A look at 2015’s likely headlines | PostIndependent.com

A look at 2015’s likely headlines

Happy Monday. The holidays are officially over, and it’s time to get back to work in earnest.

We’ve all relaxed, looked back and made resolutions, so it’s a good day to make educated guesses about what issues Garfield County communities will face in 2015. The Post Independent consulted a few community leaders and its own staff — namely reporters John Stroud and Will Grandbois — to come up with this look.

THE BRIDGE: Of course the Grand Avenue bridge replacement project will dominate headlines at times this year — with construction on the larger project potentially starting by the end of 2015. Inextricably tied to the larger question of traffic through town, the project is the biggest issue facing Glenwood Springs.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is expected in March to issue a decision on the project after reviewing public comments on its Environmental Assessment.

Assuming that CDOT says it will go ahead, the city must move forward on whether it can make Eighth Street, which is to be part of the detour between downtown and West Glenwood when the bridge closes, into a permanent connection. The council also would have to start pushing for any improvements in pedestrian safety and crossings of Grand downtown if that idea, advocated by the PI, is to emerge on the civic agenda.

The city also was unhappy with the level of detail provided by CDOT in the EA, and CDOT is obligated before proceeding to put into writing what the bridge will look like and, having gone to a range of local governments for contributions, who will pay for precisely what aspects of the project.

Citizens to Save Grand Avenue and other opponents of the bridge project will have to decide whether to sue to block it, a move that could delay the project, add costs or kill it.

Mayor Leo McKinney offered two predictions on the debate: “We will have clarity on the future of the Grand Avenue Bridge project,” and, “We will not build a bypass in 2015.”

CITY ELECTION: Glenwood Springs will elect four City Council members on April 7. At-large Councilman Dave Sturges is term-limited and cannot run again, while first-term incumbents Todd Leahy, Ted Edmonds and Mike Gamba have not yet indicated whether they intend to seek retention of their ward seats. Concerned about lack of interest in serving, the current council is considering raising pay of members.

THOMPSON DIVIDE: In another ongoing debate, the White River National Forest draft plan on oil and gas development that calls for no leases during the 15- to 20-year life of the plan is subject to a 60-day “objection” period that runs till early February. The Bureau of Land Management’s decision on whether to continue or cancel existing leases in the area likely will be issued this year. If they are canceled, look for a lawsuit — an industry group, West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association, has indicated it is preparing an illegal takings suit if the leases are canceled.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, has also said he plans to reintroduce his bill that would limit future leasing in the area and create a way to retire any existing leases for some type of market-based compensation.

OIL AND WATER: While not specifically Garfield County issues, our region has a big stake in two statewide reports that will be made final this year. One is the state water plan, to be completed by year’s end; the other is recommendations from the governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force.

On the water plan, as Brent Gardner-Smith of Aspen Journalism put it, “A key question yet to be resolved … is whether water providers can meet an increasing need for water on the Front Range without causing additional harm to rivers on the Western Slope or by drying up the state’s ranches and farms.”

The Post Independent will carry Aspen Journalism and other coverage of the water plan’s development through the year, as it will report on recommendations for any new rules or practices in balancing competing concerns about oil and gas development.

HOUSING: Affordable housing in the region is an ever-present issue, with Glenwood resistant to developing available land south of town. Carbondale and the Roaring Fork School District are renewing discussion of a plan to build about 100 units to help address the issue for school employees and others.

That project will have to move forward or be dead in the water. “People think this is a new project,” said Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot. “It’s not. It’s one that we need to extend approvals for and see if it has legs.”

CARBONDALE: Bernot also said that this year or next, the town will likely be forced to go to the voters for funding for clean energy, expanded transportation, recreation and capital funding. Also, landscaping will wrap up along Highway 133 and “Sewing the Future,” the sculpture in the new roundabout, will be formally dedicated, and Marble Distilling on Main Street will finish construction and open.

NEW TRANSIT: CDOT expects to begin its new “Bustang” service in late March or early April. Glenwood Springs will be the first stop in the morning for the $28 one-way ride to Denver’s Union Station, with a stop in Vail.

The region showed signs of recovery from the Great Recession through the year, with sales tax receipts up and tourism reported as strong. In Glenwood Springs, Iron Mountain Hot Springs is expected to open in May, creating a new attraction for town.

Said Mayor McKinney, “We’ll continue to see economic recovery and growth in Glenwood Springs with many new businesses and developments investing in the 81601.”

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