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Rifle population expected to boom

Already nipping at Glenwood Springs’ heels in terms of population, Rifle appears poised to turn into by far the biggest dog on the Garfield County block during the next quarter century.That’s according to new preliminary estimates that also show the Garfield School District Re-2 soon surpassing, and eventually dwarfing, Roaring Fork School District Re-1 in enrollment numbers, as Re-2 quadruples in size in 25 years.The draft findings of a socioeconomic study being conducted for Garfield County show that the city of Rifle and its surrounding environs will have nearly twice the population of the Glenwood Springs area by 2030. The Glenwood area will be home to about 22,215 people by then, compared to 43,859 for the Rifle area, the study predicts.All of Garfield County now is home to about 50,000 people. The countywide number would increase to 139,000 by 2030 under a scenario tentatively being projected by Denver-based BBC Researching & Consulting. That’s midway between a projection last year of 148,000 by the state Demographer’s Office, and its later, more conservative estimate of 130,000, a reduction reflecting fast-rising housing costs in western Garfield County.However, BBC also acknowledges that its number omits many undocumented immigrants because of the difficulty in getting a handle on their local population size.It also doesn’t include the possibility of a revived oil shale industry that could drive up population numbers much higher.BBC is conducting the $250,000 study for the county. It expects to release a final report around the end of November.Another of its preliminary findings ties in with the “staggering” growth that county manager Ed Green said is coming Rifle’s way. BBC projects that Garfield County residents working in natural gas development will reach 2,640 in 2017 before beginning to taper off.That may sound like a lot, but BBC managing director Douglas Jeavons said the figure already is at about 2,000.”The companies, from what we’ve been told, are not expected to increase the rate of new well development very much,” he said.As drilling eventually dwindles, so will job numbers. However, BBC is predicting that the industry will continue to be responsible for 1,430 ongoing well maintenance jobs through at least 2030.A possible energy boom in neighboring Rio Blanco County also could result in more workers living in the Rifle area. If it occurs, BBC says, Garfield’s population could reach 146,000 rather than 139,000 by 2030.A combination of lower down-valley housing prices, more land available for building and a continuing economic boom could result in manyfold increases in the populations of towns such as New Castle, Silt and Parachute, along with their surrounding unincorporated areas. The New Castle area also could begin to rival greater Glenwood in size by 2030, nearing the 20,000 mark.Re-2 serves towns from New Castle to Rifle. The draft study predicts that Re-2 schools could reach the same enrollment size as RFSD by 2013, and grow from about 4,000 in 2005 to 16,600 in 2030. RFSD, which serves Glenwood to Basalt, would rise in student numbers from about 5,000 last year to 8,900. BBC tentatively expects that Garfield County School District 16, serving the Parachute/Battlement Mesa area, would quadruple in enrollment from about 1,000 to 4,000 – an estimate county Commissioner Larry McCown believes may be low. Re-2 is seeking passage of tax measures this year to keep up with its fast-rising enrollment. The district is well aware of the kind of growth that is coming. District finance director Christy Hamrick said it is projecting annual enrollment increases of 5 to 7 percent a year.”We’re really struggling with how we’re going to accommodate those kids and work through that,” she said.The county is having the socioeconomic study done to develop baseline forecasts for planning purposes. It’s also intended to serve as a planning tool that can be modified on an ongoing basis. Local governments could change out data based on various “what-if” scenarios to see how it alters estimates and impacts.One big question mark hovering over the model is how many county residents would consist of people working in Pitkin and Eagle counties. A 2005 study by the three counties projected that number could reach 35,000 by 2030. However, if that number is less because of local job opportunities and higher local housing costs, the county population may reach only 113,000 by 2030, BBC believes.Green said many of the “out-commuters” are also immigrants. Assistant county manager Jesse Smith said undercounting immigrants will result in underestimating their social impacts on county services and their impacts on the job market.Jeavons said the issue of how to accurately count immigrants, especially undocumented ones, is one that presents a challenge far beyond Garfield County, also affecting things such as statewide job estimates and national census numbers.He said BBC’s numbers include legal and undocumented immigrants to the same degree the Census Bureau numbers do. That is believed to be well below their actual numbers.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 16609dwebb@postindependent.com


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