last year during the summer wildfire season, working with fire management teams related to several fires that burned near natural gas sites in all three counties, Smith said.
“The Pine Gulch and Grizzly Creek fire teams provided daily updates on the fires, as did CDOT (regarding) the I-70 closure due to the Grizzly Creek Fire …,” she said in her report.
When I-70 was shut down in Glenwood Canyon in early August and Colorado Highway 13 north of Rifle became one of the alternate routes, Community Counts worked with CDOT to let them know that holding traffic on Highway 13 due to construction work would become an issue for industry traffic and other motorists.
“They in turn related this information to the engineers, who decided that evening to not to hold traffic till I-70 opened,” Smith said.
The Community Counts board meets the third Wednesday of every other month starting at 3:30 p.m., normally at Parachute Town Hall. However, meetings have been conducted via video conference during the COVID-19 pandemic.
NB Grand Avenue lane closure near Sayre Park Wednesday and Thursday
There will be a northbound single-lane closure on Grand Avenue/Colorado Highway 82 at South Hyland Park Drive between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday this week.
The closure is so that city of Glenwood Springs crews can complete sewer rehabilitation work. Traffic control includes a lane shift into a single lane of traffic near 19th Street to just north of South Hyland Park Drive.
UPDATE: Latest Garfield County COVID-19 Statistics and Risk Level
AS OF THURSDAY, JAN. 21
Cumulative cases: 4,680
New cases reported since Wednesday: 0
Deaths since outbreak began: 35 confirmed
Current Score: Level Red-Severe Risk
Current Restrictions: Level Orange-High Risk, with county policy variances
Specimens collected through Valley View — 18,817 (+160 since 1/19)
Positive results — 1,577 (+15 since 1/19)
Pending results — 45
Hospitalizations since outbreak began — 208 (+3 since 1/19)
Patients discharged (incl. transfers and deceased) — 183 (1 since 1/19)
Grand River Hospital, 1/21/2021
Specimens collected through Grand River Health — 6,290 (+50 since 1/19)
Positive results — 1,037 (+7 since 1/19)
Pending results — 62
Hospitalizations since outbreak began — 40 (1 new since 1/19)
Patients discharged — 27
Patients transferred — 12
Source: Hospital statistics released twice weekly on Tuesday and Thursday
ACTIVE OUTBREAKS IN GARFIELD COUNTY
Rifle State Correctional Center: Date determined, 12/31 (updated 1/20); 3 residents and 2 staff positive, one staff probable.
Mesa Vista Assisted Living, Battlement Mesa: Date determined, 12/21 (updated 1/20); 3 residents and 8 staff positive cases.
Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home, Rifle: Date determined, 11/3 (updated 1/20); 15 confirmed resident deaths, 41 confirmed resident cases and 1 probable; 49 confirmed staff cases and 3 probable.
Grace Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, Glenwood Springs: Date determined, 1/16 (updated 1/20); 2 residents positive and 1 probable.
Renew Roaring Fork, Glenwood Springs: Date determined, 11/25 (updated 1/20); 2 residents and 2 staff confirmed positive.
Mountain Valley Developmental Services, Pitkin House, Glenwood Springs: Date determined, 11/30 (updated 1/20); 2 residents confirmed positive and 1 probable among staff.
New Castle City Market: Date determined, 11/22 (updated 1/20); 5 confirmed and 7 probable staff positive.
Recently resolved/closed cases: E. Dene Moore Care Center, Rifle; New Creation Preschool, New Castle; Heritage Park Care Center, Carbondale; Carbondale City Market; Garfield County Community Corrections