A look back at 2019 in Garfield County: Part 1 of 2
Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories looking back at Glenwood Springs’ biggest news of 2019. Go here to read part two.
Quarry big news
It’s hard to imagine a more consequential story for Glenwood Springs in 2019 than the proposed expansion of RMR Industrial’s limestone quarry.
In 2018, RMR representatives announced their plans to expand, and 2019 saw that plan move forward to the next phase of review.
The Bureau of Land Management accepted a complete proposed plan of operations modification in August, and announced that it would conduct a full environmental impact statement, the most stringent form of review of proposed projects on federal land under the National Environmental Protection Act.
Virtually every municipality in the area, and the vast majority of businesses, oppose the expansion of the quarry. Glenwood Springs led off, formally opposing the proposed expansion in March.
Other communities, including Carbondale, Basalt, Aspen, Snowmass Village, Pitkin County, New Castle, Silt and Rifle have all passed resolutions opposing the expansion.
For many in Glenwood Springs, the quarry expansion poses an existential threat. This fall, owners of the two main hot springs resorts in Glenwood said that if the quarry expands as proposed, it would “obliterate” the source of mineral waters that drive tourism to the region.
At the same time, the Garfield County board of commissioners found RMR had violated the county’s permit, which triggered two lawsuits from RMR, one of which has yet to be resolved.
Hanging Lake gets a break
Changes to the Hanging Lake trail access were years in the making, but 2019 saw the new approach implemented.
The cost of hiking the popular trail jumped from free to $12 for the high season May 1, and the only way to get to the Hanging Lake trailhead this summer was to take a shuttle from Glenwood Springs, or ride out on the bike path.
The U.S. Forest Service launched efforts to curb the potentially devastating affects of Hanging Lake’s massive popularity after 2017, when 184,000 people visited the lake in a single year. Some days, 1,200 people on the trail per day during the peak summer months.
Working with the City of Glenwood Springs and the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, the Forest Service finalized an agreement in February with H2O Ventures — a new entity formed by partners Glenwood Adventure Company, Adventure Office and Peak 1 Express — to implement the new system.
After the first season, the shuttle system appears to have accomplished its primary mission of reducing the number of people on the trail.
This summer, 75,000 people made the hike under the new system, but it was likely never crowded. Visits are capped at 615 visitors per allowed per day, but those visits are also staggered from early in the morning to the evening.
The Hanging Lake Management Plan even won an award from the Colorado Tourism Office.
During the winter months, the parking lot at the Hanging Lake trailhead is open, but hikers need to purchase a $10 pass to get to the lake.
Headway on Thompson Divide protections
After decades of activism, efforts to permanently protect the Thompson Divide from more mineral extraction made headway in 2019.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., introduced the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act early in the year, which included language removing the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale from future oil and gas leases.
The Thompson Divide Coalition assisted in pushing the bill through the House, but not without some drama. The Garfield County commissioners were uncomfortable supporting the language at first, until they worked with legislators to include provisions for methane capture.
But Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., whose district includes the Thompson Divide area, never came around to supporting the CORE Act, and it passed the House without his vote.
The CORE Act is currently in the Senate, awaiting a committee hearing.
Garfield County feels Colorado’s ‘blue tide’
The policies advanced by the Democrat-controlled state government this year will affect Garfield County.
As the second-highest oil and gas-producing county, changes to mineral extraction regulations at the state level touched a nerve in the Garfield County.
Commissioners and industry representatives fear the new regulations will make the region unfeasible for natural gas development, which could cripple the economy and trigger an economic downturn in the county.
Proponents of the stricter regulations, however, say they have been negatively affected by gas development. At public hearings on the new rules under SB 19-181, activists have lauded the protections to public health, and the potential to reduce fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions.
The county also took a stand against so-called red flag laws, declaring Garfield County a “Second Amendment Preservation County.” As a statutory county, Garfield County cannot change the force of the red flag law, officially known as HB 19-1177.
Garfield Sheriff Lou Vallario joined the commissioners in opposition to the law, but said he would enforce it as an officer of the law.
The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, allows a court to remove firearms if the judge finds a person to be a potential danger to themselves or others.
Top cop calls it quits
After 35 years on the force and more than 20 as chief of police, Terry Wilson said goodbye to the Glenwood Springs Police Department this year.
Wilson, a local to the area, has seen Glenwood Springs expand and grow since the 1980s when he entered law enforcement.
It’s fitting that a man respected so highly, for so long, received the Citizen of the Year award from the Chamber Resort Association in November.
Wilson was set to retire in February 2020, but accelerated his departure in August after an internal dispute with some members of the city council.
The city of Glenwood selected Joseph Deras, currently a captain at the Gilroy, Calif., police department, to be the new chief of police in December out of a field of three finalists.
Deras, who is fluent in English and Spanish, will take over from acting chief Lt. Bill Kimminau in January.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.