Top stories of 2021: A look back at the big stories that made news in Garfield County
South Midland Avenue on schedule for completion in 2022
The Post Independent begins its review of the top stories of 2021 in Garfield County as the year concludes. We narrowed it down to 10 based on our own staff votes and a little help from readers via our online poll. Here are the first five. Look for the rest online at PostIndependent.com and in our Friday (New Year’s Eve) edition.
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert stirs controversy
A survey conducted earlier this year by the Glenwood Springs Post Independent in conjunction with its sister papers and the Colorado Sun unearthed vastly differing opinions on U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert.
Ever since the freshman congresswoman from Silt, who defeated Democratic challenger Diane Mitsch Bush in the November 2020 General Election, was sworn into office in January, her conduct has drawn criticism from political opponents and even from her own side of the aisle.
Yet, responses to Boebert’s first months in Congress highlighted her innate ability to captivate followers and supported her devotion to religion and the right to bear arms.
Ed Green, now mayor of the city of Rifle, told the Post Independent he supports Boebert because she challenges the status quo of politics.
“I think that she’s one of the few conservatives in Congress that has had the guts to challenge the progressive and socialist leadership in Congress,” he said. “Like her, I am an evangelical Christian, I’m a veteran, I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment, I’m a supporter, of course, of religious freedom, freedom of speech, and I think those are the cornerstones of her beliefs and what she’s trying to protect in Congress.”
On the flip side, longtime Glenwood Springs resident Martha Cochran said she’s simply horrified by Boebert’s stances on gun control, Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act. Cochran also offered ways Boebert could better serve the general public.
“Climate, any type of gun reform, some of the social justice issues, immigration reform, health care, protection of public lands … all the things that are foremost challenging to our country and what it means to western Coloradans in terms of water and climate for the future here,” she said.
Residents rally to overturn West Glenwood annex
Following Glenwood Springs City Council’s November decision to annex about 16 acres in West Glenwood for residential development, nearly 1,000 registered Glenwood Springs voters signed a referendum petition to repeal the decision.
During the months-long annexation request process, hundreds of residents, many of whom lived outside city limits, rallied against the 480 Donegan development proposal — citing concerns ranging from traffic impacts to overpopulation.
Owned by the Diemoz family, the land in question has been primarily used as pasture for at least five decades. Ohio-based development company R2 Partners initially proposed to build nearly 400 rentable apartments on the parcel. During the application process, the proposal was amended to include parkland, property for a new Glenwood Springs fire station, for-sale townhomes and up to 300 apartments.
City Council voted 4-3 on Nov. 4 to approve the property’s annexation into the city, but residents organized a petition effort for a referendum to overturn the decision.
City Clerk Ryan Muse verified the petitioners had enough signatures to repeal the annexation on Dec. 17.
The council is scheduled to respond to the referendum during its regular meeting on Jan. 6, 2022. Muse said the council has two options: repeal the annexation decision or put the repeal to the voters during an election in May.
Missouri Heights residents oppose camp for autistic children
A plan by Carbondale-based nonprofit Ascendigo Autism Services to build a summer camp and activities center for autistic children on a piece of land in eastern Garfield County met with intense opposition from residents of the area.
Ascendigo had hoped to build the camp on 126 acres in Missouri Heights just north and west of El Jebel that would have included a 6,800-square-foot main building, an 8,500-square-foot lodge for campers, a 14,000-square-foot activity barn, and equestrian center and several accessory buildings.
The plan was to move Ascendigo’s summer camp — which draws hundreds of children and their families from across the country — from its temporary home at Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus to the permanent facility.
However, residents of the area straddling Garfield and Eagle counties objected to the proposal, raising concerns about water impacts, fire danger, traffic, light pollution, property values and other impacts.
After a lengthy public review process in May and June, including a site visit by the Garfield County commissioners that drew scores of protesters and a public hearing that spanned four days, commissioners voted 2-1 to deny the project.
County planning staff had recommended approval of the camp, saying it met county zoning’s allowed use definition as an “educational facility.” Neighbors disagreed, as did commissioners John Martin and Mike Samson. Commissioner Tom Jankovsky supported the plan.
Fire sale: Colorado River Fire Rescue district extinguishes possible financial collapse
One would think keeping structures, properties and forest land free from combustion would take top priority for any community situated among the vulnerable landscape of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
Well, it does.
But in the case of the Colorado River Fire Rescue — a district that covers an 851-square-mile radius between Rifle, Silt and New Castle — the voters took a little bit longer to support a desperate need to increase CRFR funding.
Financially suffering after insidious declines in Garfield County’s natural gas revenues affected its bottom line, CRFR officials initially proposed establishing a mill levy in 2020, but voters shot it down by a 53.41% margin.
The bleak reality of possibly having to close its doors triggered some seemingly counterproductive actions taken by CRFR officials.
To remain financially afloat, the tail end of 2020 saw the district close one of its stations, while longtime chief Randy Callahan was ceremonially serenaded in bagpipe riffs as he called an early retirement.
Adding more fuel to the fire, CRFR officials spent the majority of 2021 selling off equipment and critical apparatus like fire engines to shore up any financial shortfalls. Perhaps the most devastating news came when new chief Leif Sackett told the Post Independent district response times would likely increase if voters didn’t act fast.
To close out 2021, that’s exactly what they did.
In November, district voters passed, by a 68.64% margin, a ballot measure to increase property taxes by 3 mills. The added funding source means CRFR can now start to replenish its budget by nearly $3 million.
Traffic delays, dancing flaggers and washboard lanes: the South Midland Avenue project punctuated commutes for thousands of daily travelers, but the end result is slated to streamline Midland Avenue traffic patterns for years to come.
Construction crews broke ground on the project in late 2020, and by December 2021, Gould Construction reported the project was past the halfway mark and slated to be complete by summer.
Gould President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Gould Jr. said staying on schedule during the pandemic while facing labor shortages and supply chain hiccups was challenging, but his crews proved they were up to the task.
“I’m really proud of the team for the amount of work they were able to accomplish in a short period of time,” Gould said.
Estimated to cost about $13.2 million, the project increases user safety by addressing rockfall concerns, providing clear lines of sight for traffic entering Midland Avenue and providing pedestrian access along South Midland Avenue.
Post Independent reporters Ike Fredregill, Ray Erku and John Stroud compiled this report.
From features to breaking news, stories about everything from a new shooting range in Rifle to a weeks-long closure of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon due to the summer mudslides garnered top online reads throughout 2021.
Here are our top stories published this year based on web traffic from Jan. 1 through Dec. 26.
1) New ammo-free shooting range opens in Rifle
2) Glenwood Canyon likely to remain closed for ‘weeks’ as I-70 assessed, repaired following numerous mudslides
3) Cottonwood Pass reopens after vehicle recovery; CDOT images show extensive debris on I-70 still
4) PHOTOS: Crews work to remove semi from Colorado River
5) GoFundMe set up for family of child who died at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park
6) Glenwood Caverns’ Haunted Mine Drop passed regulations inspection less than three months before death of 6-year-old
7) Report finds operator error, insufficient guidance in Haunted Mine Drop death
8) Three people survive plane crash south of Silt Sunday afternoon
9) Case of man accused of waking up Rifle resident with a BB gun in his face continued
10) I-70 remains closed as debris expected to release soon down Colorado River from Glenwood Canyon
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