State news in brief for Friday, Dec. 23 |

State news in brief for Friday, Dec. 23

Former Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman dies at 31

DENVER (AP) — Running back Ronnie Hillman, who was part of the Denver Broncos team that won Super Bowl 50, has died, his family said in a statement. He was 31.

Hillman’s family posted on his Instagram account Wednesday that he was diagnosed in August with a rare form of kidney cancer called renal medullary carcinoma and was under hospice care. The family wrote hours later that he died surrounded by family and close friends.

The Broncos expressed their condolences on social media Thursday morning.

After a standout career at San Diego State, Hillman was picked by the Broncos in the third round of the 2012 draft. He ran for 1,976 yards and 12 touchdowns over his 56-game career, which included stints with the Minnesota Vikings and the Chargers while they were in San Diego.

Hillman led the Broncos in rushing with 863 yards during the 2015 regular season. It was a season that culminated with the Broncos beating Cam Newton and Carolina Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Hillman had five carries for no yards in the game.

In their statement, the Broncos described Hillman as “soft-spoken with a warm smile and quiet intensity.” They added he “grew into a dynamic player and well-respected teammate.”

Hillman rushed for 3,243 yards and 36 TDs in two seasons at San Diego State.

“Our deepest condolences go out to Ronnie’s family. Although I only got to coach him one season, I’ll remember him as a great teammate and hard worker,” San Diego State coach Brady Hoke said in a statement. “Ronnie always came to practice with a smile on this face and his passion for the game was contagious. He’ll always be an Aztec for life.”

Added athletic director John David Wicker: “Ronnie helped resurrect San Diego State football in his two seasons in 2010 and 2011 and has recently been around the program offering wisdom and insight.”

Hillman’s family explained in its initial post that his form of cancer affects “young African Americans with sickle cell trait. Unfortunately treatment has not been successful.”

Hours later, the family posted that he “quietly and peacefully transitioned today in the company of his family and close friends.”

Colorado shoppers will be charged 10 cents per plastic and paper bag starting Jan. 1

Colorado businesses are required to charge consumers a 10-cent fee for each plastic and paper bag they carry out of the store starting Jan. 1.

That’s because of a bill passed by the state legislature in 2021 and signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat. 

The fee, which isn’t subject to the state’s 2.9% sales tax, may be higher if a town, city or county enacts a higher charge. 

People who are in federal or state food assistance programs don’t pay the fees as long as they can prove that they are enrolled in one of those programs.

Businesses are required to send 60% of the bag-fee revenue they collect to the municipality they operate in. If the business is within an unincorporated part of a county, the money will be sent to the county. 

Local governments would be required to spend the money on the following initiatives: 

  • Bag-fee enforcement costs
  • Waste-diversion programs, including outreach and education 

The remaining 40% of the bag-fee revenue will be kept by businesses.

Stores that collect less than $20 in bag-fees in a given quarter don’t have to remit the revenue to their municipality or county and can keep the money.

Plastic bags will be banned in Colorado starting in 2024, with some exceptions

The 2021 bill also bans the distribution of all single-use plastic bags in Colorado starting in 2024. But there are asterisks.  

Restaurants that prepare or serve food in individual portions for immediate on- or off-premises consumption would be exempt, as would stores that operate solely in Colorado and have three or fewer locations.

Businesses that are still allowed to offer plastic bags must collect a fee of at least 10 cents on each bag. The fee may be higher if a city or county enacts a higher charge. 

Say goodbye to styrofoam

It’s not just plastic bags that are being done away with. The 2021 bill also bans polystyrene products — also known as styrofoam — across the state starting on Jan. 1, 2024. 

The only exception is that restaurants will be able to continue using styrofoam products for takeout after that date until their existing inventory is gone.

What if businesses don’t comply?

Municipalities and cities will be able to sue businesses that don’t comply with the new bag-fee and styrofoam rules. 

They also may assess the following fines:

  • $500 for a second violation 
  • $1,000 for a third or subsequent violation 

The fines can be assessed per violation during a retail sale. In other words, if a business illegally handed out 10 plastic bags during one transaction, they would be considered to have violated the law only once.

  The measure also repeals a state prohibition barring local governments from introducing restrictions on plastic materials that are more stringent than the state’s.

There’s a crappy situation in Colorado’s backcountry: too many pooping hikers

Hey, backcountry visitors, do Colorado a favor.

With a handy-dandy poop kit, help solve the crappy crisis of waste littering the state’s trails and dispersed campsites.

The concept of taking along a ready-made poop-disposal kit when hitting the outdoors got a boost last week when the Colorado Tourism Office chose the Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism Association’s “Doo” Colorado Righteffort as one of 17 recipients of grants designed to promote sustainable tourism.

Amid the other grantee projects that address things like redesigning websites, upping interest in dude ranches and promoting midweek skiing, the Gunnison group’s project stands out for being the only proposal with a focus on defecation.

It’s not really a stretch. Tourism and poop are very intertwined. Where humans go, they do tend to “go,” and that has created a polluting problem on public lands.

The “Doo” Right campaign piggybacks on the statewide Do Right Colorado marketing effort that urges tourists to behave responsibly while enjoying Colorado’s wild lands.

“Doo” Right will distribute about 3,600 free kits around the state to visitors’ centers, trail crews, public lands-focused associations, and other entities that interact with backcountry visitors. The state’s $40,000 grant award to fund the kits is being topped off with a $20,000 investment from the Gunnison backers.

The campaign is the brainchild of a whole lot of folks around Gunnison County — the Tourism and Prosperity Partnership, the Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee, the ICELab business accelerator at Western Colorado University, and PACT Outdoors — the startup firm making the kits.

It should be no surprise that a doo-right campaign is coming from Gunnison County. Besides being the home of a poop-collecting-kit manufacturer, the county also is the location of SheFly Apparel— the maker of pants with a discrete crotch zipper that allows women to relieve themselves in the outdoors without baring it all. Gunnison County also landed in an early- pandemic poop-focused spotlight for being one of the first places in the state to test its sewage for COVID 19.

ICELab director David Assad said the county is a prime place for such efforts because, when it comes to dealing with human waste, its residents are not squeamish.

“We are outdoors people here. We are not bashful,” Assad said. “We are in the outdoors seven days a week. That’s the way we live.”

Trowel, towelette, mycelium, hand sanitizer

The PACT kits that will be handed out beginning next spring will be a slimmed-down version of PACT’s award-winning, grab-and-go kit that is about the size of a wide-mouth Nalgene water bottle. That kit consists of an ergonomic trowel-like tool, checkers-sized cellulose pellets that morph into towelettes when squirted with a dab of water, tiny wooden plugs inoculated with mycelium fungi, and a bottle of hand sanitizer. All that is rolled up in a fabric case.

Kit users dig 6-to-8-inch holes in the dirt, doo their thing, then toss the wipes and mycelium tablets in the hole. The wipes act as “food” for the mycelium, which acts as a bacteria slayer that can break down poop 10 times faster than usual. Feces — including the buried specimens — normally fester for a year in the great outdoors and can be harmful to waterways, wildlife, pets and general public health with the E. coli, hepatitis and giardia germs they can contain.

The kits, which are heralded as the first all-in-one bathroom kit for the outdoors, won an Outdoor Retailer Innovation Award and were named the best backpacking accessory for 2022 by Outside magazine’s Gear Guide.

PACT is currently putting the finishing design touches on a new “lite” kit. The trowel has been slimmed down. The wipe and the mycelium tablets fit inside it, and the hand sanitizer has been scrapped. The whole kit is about the size of a sheathed skinning knife.

The PACT kits are the brainchild of Noah Schum of Crested Butte and Jake Thomas of Denver. In 2019, the two friends had been scheming about how to address the growing problem of human waste on public lands. They considered what they and their hiking, biking and camping friends were taking into the backcountry to deal with their waste — Ziploc bags, garden trowels, half-used rolls of toilet paper. They recognized a gap existed in the outdoor recreation kit market.

“We have kits for everything we do outdoors — cooking, first aid, water purifying— but not for poop,” Thomas said.

Neither Thomas nor Schum is a scientist, but both have had an interest in the part fungi play in decomposition in nature. Thomas characterized the pair as “armchair experts in mycology.” They knew a decomposition accelerant would need to be a part of their kits so that buried BMs wouldn’t be part of a future problem.

Their work on a kit prototype sped up in 2020 when Schum attended a business education class at the ICELab’s Outdoor Industry Accelerator Program. That shove from concept to product development came at a good time. A tsunami wave of pandemic backcountry visitors was hitting public lands at a time when many public bathrooms were closed. A gross profusion of poop and toilet paper “flowers” littered the landscape.

“We could see that the issue of human waste was going to lead to more restrictions,” Thomas said. “We recognized that we needed to take this on as recreationalists. Now, we are so pleased to play a role in the state’s efforts to do this.”

Hayes Norris, with the Colorado Tourism Office, said the doo-right campaign may be a bit unusual for the state’s tourism grant program, but it fits right into the organization’s increasing marketing focus on responsible tourism.

“To see one of our partners magnify this message in this way is exciting. It’s important,” she said.

For Thomas and Schum, it’s just a beginning to what they hope will be a future of more feces-focused products.

There are times and places where burying poop is not advisable — in the snow, in the desert, within 200 feet of waterways. So, they are looking at expanding into pack-out products with improved receptacles and odor eliminators.

Assad said he hopes Gunnison County will continue to reap the benefits of all this focus on poop, both in the creation of jobs and in the attention the area will receive when their kits become part of the welcome-to-Colorado swag for thousands of visitors next year.

He expects the “Doo” Colorado Right campaign will be a boost for the outdoorsy Gunnison area.

“It’s a good campaign to get the word out about Gunnison and Crested Butte,” he said.

Even if that word is “poop.”

Holiday travel upended as forecasters warn of ‘bomb cyclone’

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Thousands of flights were canceled and homeless shelters were overflowing Thursday amid one of the most treacherous holiday travel seasons the U.S. has seen in decades, with temperatures plummeting 50 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas and forecasters warning of an impending “bomb cyclone” that could make conditions even worse before Christmas.

The frigid air was moving through the central United States to the east, with windchill advisories affecting about 135 million people over the coming days, weather service meteorologist Ashton Robinson Cook said Thursday. Places like Des Moines, Iowa, will feel like minus 37 degrees, making it possible to suffer frostbite in less than five minutes.

“This is not like a snow day when you were a kid,” President Joe Biden warned Thursday in the Oval Office after a briefing from federal officials. “This is serious stuff.”

Forecasters are expecting a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — to develop late Thursday and into Friday near the Great Lakes. That will stir up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow, Cook said.

In South Dakota, Rosebud Sioux Tribe emergency manager Robert Oliver said tribal authorities have been working to clear roads to deliver propane and fire wood to homes, but face a relentless wind that has created drifts over 10 feet in some places.

“This weather and the amount of equipment we have — we don’t have enough,” Oliver said, noting that rescues of people stranded in their homes had to be halted early Thursday when the hydraulic fluid in heavy equipment froze amid a 41 below zero windchill.

He said five have died in recent storms, including a blizzard from last week.

In Texas, temperatures were expected to quickly plummet Thursday, but state leaders promised there wouldn’t be a repeat of the February 2021 storm that overwhelmed the state’s power grid and was blamed for hundreds of deaths.

The cold weather extended to El Paso and across the border into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where migrants have been camping outside or filling shelters as they await a decision on whether the U.S. will lift restrictions that have prevented many from seeking asylum.

Elsewhere in the U.S., authorities worried about the potential for power failures and warned people to take precautions to protect older and homeless people and livestock — and, if possible, to postpone travel. Some utilities were urging customers to turn down their thermostats to conserve energy.

“This event could be life-threatening if you are stranded,” according to an online post by the National Weather Service in Minnesota, where officials reported dozens of crashes.

In Kansas City, Missouri, one person died after a vehicle overturned into an icy creek, police said.

Michigan State Police prepared to deploy additional troopers to help motorists. And along a toll road on Interstate 90 in northern Indiana, crews were braced to clear as much as a foot of snow as meteorologists warned of blizzard conditions there starting Thursday evening.

“If you’re looking to get to someone’s house for the holidays and you haven’t left by now it could get dicey soon,” said Rick Fedder, the chief operating officer of ITR Concession Co., the toll road’s private operator.

The School District of Philadelphia, the largest in Pennsylvania, announced that Friday’s final classes of the calendar year would be held online rather than in-person as scheduled. In Allegheny County in the western part of the state, public works spokesman Brent Wasko said officials would deploy 33 salt trucks but that pretreating the roads wasn’t an option because expected rainfall Thursday night and Friday morning would wash the salt away.

More than 2,156 flights within, into or out of the U.S. had been canceled as of Thursday afternoon, according to the tracking site FlightAware. Airlines have also canceled 1,576 Friday flights. Airports in Chicago and Denver were reporting the most cancelations.

Among those with canceled flights was Ashley Sherrod, who planned to fly from Nashville to Flint, Michigan, on Thursday afternoon. Sherrod is now debating whether to drive or risk booking a Saturday flight she worries will be canceled.

“My family is calling, they want me home for Christmas, but they want me to be safe too,” said Sherrod, whose bag — including the Grinch pajamas she was planning to wear to a family party — is packed and ready by the door. “Christmas is starting to, for lack of a better word, suck.”

Amtrak, meanwhile, canceled service on more than 20 routes, primarily in the Midwest.

Some shelters in the Detroit area already were at capacity but still making room.

“We are not sending anyone back into this cold,” Aisha Morrell-Ferguson, a spokeswoman for COTS, a family-only shelter, told the Detroit News.

And in Portland, Oregon, officials opened four emergency shelters. In the city’s downtown, Steven Venus tried to get on a light-rail train to get out of the cold after huddling on the sidewalk overnight in below-zero temperatures.

“My toes were freezing off,” he said, a sleeping bag wrapped around his head, as he paused near a flimsy tent where another homeless person was taking shelter.

Courtney Dodds, a spokeswoman for the Union Gospel Mission, said teams from her organization had been going out to try to convince people to seek shelter.

“It can be really easy for people to doze off and fall asleep and wind up losing their lives because of the cold weather.”

In Montana, temperatures fell as low as 50 below zero (minus 46 Celsius) at Elk Park, a mountain pass on the Continental Divide. Schools and several ski areas closed, and several thousand people lost power.

Near Big Sandy, Montana, rancher Rich Roth said he wasn’t too concerned about his 3,500 pregnant cows weathering the cold snap, saying “they’re pretty dang resilient animals.”

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine warned of a “unique and dangerous” situation of flash freezing Thursday night statewide. He also urged people to check on their neighbors and loved ones.

In famously snowy Buffalo, New York, forecasters predicted a “once-in-a-generation storm” because of heavy lake-effect snow, wind gusts as high as 65 mph (105 kph), whiteouts and the potential for extensive power outages. Mayor Byron Brown urged people to stay home, and the NHL postponed the Buffalo Sabres’ home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Denver, also no stranger to winter storms, was the coldest it has been in 32 years on Thursday, when the temperature dropped to minus 24 (minus 31 Celsius) in the morning at the airport.

In Charleston, South Carolina, a coastal flood warning was in effect Thursday. The area, a popular tourist destination for its mild winters, braced for strong winds and freezing temperatures.

The wintry weather extended into Canada, causing delays and cancellations earlier in the week at Vancouver International Airport. A major winter storm was expected Friday into Saturday in Toronto, where wind gusts as high as 60 mph (100 kph) were predicted to cause blowing snow and limited visibility, Environment Canada said.

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