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Rifle High School football’s Kade Street inks with Colorado Mesa University

Kade Street is six feet, six inches tall. He’s north of 210 pounds. Colorado Mesa University’s football program should be so lucky.

On Wednesday, Rifle High School’s formidable offensive and defensive lineman signed to play collegiately for the Mavericks.

“It’s great,” Street, surrounded by friends, family, coaches and, essentially, the entire football team, said. “I’m really excited for the opportunity.” 

Like so many local student athletes nowadays, Street’s high school football career endured some of the most unique circumstances ever known to Rifle High School.

In standard football fashion, Street’s freshman year — in 2019 — he didn’t see too much playing time. The COVID-19 pandemic then hit in March 2020 and delayed Street’s sophomore year of football until spring 2021. 

Rifle High School football coaches and senior Kade Street put up their horns Wednesday after Street signed on to play football at Colorado Mesa University.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Meanwhile, former longtime Rifle football coach Damon Wells resigned and Rifle quickly hired Todd Casebier. And despite this managerial scramble amid a global pandemic, Street joined the Bears in winning a 3A state championship that spring.

Casebier has since moved on to Durango, with current Rifle football coach Ryan Whittington taking over the program in fall 2021. 

Street ended his senior year leading the team in sacks (3) while picking up a respectable 76 tackles.

“My freshman and junior year, I struggled a bit,” Street said. “I kind of lost my motivation for football, but winning the state championship sophomore year — and then this year — I had a lot of fun.”

Whittington said he told Mesa coaches about what they’re getting: a consistent hard worker who comes up big in big moments.

With Street’s massive build and eye for the ball, he helped the Bears make an unsuspecting push into the 2A quarterfinals last fall.

“He’s had a great run here,” Whittington said of Street. “With the success he had as a freshman and his sophomore year winning the state championship and basically getting us back on track and getting us into the second round of playoffs this last year, I think it was a huge accomplishment.”

Whittington said anytime a student athlete like Street leaves a high school program, it’s a huge loss.

Rifle High School senior Kade Street with his family after sigining to play football for Colorado Mesa University on Wednesday morning.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

“But I think the legacy that (Street) left, and the work ethic he installed on the younger guys, will help us be even better in the future because there’s kids that want to follow in his footsteps,” he said.

Street’s mother, Jennifer, was by her son’s side when he signed to play for CMU on Wednesday. She said she wants Kade, through his continued journey toward college, to be “accepted, successful and happy.”

“He’s worked hard to get to this point,” she said.

Street, who intends to study construction and business management at CMU, still has a few more months of high school left. He intends to spend it right.

“I’m going to play baseball,” he said. “And have fun with friends.”

Roll the dice at Ute Theater’s Casino Night fundraiser this weekend

Read ‘em and weep. The fourth annual Casino Night returns to Rifle’s Ute Theater and Events Center this Saturday.

By way of roulette, craps, black jack and poker tables, patrons are being asked to throw their chips all in the name of a good cause. Each year the New Ute Theatre Society (NUTS) uses funds raised from Casino Night to offer scholarships to local students pursuing the arts, Theater Director Wayne Pleasants said on Monday.

Recipients include students from Grand Valley, Rifle and Coal Ridge high schools, as well as Liberty Classical Academy in New Castle.

“They’re using it as a fundraiser for their scholarship fund, and they do anywhere from two to three scholarships,” Pleasants said. “They give scholarships to students going into the arts, music and dance, and theater.”

NUTS Board Member Anna Kaiser said this includes $2,000 scholarships for each student. Six students received scholarships from NUTS between 2021-2022, with another three students slated to receive scholarships this year.

Applications are available through the Garfield 16 and Re-2 school districts, as well as Liberty Classical Academy.

“It’s our biggest fundraiser event of the year, and we tried to find something special for adults after the holidays,” Kaiser said. “It’s a chance to get a little dressed up.”

“We all put on some of our sparkes, but it’s not a required thing.”

Casino Night, with doors opening at 6 p.m. at the Ute on Saturday, is typically run by Casino Party USA, a casino-themed party company. It provides the Ute with professional Vegas tables and dealers.

Last year, however, card dealers caught COVID-19 and couldn’t make it to the Ute Theater for its Casino Night. Among those stepping up the plate to fill in was former Rifle Police Chief and current City Manager Tommy Klein.

Though he admits he’s still learning, Klein is appearing for his second time behind a card table Saturday.

“I quickly realized my limitations and lack of skill in shuffling,” he joked on Monday. “It definitely slowed the game down, and I felt I wasn’t providing adequate customer service to the players.”

“I realize my shortcomings, and I’ve been practicing since the last Casino Night.” 

Klein said he’s glad NUTS is giving him a second chance because, no matter what he does with the cards, the event is for a good cause and it’s a fun evening.

“The New Ute Theater Society and the Ute theater staff work very hard on this event each year,” he said. “I appreciate everything they do for Rifle.”

Tickets are $30 and participants are given a pot of 200 chips in exchange, and they can purchase more chips throughout the night. They’re also eligible to win items like door prizes, Ute Theater tickets and gift baskets, Pleasants said.

Casino Night comes during a time when attendance numbers for the Ute have steadily grown. Pleasants said, since November, the Rifle venue has had five of the past six live performances sell out. 

Casino Night is no exception. 

“I think people are sick and tired of being locked in their homes and worry about their health,” Pleasants said of why sales are picking up. “They’re letting go.”

“People are beginning to let their hair down and become human again.”

Pleasants said the Ute already sold more than 100 presale tickets online and that it’s selling about 10 Casino Night tickets a day. There are enough gambling tables to host about 125-150 patrons. 

Tickets can still be purchased online at utetheater.com/event/casino-night-2023/ or at the door the night of the event.

“It’s a great annual event that the Ute is proud to produce,” Pleasants said. “It’s a good fundraiser, and it allows people to do something without having to travel far.”

IF YOU GO

What: Casino Night

Where: The Ute Theater and Events Center, 132 East Fourth St.

When: 6:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4. Doors open at 6 p.m.

How much: $30 (21 and older event)

Ranchers to be compensated up to $8,000 for each head lost to wolf depredation, CPW says

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is coming to Rifle next week to discuss and collect public feedback over the state’s contentious plan to restore gray wolves in its ecosystem.

The meeting is slated for 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday at Colorado Mountain College Rifle, 3695 Airport Road. Anyone who can’t attend the meeting in-person but are interested in making a public comment can fill out a form online, at engagecpw.org. The deadline for filling out and submitting this public comment document is Feb. 22.

CPW Public Information Officer Rachael Gonzales said people showing up to the Rifle meeting in-person will be allowed to speak on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“They’ll show up, sign up and in the order they signed up in is the order they’ll provide public comment,” she said.

The meeting will be led by Reid DeWalt and Eric Odell, two CPW officials tasked with creating the Draft Wolf Restoration and Management Plan. This plan, found on CPW’s Wolves – Stay Informed page, details exactly how CPW is going to regulate a self-sustaining population of gray wolves in Colorado. CPW Game Damage Manager Luke Hoffman is also attending.

“The plan is predicated on managing wolves in Colorado using an impact-based management framework,” DeWalt, a CPW Assistant Director for Aquatic, Terrestrial and Natural Resources, told the CPW Commission last month.

“We expect that the vast majority of wolves are not going to be impacted in any kind of conflict anywhere in the state.”

The plan itself stems from a petition created in 2019 by the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, a citizen-led group based in Louisville. The effort received enough signatures (215,370) and, in the November 2020 election, Colorado voters narrowly passed Proposition 114 — the reintroduction of wolves.

Ever since, the effort has raised several concerns from ranchers and environmentalists both for and against the plan. Some environmentalists are still skeptical of CPW’s plan to potentially put down wolves that attack livestock. Meanwhile, one major concern from ranchers is that wolves could affect their bottom line.

CPW Commissioner Chair Carrie Besnette Hauser said last month that the goal is to develop a plan that the majority of the public will support and one that represents reasonable compromise.

“This is historic for Colorado,” she said. “And we will do it well.”

The CPW has so far held two meetings over the reintroduction plan, one in Colorado Springs on Jan. 19 and another in Gunnison on Jan. 25. In addition to Rifle, two more meetings will be held: one virtually, and one in-person in Denver.

Each one addresses issues like nonlethal conflict mitigation, as well as potential compensation the CPW provides in the event a wolf attacks livestock.

Odell, a Species Conservation Program Manager and biological lead for the wolf project, said the CPW is offering up to $8,000 per head directly lost due to wolf depredation.

“CPW has developed additional compensation options to address missing calves and sheep,” he said last month.

The CPW will provide a final draft plan with proposed regulations in Steamboat Springs on April 6. The CPW Commission is set to vote on the final plan May 3-4 in Glenwood Springs.

IF YOU GO

What: Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Draft Colorado Wolf Restoration and Management Plan meeting

When: 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7

Where: Colorado Mountain College-Rifle, 3695 Airport Road

Rifle Police Department hosts ‘Coffee with a Cop’ event

Coffee and raw conversations between Rifle Police Officers and city residents will take over a local cafe this week, according to a news release.

The Rifle Police Department is slated to host a Coffee with a Cop event at Whistle Pig Coffee Stop & Cafe at 9 a.m. Friday. The cafe is located in downtown Rifle, at 121 East 3rd St.

“This event has no agendas or speeches, just an opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns, and get to know your Rifle Police Officers,” the release states. “Rifle Police Chief, Debra Funston, will be in attendance along with several officers.”

For more information visit Rifle Police Department’s Facebook page or reach out to RPD Public Information Officer Angela Mills, amills@rifleco.org or 970-665-6520.

IF YOU GO

What: Coffee with a Cop

Where: Whistle Pig Coffee Stop & Cafe, 121 East 3rd St

When: 9 a.m. Friday

How much: Free

Habitat for Humanity wants to build manufacturing facility on old uranium-production site in Rifle

As Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley currently builds affordable housing units in south Rifle, it now wants to build toward the west.

But, instead of individual houses, it’s an entire manufacturing facility.

Local Habitat President Gail Schwartz, of Aspen, proposed to Rifle City Council last week an effort to build a facility for manufacturing modular homes. The facility, to be built near the city’s wastewater treatment center at U.S. Highway 6, would span 40,000-50,000 square feet.

She said Habitat would partner with the city and the Colorado River Board of Cooperative Education Services to operate the facility, with classrooms and trainers on site.

“We feel that this is a great opportunity to develop an advanced manufacturing workforce, with young people and students basically from the region that could find and work with the facility,” she said. “We visited sites, we’re in conversations, we feel this is a great opportunity for Habitat and BOCES to work together.”

The only little snag: The proposed site itself was formerly used to produce uranium and vanadium concentrates. At what was called the New Rifle Mill, Union Carbide Corporation produced 400 tons of uranium ore per day from 1958-1970, with further uranium development between 1971-1972. It also produced the vadium concentrate until 1984, city documents state.

The mill was eventually contaminated by radioactive tailings, while the groundwater — now being treated by the Department of Energy through natural flushing — had traces of arsenic, molybdenum, nitrate, selenium, uranium, and vanadium.

Clouds hover above land in west Rifle Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley is looking to build a house manufacturing facility on Wednesday morning.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

This ignited discussion over whether Habitat could safely build and operate the facility in this designated area. Mayor Ed Green said this a main reason why the site isn’t ideal for development, and that vanadate solution — a compound used for alloy steel — takes a long time to turn into hard rock.

“They’re trying to see that natural flushing solves the subsurface condition,” he said. “But, if it doesn’t, then they’re going to have to go down and reclaim some of that eventually.”

The state of Colorado owned the land itself until turning it over to Rifle in 2004. It was previously set aside for development of an energy innovation center, designated to study alternative energy. By 2008, the wastewater treatment center was built in the vicinity.

Mayor Pro Tem Brian Condie asked whether the land is compatible with Habitat’s proposal. He also asked whether the city should pre-emptively support the facility without advertising its availability first.

“We have several entities coming in for attainable housing, and this is an unsolicited proposal?” he said. “This land has not been made available to the public. Maybe somebody else wants to come in and use it for a higher and better use.

“I’m all for it, but I just want due process.”

The impetus behind wanting to build a regional manufacturing facility is because Habitat, trying to adequately fulfill the valley’s need to create more than 4,000 affordable housing units, has been busy.

Matt Shmigelsky, leading development and innovation director for Habitat, said they’ve just built 27 affordable units in Basalt, listed at $270,000-$370,000 apiece. It is currently working with Glenwood Springs to build 18 units and also currently building 20 affordable housing units in south Rifle, some listed as low as $185,000. 

“Our pace of construction has increased the ability to construct faster and larger numbers of larger communities,” he said. “There’s a real need to match that pace with constructability and to be able to get those units built out.”

Rifle has, over the past two, years grown to be an attractive spot for affordable-housing developers. Chicago-based Evergreen Real Estate Group looks to build 60 units near Brenden Rifle 7 Theaters. Another company, EcoDwelling LLC, has already built a house manufacturing facility just east Rifle, and it also wants to build multiple subdivisions throughout town.

If Habitat gets its own home manufacturing facility, it can cut production costs, Schwartz said.

“Our friends at EcoDwelling really inspired us,” she said.

Rifle cannot legally sell the property. It can, however, lease the property to Habitat for $1 per year. The DOE has also prohibited digging more than three feet in the area unless a special permit is obtained, city documents state.

Habitat still needs to obtain a memorandum of understanding from Rifle before construction begins. It’s also asking Rifle to sign a letter of support to go after major grant funding.

Schwartz said, if the facility is built, Habitat can possibly produce up to 200 homes every year.

City looks to slather BBQ Cookoff onto Rifle Rendezvous

Succulent meats sizzling over iron grates and open flames are likely to accent one of Rifle’s biggest annual events this year.

Rifle Main Street Manager Kim Burner told Rifle City Council last week the Greater Rifle Improvement Team (GRIT) plans to combine a barbecue cookoff with the Rifle Rendezvous.

“We’re looking at doing what they call a backyard barbecue competition the third weekend in May with Rendezvous,” she said. “A backyard barbecue is not associated with any of the national barbecue associations.”

Instead of national BBQ conglomerations, which Burner said would increase costs exponentially, Rifle’s newest proposal will consist of local pitmasters sturdy with marinades and metal tongs. GRIT has so far budgeted $20,000 for the event.

Burner said she doesn’t actually anticipate the BBQ cookoff costing that much for GRIT, which is funded by the city’s lodging tax. That revenue will come in through in-kind sponsorships and contestant entry fees.

Burner said this backyard barbecue should resemble Rifle’s annual chili cook-off when, each year, locals gather and serve pods of capsicum at the Garfield County Fairgrounds and Events Center.

“It’s kind of like the chili cookoff. You pay a small fee to come in, you taste all the smoked barbecue,” she said. “There will be a people’s choice portion and then a judged portion of that.”

Revenue derived from ancillary lodging and sales tax is a key drive behind adding a barbecue event to the Rifle Rendezvous, which received about 9,000 visitors in 2022. The Rendezvous offers carnival rides, bull riding, live music, a car show and more.

Mayor Pro Tem Brian Condie, who also sits on the GRIT Advisory Board, said bringing in any sort of national BBQ circuit will attract professional barbecue chefs and inherently kill local competition.

“They want to do it for three to four years to get established,” he said. “That’s why we’re saying it may not make money the first year, but it might be a great event.” 

Professional judges, however, will be hired to grade brisket, ribs and pork, Burner said. Public Health requires that the city provide the pork for the people’s choice award so they can control the source and quality of the meat.

Contestants are allowed to use their own meats for all other categories — a rule Rifle City Council member Clint Hostettler liked.

“That’s what I want to be the judge of,” he joked.

Rifle City Council and staff discussed exactly how they’re going to promote the new cookoff. Burner said she’s already received four calls from local residents who hear rumors of the cookoff occuring.

Burner said the city plans to use social and paid media to advertise the event.

Meal debt continues to grow at Garfield Re-2

Debt accrued from families not paying for student meals continues to grow for the Garfield Re-2 School District, an official said last week.

Numbers presented by Director of Nutrition Services Mary McPhee to school board members show meal debt service increased from about $24,578 on Oct. 25 to $35,511 on Jan. 11.

A big reason why meal debt continues to inflate is because district families who still qualify for free-and-reduced meals are simply not filling out their applications, McPhee said. 

Despite November’s vote to pass Proposition FF, which implements universal free meals in Colorado schools by the 2023-24 school year, Garfield Re-2 is still responsible for paying for the meal debt they accrue this year.

“Because even though this is going to start next school year, we still need to get free-and-reduced applications more than ever before,” McPhee said.

This growing debt is pushing the school board to consider using collections services or putting families on monthly payment plans to help cover outstanding bills. School Board Member Jason Shoup worried, if nothing’s done, the district could incur as much as $60,000 in meal debt by the end of the school year.

“Then we’ve got a really big elephant in the room,” he said.

“I’m 90% sure it’s the same families that are struggling, but how can we fix that?”

There are right now 980 district students who owe money for meals. Another 1,800 owe nothing, while 2,000 students at Garfield Re-2 are positive in their accounts. 

The district has also served 14,835 breakfasts, 53,879 lunches and another 19,186 faculty/guest meals since Oct. 25, McPhee’s numbers show. That’s 70,992 total meals in less than three months.

Amid all these served meals, McPhee said families aren’t filling out free-and-reduced applications because they might be uncertain of where the information goes or that they’re perhaps not meeting the thresholds to qualify.

“If you make $1 over you don’t qualify,” she said.

According to the application, a family household of four making less than $51,338 may qualify for free-and-reduced meals.

At one point in December, an anonymous “lunch angel” donated $2,675, which, at the time, completely wiped out the entire student meal debt at Elk Creek Elementary School in New Castle. By Jan. 11, that school’s meal debt grew back to $177.

McPhee said a focus group made up of members from the Colorado Department of Education, Colorado school district chief financial officers, social workers, nurses and more are currently developing recommendations on how at-risk funding will be paid to Colorado school districts.

Those recommendations are set to come out by the end of January. Online free and reduced applications, which are also in Spanish, can be found at https://www.garfieldre2.net/our_district/food_nutrition/free_and_reduced_lunch_info

Contractor seeks to build gravel pit between Silt and Rifle

Garfield County commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a major land use change permit for a proposal to create a new gravel pit operation between Silt and Rifle.

IHC Scott Inc., a civil contractor based in Englewood, plans to create a wet mining operation within 57.9 acres of land situated south of the Colorado River and north of Interstate 70.

The project itself covers nearly 20 acres, while excavation activity is set to cover 12.39 acres.

The area will include a five-foot perimeter berm for visual and noise mitigation.  

The biggest question to come from this proposal is whether the operation disturbs neighboring wetlands and vegetation. One of the permit conditions includes a 35-foot setback between operations and wetland areas, as well as another 100-foot setback from neighboring property lines.

Garfield County Principal Planner Glenn Hartmann said the only possible disturbance to any wetlands would be during construction of the berm, which requires a minor waiver to the 35-foot setback.

“There is a potential for, in some locations on the site, an area of 10 feet of disturbance that would be immediately adjacent to the berm,” he said.

Hartmann said Scott proposes to utilize silt fence and other physical barriers to delineate the boundaries of the wetlands. 

“They have the perimeter berm in place to protect the wetlands,” he said. “They plan on reclaiming and revegetating the berm surfaces including areas near the wetlands. 

The site is currently irrigated pastureland with typical upland pasture grasses, according to county documents.

“Significant portions of the site have been identified with wetland vegetation,” county documents state. “A portion of the site contains riparian woodland consisting of Russian Olive and sparse shrub understory.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Kirk Oldham suggested in a letter to the county that measures be taken to avoid excessive sedimentation into the Colorado River at the point of the operation, “as there is critical habitat for Native and Endangered species downstream from the proposed operation.”

“Vegetation on the newly constructed berms, as well as the newly constructed ditch, should be allowed to establish a new base of vegetation before water with high sediment loads are removed from the proposed project area and placed into the ditch to flow into the Colorado River,” he said.

The operation, with 25-ton dump trucks set to make 32 daily trips during operating hours, will generally be open April-November. Hours are set for 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

Phase three of the project — the mining activity itself — is slated to take between 3-5 years. Up to 300,000 cubic yards of material is anticipated to be mined during this time.

Local attorney Michael Sawyer represents neighboring landowners. He said in a letter to the county that IHC Scott revising their mining operations from originally groundwater dewatering to wet mining has the ability to greatly mitigate impacts to the Colorado River and nearby lands.

“Both the Colorado River Ranch and Island Park properties feature prominent agricultural and natural features which have been protected by conservation easements,” he said in the letter. “In prior iterations of IHC Scott’s request, the gravel pit activities would have dramatically destroyed agricultural areas and the natural environment on the Colorado River Ranch and Island Park properties.”

PHOTOS: Folks beat the snow by shredding with sleds near the Rifle Garfield County Airport

A sledding hill near the Rifle Garfield County Airport became the site of some stelllar snow busting. Trying to beat Wednesday morning’s wet snowfall, a local group of family and friends decided it was best to shred down this hill at full speed.

Sledders prepare to descend a hill near Rifle Garfield County Airport on Wednesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent
Tobias Hohon, front, and Ellie Lange express joy while riding a sled on a hill near Rifle Garfield County Airport on Wednesday morning.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent
Elan Windham screams as he barrels down a sledding hill near Rifle Garfield County Airport on Wednesday morning.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent
Kiana Lowell holds Timothy Hohon in her legs as they sled down a hill near Rifle Garfield County Airport on Wednesday morning.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent
Garfield County residents Amy Hohon, front, and Michelle Windham — as well as Maizee the dog — sled down a hill near the Rifle Garfield County Airport on Wednesday morning.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent
The Hohon twins take a break while sledding near Rifle Garfield County Airport on Wednesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent
Maizee the dog hangs on for dear life while sledding in Rifle on Wednesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Water and sewer rates rise annually by 2.5% — not 5%, says Rifle City Attorney

An effort to maintain fair and equitable water and sewer fees in Rifle hit a bit of an ineffectual snag this past week.

On paper, the city said it was accidentally increasing its water rates by an annual 5%, but in reality it’s really only charging 2.5% more to residents each year, Rifle City Attorney Jim Neu said.

The blunder was unanimously approved and fixed to reflect the actual 2.5% annual increase at the Jan. 4 City Council meeting.

“As the city was preparing to update its utility fees for the new year, there was some debate among staff on what that increase was going to be,” Neu said. “It’s been codified at 5% for years and years and years.”

That is, until the city underwent a capital improvement study in 2021, which eventually recommended different amounts of escalation: 4.2% for sewer and 2.5% for water.

City documents show, however, the annual rate subsiding to a 1% increase by 2029.