A look back at the year that was in Garfield County, Part 4
Editor’s note: Each year has its memorable stories, and 2018 was no exception in Glenwood Springs and throughout Garfield County. This New Year’s Day, the Post Independent concludes its four-part, quarterly look back on the year that was, both in words and photos. As you read along, see the story links for greater context and a little trip down the 2018 memory lane.
Read the previous installments
Out with the old (tramway) in with the new
The Iron Mountain tramway is gone, clearing the way for a new tram that’s intended to provide a faster, smoother ride up to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
The new tram, with 44 detachable, six-passenger cabins, is scheduled to open in March. It will be able to transport 1,000 people per hour, up from the 300-passengers-per-hour capacity of the old system. According to park officials, trips will take around 7-8 minutes, faster than the 12-13 minutes it took before.
“I am most excited that the new tram will provide for a much better guest experience,” Adventure Park co-owner Jeanne Beckley said. “It will give us higher capacity, which means shorter lines at the tram base.”
New Truck Parking Spat
The Colorado Department of Transportation announced plans to build truck parking spaces in several areas around Glenwood Springs, irritating some city officials who see it as a potential drag on the city’s recreational appeal.
CDOT expects to begin constructing spaces near the West Glenwood Mall on state right-of-way on Highway 6 — 13 on the west side of the north roundabout off of Exit 114, and 14 to the east — citing safety concerns. Commercial vehicle drivers already use that area as a pull off to take their legally required breaks, and during Interstate 70 closures.
During an Oct. 18 work session, city council members voiced their concerns about putting parking spaces so close to town.
“Thirteen parking spots is a truck stop. That’s a bad impression for a town driven by tourism,” City Councilor Jonathan Godes said. While the city council agreed that truck drivers need places to park safely, they also noted that the area, particularly West Glenwood Mall, is prime for redevelopment.
A Colorado grand jury indicted two individuals in October for allegedly operating a prostitution ring in Glenwood Springs during July 2017, and charged a former employee of Vail with paying to have sex with a child prostitute.
Prosecutors alleged that Damara Hester, 25, and Dasjuan Goode, 30, transported two juveniles in July 2017 to the former Plaza Inn on Sixth Street, and made them commercially available for sex.
The indictment alleges that Hester and Goode advertised sex with the minors by posting ads online, and provided hotel rooms for prostitution. Braden, who formerly headed up the town of Vail’s IT department, allegedly engaged in those activities.
Braden “met the juvenile at a hotel/motel in Glenwood Springs and paid money to engage in sexual intercourse with her,” according to the indictment.
Braden is out on bond; Hester and Goode are in custody awaiting arraignment in the Ninth Judicial District.
There were few surprises in the 2018 midterm elections. Incumbent representatives of Garfield County at the local, state and federal levels mainly retained their seats, including Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, county Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico, state Rep. Bob Rankin and Congressman Scott Tipton.
Voters approved bonding and mill levies for the fire departments in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Parachute, approved the Garfield County Library District’s request to keep sales tax revenue it otherwise would have to refund, and the mill levy for the Garfield County Re-2 school district. Garfield County, along with five other mountain counties, approved Colorado Mountain College’s request for a mill levy override.
Voters in Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle approved, for the first time, a mill levy of 2.65 for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. The bulk of RFTA’s funding will come from sales and use tax, but the property tax will help the company improve services and add more buses, including several amenities in Glenwood Springs.
The city of Glenwood Springs suspended new permits for short-term vacation rental homes, like those rented on AirBnB and VRBO, out of concern for disrupting neighborhood character.
The debate over short-term rentals sparked heated debate, as some members of the community attested they depend on rentals to afford Roaring Fork Valley living, and others brought up concerns like having strange neighbors stay two nights and potentially damage property.
The moratorium on new permits was intended to give the city time to develop a system that would allow some personal home rentals without adversely affecting communities.
But critics say the temporary ban on permits, passed in November, will not have the desired effect. “In my opinion, the moratorium accomplished nothing other than dramatically increasing the number of short-term rental permits in town,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Michael Gamba said.
The city has launched a survey to gauge community opinion, and has scheduled a January public meeting to discuss the issues related to private short-term home rentals.
Early morning shakes
Glenwood Springs residents were awakened from sleep by two small earthquakes early in the morning Dec. 11. One tremor around 3:02 a.m. registered a magnitude 3.4 on the Richter scale, and the second, at 4:13 a.m. measured 3.6 magnitude, according to the USGS earthquake information website. Both were more than 3 miles beneath the surface, with the epicenter a little over a mile from Glenwood Springs.
There was no reported damage from the earthquake — though one resident said the tremors knocked a bottle of wine off her counter. The tremors did dislodge a baseball-sized rock from the roof of one of the caves at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, not far from the epicenter, said Nancy Heard, general manager at the park.
Four out of 10 stores that sell tobacco and e-cigarettes in Carbondale failed a compliance check, seven months after the town raised the minimum age for nicotine products to 21.
During a sting operation, a police associate between 18 and 20 attempting to buy tobacco or e-cigarette products while an undercover police officer stood inside the store as a witness.
For the first offence, owners of the stores that sell a product containing nicotine to the individual are fined $1,300, and the clerks who make the transaction face a $130 fine.
“Our goal in doing compliance checks is really to help the youth, and try and get them to where they aren’t addicted to any kind of tobacco products,” Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling said.
The owners of the limestone quarry north of town, known as the Mid-Continent Quarry, declared their intention to expand operations some time ago, sparking a community movement, the Glenwood Springs Citizens Alliance, opposed to mine expansion.
Rocky Mountain Resources (RMR) entered what they called a “quiet period” in April while preparing a plan of operations modification proposal for the Bureau of Land Management. That period ended in late 2018, when the company sent a more than 350-page proposal to the BLM for review.
The BLM returned the proposal as incomplete Dec. 21, and it’s unclear when RMR will file a new proposal, or whether the mining plan would be altered in the updated document.
The BLM did not comment on the merits of the proposed expansion, but sought more specificity in the plan. RMR, which is currently operating beyond the area permitted by BLM as did the previous owner, is seeking to expand from its current size of around 20 acres to 320 acres, according to the proposal. The quarry would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with limited blasting times and a midnight maintenance and security shift. RMR estimates hiring 50 employees for the expanded operations, up from four currently employed at the site.
RMR estimates between 400 and 500 trips per day total on Transfer Trail — which the company would upgrade – to the Union Pacific Railway Station on the other side of the Colorado River.
The quarry expansion became a political issue in Garfield County. Both Commissioner Tom Jankovsky and the Democratic challenger for the seat, Paula Stepp, vocally opposed quarry expansion in October.
“I’m not going to be careful today. I am just going to come out and say, I’m opposed to the limestone quarry and I wish it would be up, outside of Glenwood Springs,” Jankovsky stated.
Should RMR gain expansion permits from the BLM – which would only happen after an extensive environmental review and public comment period – it would still need permits from the Colorado Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety and from the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners.
City steps in to revive West Glenwood mall
The city of Glenwood Springs, as well as the current owner of the West Glenwood Mall, want to do something to develop or at least revitalize the property, but claim to be stymied by the current tenants.
The council unanimously approved plans at its Dec. 6 meeting to go forward with creation of an urban renewal authority to help two separate mall properties.
A report commissioned by the city found that a 2011 lease agreement with Ross Dress for Less Inc., the anchor tenant, effectively “made it all-but impossible for [the mall] to freely manage the mall properties in a manner appropriate for the market and commensurate with operators of comparable facilities.”
Multiple stores in the mall have shuttered in the past several years, but the spaces remain empty. The urban renewal authority will include representatives from the city, from Garfield County, the Roaring Fork School District and other taxing bodies.
Rifle approves recreational marijuana
The City of Rifle lifted a ban on recreational marijuana sales in December that had been in place since the state legalized sale and use of the drug in 2012.
Lifting the ban will allow Rifle to regulate the substance more effectively, and allow the city to receive revenue from taxes generated by the sales.
“I think we felt we wanted to be a little bit more on the proactive end and get it regulated to the point we were comfortable,” Mayor Barbara Clifton said.
The new ordinance does have limitations. Only three stores in Rifle are permitted to sell recreational marijuana, and no pot stores are allowed to sell in the downtown area.
Valley bids farewell to legendary leaders
Garfield County mourned the loss of several people who had tremendous impact on the greater Roaring Fork Valley.
Lyle Beattie, former mayor and city council member, businessman and father, died of pancreatic cancer in his home Nov. 18 at 94.
Leslie Bethel, who had a tremendous hand in creating what Glenwood Springs looks like today, died after a fight with cancer Dec. 11 at 61
Jim Calaway, a former Texas oilman who retired to Carbondale in the 1990s and supported numerous charitable institutions in the area, died Dec. 12 at 87.
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Cleaning up isn’t cheap — that much is clear following estimates it would take $200,000 to clean up all of the roughly 80 homeless encampments in Glenwood Springs.