Week in review | PostIndependent.com

Week in review

staff reports
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” The Garfield County commissioners on Monday approved allocating about $160,000 to the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office to hire two new deputy district attorneys, one investigator, a legal assistant and a witness advocate.

The money the commissioners approved for the new hires is contingent on Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties also agreeing to help pay for the positions. Those counties along with Garfield make up the 9th Judicial District.

The three counties pay a proportion of the district attorney’s budget based on their population. Because of that, Garfield County must cover up to 71 percent of the office’s budget.

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson made the request for more positions to the commissioners on Monday because of a rising caseload in the district, especially in Garfield County.

Deputy district attorneys handle on average about 400 cases annually ” the highest caseload in the state, according to a recently completed survey by the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office.

“There is a level at which people experience burnout, and we are at that level,” Beeson told the county commissioners.

Beeson attributed the rising caseload to an overall population surge in Garfield County.

RIFLE, Colorado ” A coalition of 10 environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit on Friday that seeks to set aside the government’s current management plan for natural gas drilling on the Roan Plateau. The court action also seeks to block an upcoming lease sale that would open up about 55,200 acres on the Western Colorado landmark to natural gas drilling.

The environmental groups ” which include Wilderness Society, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Colorado Mountain Club and the Wilderness Workshop ” argue that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated federal law for not considering the long-term environmental impacts its management plan could have on the area, which is northwest of Rifle.

The groups also allege that the agency failed to consider a reasonable “range of alternative approaches” for oil and gas development in the Roan Plateau Planning Area, according to the complaint filed late Friday.

“The environmental impact statement (EIS) upon which the BLM relies in this case entirely ignores the vast majority of oil and gas development that will eventually result from the agency’s leasing decision,” according to the lawsuit.

Environmentalists, and recently sportsmen groups, have been trying to prevent drilling in the area for years, citing the possible impacts of natural gas development in the area could have on the area’s wildlife, which includes genetically pure native cutthroat trout. The area also provides important habitat for mule deer and elk.

The lawsuit says that the BLM ignored potential ozone impacts, and ignored the fact that impacts to wildlife and air quality from its plan would be exacerbated because of the “unprecedented oil and gas development boom in the Piceance Basin or Northwestern Colorado.”

CARBONDALE, Colorado ” Kyle Holt is one person concerned with the recent closure of the ever-popular Koziel Boat Ramp near the Roaring Fork Bridge at the entrance to Carbondale.

“I don’t think very many people know about it right now,” Holt said. “But it’s closed, and I’m not sure what happened.”

According to Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton, the ramp was closed in June when the 10-year-lease agreement expired between the DOW and the landowners, Stanley and Valerie Koziel of Carbondale.

“It wasn’t getting much use in the early part of the year with the high water levels,” Hampton said. “But as the water came down we are getting in a little bit of a pinch with people wanting to use it.”

Holt, a local fishing guide, said that if the ramp remains closed it would not only affect his fishing business but would have an impact on the entire Roaring Fork Valley community who uses the put-in as a launching site for commercial and private rafting, tubing, kayaking and commercial and private anglers, too.

But hopefully it won’t come to that, according to Perry Wills, DOW area manager in Glenwood Springs. Wills said that the DOW and the Koziels are in negotiations on a lease agreement for the access point.

“The Koziels are in possession of the lease agreement, but we do not have a signed lease yet,” Wills said.

With no signed agreement in place the Koziels are liable. The access can’t be reopened until another lease agreement is in place protecting them from being liable if anyone is injured at the site.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” A 20-year-old and three teenagers who stole a pair of sneakers, pulled a knife on an employee at the Glenwood Springs Mall and ran from police Thursday were dressed like gang members, police said.

Glenwood Springs police arrested Anthony Villegas, 20, of New Castle on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a crime, theft of less than $500 and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was taken into custody with three juvenile males mid-day Thursday in West Glenwood Springs.

Police Chief Terry Wilson said the four young men went into Famous Footwear and Villegas carried a pair of black Converse All Star shoes out of the store wrapped up in a T-shirt. A store clerk noticed the shoes and confronted the group outside the store, Wilson said.

One of the juveniles pulled an illegal “butterfly” style knife out, the clerk backed off and the group left, Wilson said.

The clerk called police with descriptions of the suspects ” four Latino males all wearing blue Dickies shirts and pants with suspenders hanging down from their waists. Police found them not far from the mall, according to an arrest affidavit.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” The Glenwood Meadows Mall took a slightly larger share of total taxable sales in Glenwood Springs again in 2007.

That year the city collected $3.78 million in sales tax from Meadows, representing 22.9 percent of the city’s total sales and sales tax revenues. In 2006, Meadows had 21.4 percent of the total sales. In 2005, the year it began operating but wasn’t close to being complete, Meadows had 5.6 percent of Glenwood’s total sales.

When the development opened, some people feared it would hurt business downtown and elsewhere in the city. In 2007 compared to 2006, downtown Glenwood, areas to the south and the Glenwood Springs Mall all dropped slightly in their share of the city’s total taxable sales.

But every area continues to increase in dollar amounts of taxable sales. Some said this means Meadows acted as a retail hub drawing people here and increasing business throughout the city.

The area downtown from Seventh Street to 11th Street went from 7.8 percent of the city’s total sales in 2006 down to 7.4 percent of total sales in 2007. But during the same period, the sales tax collected for the area went up from about $1.17 million to $1.22 million, according to a report recently completed by the city’s finance department.

“The Meadows is obviously doing good,” said the city’s finance director, Mike Harman.

But he added it looks like downtown and the other areas are also doing well since total sales are increasing. He said it seems Meadows brings in customers who also buy things downtown or elsewhere.

“Meadows seemed to pick things up for the city,” he said.

RIFLE, Colorado ” A rule-making process for the oil and gas industry and a proposed ballot initiative has left area energy companies tentatively uncommitted about helping to reconstruct the Parachute Interstate 70 interchange.

County leaders and many others are proposing that natural gas companies put up the entire cost of a $30 million long-term fix for the interchange. In return, companies would receive severance tax credits that would reduce their severance tax bill by up to 50 percent each following year.

Parachute, county and area leaders are also considering using the credits to help build another interchange west of the current one, which is estimated to cost about $12 to $15 million. That interchange would lead to a proposed bypass that would later connect to County Road 215, which leads north to several companies’ natural gas operations.

However, energy companies aren’t willing to commit to any Parachute project until they see the results of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s rule-making for the state’s energy industry and a proposed ballot initiative that would remove a property tax credit that allows companies to significantly reduce their severance tax bill, said Jesse Smith, a former assistant Garfield County manager and who is working for the county.

“I am really hoping that we don’t have to wait until November to move forward,” said Parachute Mayor Roy McClung.

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said work to reduce congestion in the Parachute area has to be done now.

“We have to do something to take care of our pressure,” Martin said.

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