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Time for a snowdance?

December 2020 was particularly dry in terms of precipitation for the Roaring Fork Valley.

However, this weekend’s forecast is anticipating a storm system coming towards the area that has a glimmer of hope for the possibility of snow accumulation. Megan Stackhouse, a meteorologist at the National Weather Society in Grand Junction said while there is a chance for snow, it all depends on how the system moves and there’s just as much of a chance that Glenwood Springs locals will only see rain instead of sought after snow.

“(For Glenwood) we see some showers increase over the weekend with rain mixed in with snow at times for the area…either way it’s looking like things should shut down by Sunday night or Monday morning,” Stackhouse said.

Sunlight Mountain is bearing the effects of such a dry winter. Troy Hawks, Marketing and Sales Director at Sunlight, said more snow is needed to open up the more challenging runs for advanced skiers — but the resort continues to see good numbers this season.

“We’re seeing good visitation regionally and even out of state as well…our most advanced terrain, mostly over there on East Ridge usually takes a few storms to fill up enough,” Hawks said.

While the usual wide variety of runs has not been available to skiers this season, Hawks said the resort is doing just as well as they were last year when all runs were open. For expert skiers who are waiting for their moment this season, Hawks said him and the resort staff are right there with them.

“We’re really hopeful for a nice spring, we’re not quite at the midpoint of our season yet but we’re certainly hoping for a stronger second half…if they got their secret snow dances now would be the time to pull those out of the closets,” Hawks said.

There is no denying the dryness of this winter, but Stackhouse said for a la nina year this kind of weather is the norm.

“This is pretty usual for the weather pattern we’re in…the Northern mountains tend to be favored with any systems that we get (and that’s) normal for (the) la nina pattern,” Stackhouse said.

Stackhouse also said as of now it looks like another weather system may be coming to Glenwood early next week. Looking even further ahead, the three month forecast still shows lower precipitation than normal for Glenwood Springs.

“We go through these patterns and sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t. It’s all going to come down to what Mother Nature wants to do.”

jpeterson@postindependent.com

 

RFTA considers funding shuffle to support underpass project

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority may redirect roughly $700,000 in Destination 2040 property tax funding to support a pedestrian underpass at 27th Street and Colorado Highway 82.

More than $2 million is still needed to complete the $10.1 million crossing – approved by the Glenwood Springs City Council in August to improve safety at the busy intersection.

The Glenwood Springs City Council on Thursday will discuss RFTA’s proposal to delay a host of service improvement projects and instead focus on underpass construction.

Among the possible deferments are $298,000 dedicated to a downtown Bus Rapid Transit extension and $395,000 to reroute local RFTA buses to Highway 6 and Highway 24.

“RFTA is really just saying they will wait to do those in a future year,” City Engineer Terri Partch said. “Some of the improvements are actually in consideration through the MOVE Study, so it makes sense to defer them for a little bit.”

RFTA has already allocated nearly $4.3 million for the underpass through Destination 2040, and the agency received more than $3 million in state and Colorado Department of Transportation funding for the project.

Glenwood Springs set aside $500,000 in the city’s 2021 budget to leverage grants, but failed to secure a $1 million Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District grant. Project leaders were told the Colorado Department of Local Affairs would not financially support the endeavor, either, because it was within the state right-of-way.

Remaining costs may be covered by existing reserves, RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said Tuesday. Ongoing COVID-19 mitigation efforts continue to delay planned service upgrades, he added.

“The resources we are not using for those service improvements can be used, we believe, instead to help fill the underpass’ funding gap,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more expensive it gets, and these grants have deadlines in terms of when you have to spend them. We think it’s hopefully a win-win.”

Partch said the underpass is vital to pedestrian safety. A Glenwood Springs man was struck and killed crossing 27th Street by bicycle in 2018, and CDOT records show at least three other non-fatal bike-vehicle collisions reported at the intersection from 2015 to 2019.

“It’s been a safety priority for the city for a long time, and for RFTA, because of the trail crossing there,” Partch said. “We were also able to get grants more easily, I think, for this item that helped push it along.”

The junction at 27th Street and Highway 82 is at the top of CDOT’s list, Region 3 engineer Andrew Knapp said in September, and many of the state’s other major intersections have separated-grade pedestrian underpasses.

“The tunnel would take pedestrians off the roadway and actually bring them underneath,” Partch said. “From a safety and signal optimization standpoint, CDOT thinks it’s important as well.”

The crossing would begin below Highway 82 near the RFTA’s Bus Rapid Transit stop to meet the Rio Grande Trail on the opposite side. The Rio Grande would then go below 27th Street to the northwest corner.

If Council agrees to the proposal, RFTA’s Board of Directors will vote on the deferment during a Jan. 14 meeting.

IN OTHER ACTION

Following Thursday’s underpass talks, Glenwood Springs City Council will discuss extending the MOVE Study using money dedicated to Rio Grande Trail improvements.

The city is partnering with transit authority officials and consultants to develop a 20-year plan that addresses infrastructure and transportation needs. Consultants want more time to develop virtual modeling and collect public input on Bus Rapid Transit service options, parking recommendations and other transportation issues.

A six-month extension would cost $180,000, and RFTA has asked the city to fund half – $90,000 – from the recent Municipal Operations Center sale dedicated to Rio Grande Trail improvements.

Planned trail connections can be done internally for the cost of materials, city staff said, adding that a retaining wall scheduled to be rebuilt should be delayed until a decision is made about the future of RFTA’s Orrison Distribution area.

During its regular 6 p.m. meeting held via Webex this Thursday, Council will also consider MOVE Study recommendations from the Transportation Commission.

Other action items on Council’s Thursday agenda include 2021 Spring Cleanup options and ratification of COVID-19 aid to local businesses hurt financially by mitigation efforts.

news@postindependent.com

UPDATE: Woman involved in Wednesday wreck on Highway 82 has died; case still under investigation

One of the drivers in a wreck that shut down Colorado Highway 82 for several hours Wednesday morning at the CMC turnoff has died, the Colorado State Patrol confirmed Thursday.

The name of the deceased has not yet been released by the Garfield County Coroner’s Office.

Colorado State Patrol reported Wednesday that a 57-year-old woman was taken to Valley View Hospital with life-threatening injuries following the 8 a.m. Wednesday crash.

Details of the incident and any potential citations or criminal charges are still a matter of investigation, CSP spokesman Trooper Gary Cutler said Thursday afternoon.

“Once we finish the investigation, we would make a recommendation on the appropriate charges to the District Attorney’s office, and the DA either accepts or denies them,” Cutler explained. That can often take several days after a traffic incident, he said.

CSP said Wednesday that the crash involved three vehicles, but two, a 2013 Chevy pickup and a 2015 Buick were primarily involved in the rear-end crash at the traffic light located at the intersection of Highway 82 and County Roads 154/114.

The eastbound lanes of Highway 82 remained closed until 12:40 p.m., and the westbound lanes were closed for a short time immediately following the crash, CSP said.

The eastbound lanes were closed at the intersection with County Road 154 (Westbank intersection), about a mile west of the accident, allowing eastbound traffic to detour onto the nearby county roads.

The initial Garfield County emergency alert was issued at 8:37 a.m. Wednesday announcing the highway closure, and a follow-up alert was sent at 12:55 p.m. announcing the highway had reopened.

Es probable la niña pausa nieve hasta Navidad

La frecuencia de temperaturas calientes y la falta de precipitación en Glenwood Springs probablemente parecen extraño a residentes y turistas porque es invierno. La razón para esto se llama, ‘la niña,’ un término científico que describe un cambio en dirección de sistemas del tiempo.

Tom Renwick de la oficina de Servicios para el Tiempo Nacional en Grand Junction dijo que ‘el niño,’ la opuesta de ‘la niña,’ es típicamente mejor para la nevada en Glenwood Springs.

“La niña usualmente para Colorado … tienen más sistemas del tiempo llegar del norte y noroeste. Cuando este occure la prefiere las montañas del norte, los valles del norte y un poco del valle central,” Renwick dijo.

También Renwick dijo que es importante prestar atención a las condiciones del tiempo cuando se está viajando.

“Para personas que están viajando … si vas a un lugar donde sea posible un sitio donde es posible haya nieve y hielo en la calle prepárate. Aunque no parece como mal tiempo ahora, siempre hay el posible,” Renwick dijo.

Recientemente, Glenwood Springs no tiene nieve en el suelo, pero Troy Hawks, el Director para las ventas y la comercialización de productos por La Montaña del Sol, escribió en un correo electrónico que desde Nov. 1, pero porque fue el clima cálido la mayoría de nieve derretida.

“ … Tenemos nieve natural encima de la montaña con más dedos en el terreno orientado al norte y calveros,” Hawks escribió.

En este momento, El Sol tiene planes para abrir a las nueve en la mañana de Dec. 11. Mientras tanto, los miembros de la tripulación seguirán haciendo nieve por los esquiadores y las snowboardistas que tendrán más opciones cuando venga la visita.

“Esta semana pasada tuvimos el tiempo perfecto para hacer nieve y este ayúdanos a abrir el terreno de Tercero, nuestro telesilla bajado, y debajo de allí para el próximo viernes. Necesitamos algunas más tormentas de nieve para abrir más terreno,” Hawks escribió.

El complejo requerirá visitantes para llevar máscaras en el telesilla y el refugio de esquí donde tendremos capacidad limitada de personas. Hawks escribió que preguntaran personas a distancia entre otras y se quedara en casa si se sienten enfermo o han sido expuestos a COVID-19.

Dos semanas desde el abierto de la montaña, las residentes de Glenwood Springs probablemente pueden tener muchas ganas de la celebración de una “Navidad Blanco,” Renwick dijo.

“Parece que él probabilidad histórica … (es una) oportunidad de 50-75% de una Navidad Blanco.”

 

La nina likely puts snow on hold until Christmas

Ice forms in a shallow puddle inside the river rocks along the Colorado River near Two Rivers Park on a cloudy and dreary day in Glenwood.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The lack of precipitation in Glenwood Springs and warmer temperatures might seem strange to locals or visitors given the time of year. The culprit is la nina — a scientific term that describes the changed direction of weather systems. Tom Renwick from the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction said an el nino, the opposite of a la nina, is typically better for Glenwood Springs snow-wise.

“The la nina tends to for Colorado … get more systems coming in from the north and northwest. When that occurs that favors the northern mountains, northern valleys, and a little bit of the central valley,” Renwick said.

Renwick also said it’s important to pay attention to weather conditions when traveling.

“For people that are traveling…if you are going somewhere where there’s a possibility to have snow or ice on the roads just be prepared. Even though it doesn’t look so bad now there’s always that chance,” Renwick said.

Glenwood Springs hasn’t seen snow on the ground as of late, but Troy Hawks, the Sunlight Mountain Marketing and Sales Director, wrote in an email that there has been about two feet of snow up there since Nov. 1, but due to the warm temperatures most of it melted.

“…We do have natural snow on the mountain with more inches on the north facing terrain and glades,” Hawks wrote.

Currently, Sunlight plans to open at 9 a.m. on Dec. 11. Until then, the crew members will continue making snow so skiers and boarders will have more options when they come to visit.

“We had a nice stretch of snowmaking weather this past week that will help us get terrain from Tercero, our lower lift, down open by next Friday. We will need a few good snow storms to get more terrain open,” Hawks wrote.

The resort will be requiring visitors to wear masks on the chairlift and in the lodge where there will be a limited capacity. Hawks wrote that they plan to ask people to physically distance from each other and stay home if they’re feeling sick or have been exposed to COVID-19.

About two weeks after the mountain opens Glenwood Springs residents can look forward to celebrating what is likely to be a “White Christmas,” Renwick said.

“It’s looking like the historical probability…(is a) 50-75% chance (of a White Christmas).”

jpeterson@postindependent.com

No Name, Bair Ranch rest areas reopen along I-70 in Glenwood Canyon

The two rest areas in Glenwood Canyon reopened last week for the first time since the Grizzly Creek Fire began in August.

In a news release Friday, the Colorado Department of Transportation said the rest areas have been inspected and are safe for people to use.

“Other rest areas in the canyon continue to be closed, including the Grizzly Creek (Exit 121) and Hanging Lake (Exit 125) rest areas,” the release states. “The bike path and hiking trails also remain closed.”

The potential for debris slides through the Grizzly Creek Fire burn area persists, and CDOT continues to monitor the situation, according to the release.

“Travelers on I-70 and visitors are only allowed to stop at the Non Name and Bair Ranch rest areas. Limiting stops in the canyon is to ensure that CDOT and law enforcement can evacuate the canyon as quickly as possible in the event of a safety closure on I-70.”

Go to cotrip.org for the most up-to-date traffic and road conditions.

No resolution yet on Blake Avenue plans in Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs Transportation Commissioner Ralph Trapani is frustrated that the Blake Gate is still closed.

At a meeting on Election Day, the commission heard a presentation about and discussed for more than two hours configuration alternatives for the southern part of Blake Avenue.

Trapani said that for at least 10 years the commission has been in favor of opening the gate.

“We need to pass a basic resolution stating the commission’s view on opening the gate,” he said.

Assistant city manager Jennifer Ooton said Glenwood Springs City Council had voted to open the gate but only after a public meeting, and staff had recommended keeping it closed. Council then voted unanimously to keep the gate closed until a certificate of occupancy is issued for a building at the Bell Rippy development.

Councilor Charlie Willman pointed out that the Bell-Rippy developer will be making improvements to the road. Opening the gate would require road improvements, and to do so only to have the developer damage it during construction would be wasting money.

Commissioner Sandy Lowell made an 11th-hour motion to recommend to City Council that the gate be opened on a temporary basis as soon as possible, which Trapani seconded.

However, the motion did not go to a vote as too many members had to leave for other business as the meeting passed 10 a.m.

Much of the meeting was reviewing four alternatives for upgrading Blake Avenue presented by assistant city engineer Jessica Bowser.

Alternative Zero would fix the road without making any other improvements or changes.

Alternative 1a would make Blake one way between 23rd and 27th streets.

Alternative 1 would be two-way with “advisory bike lanes” on Blake.

Advisory bike lanes are for narrow, low volume, low speed roads. Cars can cross into the bike lanes to avoid oncoming traffic, but whoever is in front of a lane— be it pedestrian, bike or car — has the right of way, Bowser explained.

Alternative 2 would be two-way with a bike and pedestrian path raised by 3 inches.

Bowser presented the alternatives in order of relative cost. 1a is estimated to cost 1.1 times Alternative Zero; 1 would cost 1.3 times as much; and 2 would cost 1.4 times as much.

Trapani said a raised path, Alternative 2, would be too dangerous for skinny-tired bicycles.

Lowell said that keeping Blake one way between 26th and 27th, Alternative 1a, would be “perfect” in that it would keep the character of the neighborhoods.

City engineer Terri Partch said that she would prefer to keep city roads in full circulation and that if Blake were one way southbound to 27th Street it would be just like moving the Blake Gate to 27th Street.

Commissioner Steve Smith, also a member of Glenwood Springs Bicycle Advocates, responded to an assertion by Commissioner Lee Barger that pedestrians and bikes can function as traffic calming devices. While he agreed with the concept, he said it’s only valid if pedestrians and bikers are safely separated from vehicles. With advisory bike lanes, Alternative 1, there is no separation from vehicles.

Smith suggested more than once that there should be enough width on Blake for two lanes of traffic and one sidewalk and asked staff for a relative cost comparison of that option.

Bowser pointed out that while the right of way is wide enough to allow a sidewalk that would require wider pavement, tree removal and drainage work, all raising costs.

Commissioner John Stephens also said advisory lanes won’t work. 

“I really like the advisory lanes, but I don’t think it’s practical in this situation,” he said.

There would be too much traffic from people avoiding Grand Avenue for it to be safe for pedestrians and bikers, he said.

Commissioner Robert Gavrell saw a traffic dichotomy.

“We have long-term goals in this city and short-term realities,” he said.

While improving circulation is laudable, opening the Blake Gate would be a detriment to the community, he said.

He said a good compromise would be making Blake one way southbound to 27th, Alternative 1a, but he wanted to hear what residents of Palmer Avenue thought about that as Palmer could become a Grand Avenue bypass.

He suggested trying Blake as one-way for six months.

In public comment, Scott Kramer referenced a petition with 93 signatures of area residents against making Blake one way as it would force traffic onto Palmer.

Erin Lee agreed, saying that Palmer “would become a freeway.”

Dick O’Connell agreed with Smith about sidewalks but said the city can’t afford it. He suggested opening the gate for a couple of months with Blake two way, as one-way would disrupt traffic dramatically.

Bowser summarized comments submitted to the city. Only one out of nine commenters didn’t like advisory bike lanes; one-way was the most popular option but only by a little bit; seven did not like the two-way option; and everyone wanted more traffic calming.

With little agreement among commissioners or the public, Partch said the commission did not need to make a decision as the Bell-Rippy construction could go into 2022.

There was general agreement to continue the discussion at the next meeting.

cwertheim@postindependent.com

Glenwood Canyon Bike Path closed Nov. 18-19 from Yampah Hot Springs to No Name Tunnel

The Glenwood Canyon Bike Path will be closed Wednesday, Nov. 18, and Thursday, Nov. 19, from the Yampah Hot Springs to the No Name Tunnels for CDOT I-70 fiber work.

Pedestrians and Cyclists will not be able to access the Glenwood Canyon bike path from the Yampah Hot Springs entrance to the No Name tunnel bridge. CDOT is completing fiber work along this section. A detour route is not available. 

Western Slope water woes likely to continue

The Colorado River in Rifle.
The Colorado River flows through Rifle on Saturday.

Garfield County is on track to endure one of its worst droughts since 2002, according to a National Weather Service meteorologist.

“Right now it’s quite a bit worse than it even normally is these days,” said Rich Tinker, a drought expert with the Climate Prediction Center in Maryland on Friday. “Even if you just look at Colorado, probably you’ve got about three-quarters of the state in either our highest category or our next highest.”

What Tinker’s referring to is the U.S. drought monitor, a weekly map that shows exactly where the country’s most intensely affected areas of dryness and drought are. And based on this measure, extreme to exceptional drought conditions currently envelop the entire county.

Meanwhile, exceptional drought conditions – the highest intensity on the drought monitor – cover the majority of the rest of the Western Slope and Southwest regions of the state. To the east, the Front Range and High Plains are also threatened by either abnormally dry or moderate to severe drought conditions.

A lack of heavy snowpack in Colorado ski country this winter could lead to a vast spectrum of potential impacts. Ranchers might lose forage pasture. Reservoirs could recede. And bearing in mind the Grizzly Creek Fire this past summer in Glenwood Canyon, a drought like this is conducive to large fires, according to Tinker.

“What would be really nice would be to get a nice, heavy snowpack over the next coming winter,” Tinker said. “The odds are against it, but hopefully things will turn out differently.”

A stray branch pokes out of the Colorado River in Rifle on Saturday.

A wet winter, however, is a key factor here, Tinker noted. If the winter does see higher levels of moisture, they’ll cause a decent enough undergrowth which could later dry out by next spring and summer.

“This is exactly what you need to start fires,” Tinker said.

But, Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, said the currently dry soils of the Western Slope could pose a threat to the efficacy of a good snowpack altogether.

The same thing happened this past year. The Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys welcomed an average to slightly above average snowpack. The snow, however, fell on dry soils, causing a domino effect on the ensuing spring and summer seasons.

“What it means is, we’re going into this snowpack season with dry soils once again,” Pokrandt explained. “The problem with dry soils is that they have a degrading effect on next spring’s runoff.”

There is, however, another factor that could make or break next year’s soil conditions: La Nina.

Pokrandt said the entire country this year falls under this weather pattern, meaning time will only tell whether the valley gets hit with a decent amount of snow this coming winter season. Typically, places like Wyoming, Utah and mostly northern Colorado reap the benefits of a precipitation-heavy La Nina.

On the flipside, La Nina is a phenomena that typically leaves parts of southwest Colorado, New Mexico and California high and dry, according to Pokrandt. It’s sibling weather pattern, El Nino, means dryer conditions in the northern part of the Rockies.

“Certainly, a really healthy snowpack is going to help mitigate how the snow runs off,” Pokrandt said. “If we have a good winter, plus moisture in April and May, and not with the deficits that we’ve seen? Let’s hope that La Nina treats this area well and we can mitigate poor soil moisture.”

In other words, moisture needs to remain constant. If lush undergrowth occurs following snowmelt, that’s a good thing. If monsoons neglect to follow, everything basically turns to kindling – exactly what happened this past year.

“Monsoons were a no show. All our forests were tinderboxes,” Pokrandt said. (And) all it takes is a spark from maybe a chain dragging along the highway. Somebody carelessly and thoughtlessly tosses a cigarette out the window or lightning strikes. Or what’s even more grieving is careless campers and their campfires.”

A good monsoon season – between July and August – will depend on what happens above the Gulf, said Pokrandt.

“We need a high-pressure system to set up over to the Southwest, closer to Texas,” he said. “If a high-pressure system doesn’t set up in the proper place, then we’re not getting that moisture sweeping up from the right locations.”

SNOWPACK’S A PUNCH

Here is some good news from Russell Cabe, retail and rental manager at Sunlight Ski & Bike Shop in Glenwood Springs: The world-class ski and snowboard runs interspersed throughout the valley are somewhat immune to La Nina’s wrath – or lack thereof.

“Usually, honestly, even if it is not an ideal amount of snowfall in the season, between snowmaking and good grooming, you can still have a fun year,” he said. “Unless it’s really uncommonly low snowfall, it usually isn’t that big of an effect.”

Cabe, who’s been skiing and snowboarding this area on and off since 1992, said the past 7-8 years, in fact, have been average or better as far as “fresh pow” is concerned. When asked, he couldn’t quite remember the last year when the slopes were that exceedingly bad – maybe a few bad days here and there, at most.

“People may not get as juiced as they would be on more powder days,” he said.

As for the good days?

“You can feel the joy on the mountain,” he said. “You can hear people yelling all over the mountain because they’re going to the powder stashes they love, they’re hitting the spots that they love to be at. You see how people treat each other at the bottom and the lift line… There’s just kind of a joy all around the mountain when the conditions are like that.”

rerku@postindependent.com

WATCH: It’s beginning to look a lot like ski season at Sunlight

Sunlight Mountain Resort rolled out and dusted off the snow machines last week and have started the process of blowing snow on the slopes in preparation for the 2020/2021 ski season.

Skiers and snowboarders will have to wait a while longer before they can hit the slopes, however. Sunlight’s 54th season is slated to kick off Dec. 11.

Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli opens the hatch to the underground water hydrant valve before turning on the water to one of the snow machines.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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A snow gun machine is kicked on in the early evening hours at Sunlight Mountain.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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WATCH VIDEO

Video by PI Staff Photographer Chelsea Self
Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli checks the direction in which the wind is blowing and placing the snow near the base of the mountain.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli radios in with a coworker while firing up the snow machines near the base of the mountain.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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Snow begins to cover the slopes at Sunlight Mountain Resort.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli changes the position of the snow machine to ensure it is placing snow in the correct location.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli looks up to one of the snow machines after firing them up near the base of the mountain.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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The snow machines are typically fired up late in the afternoon and run over night until mid morning the next day.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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