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Guest Opinion: Coronavirus, the next phase

In the midst of our self-quarantining and social-distancing, we ask ourselves: What will it take to gain control of these coronavirus infections, and how long will it be until we can resume something approaching our normal lives?

As everyone is very aware, we are dealing with an infectious disease that can be deadly, may require intensive care and has been multiplying at a rapid rate. So rapidly that we have resorted to the drastic measure of social-distancing. From a public health view this is like amputating an infected leg because there is no other treatment available to save the patient.

The stay-at-home, 6-foot separation and other social-distancing methods are used when we do not have other tools to stop an epidemic. There is no vaccine available in spite of serious coronavirus outbreaks in the past, including SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012.

Doctor Anthony Fauci, the Director of Allergy and Infectious Disease at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been “cautiously optimistic” that we may have an effective vaccine available in 12 to 18 months. However, keep in mind that there was an urgent concern to develop a SARS vaccine in 2003, and we have no vaccine for that deadly disease 17 years later. So we cannot rely on a vaccine to curb this infection right now.

There are other tools that can be used to fight an epidemic besides social-distancing or a vaccine. These include medications and more public health measures. There has been much speculation about drugs like hydroxychloroquine, and Remdesivir. But they are not yet proven effective for treating coronavirus infections. So that leaves us with public health measures for now.

In the absence of a vaccine and effective medications, the key is to move carefully beyond social-distancing to a more traditional public health response. In addition to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every state has a public health department as well as local public health programs. Traditionally, these programs carry out a variety of important measures that are routinely applied to other infectious diseases such as influenza, measles, rabies, etc. One of the most effective tools carried out by public health departments is contact tracing. This technique has been used to fight epidemics going back more than 100 years.

Contact tracing usually begins when a health department receives a laboratory report or information from a hospital or clinic that someone has a reportable disease, for example tuberculosis. Once confirmed, public health will reach persons involved in the case to confirm the disease and to identify others who may have been exposed to the infected person in order to determine if those others are already infected or should be quarantined because they may become infected. Contact tracing requires a lot of detective work. It involves identifying cases using well-established case definitions, and reaching out to all contacts using well-defined criteria. It is labor-intensive, requiring lots of case workers.

A most important question is how and when we can move beyond social-distancing and into comprehensive contact tracing. This should be the next phase in our fight against the virus. In order to successfully move into this next phase, three essential things must be in place: First, the number of new cases of coronavirus infection has to be reduced to a manageable level. That level depends on the next two factors.

Second, there must be widespread, easily-obtained and reliable testing, at no cost to the individual. This must include rapid testing for active infection, such as the nasal swab test for the virus (PCR) and the blood test for antibodies to coronavirus (ELISA). Both types of test are necessary. The virus test is necessary to identify people with active infections. The antibody test is necessary to determine how many persons have already had the infection and are now presumably immune to coronavirus. Experts have estimated that we need an availability of 750,000 tests per week to address these essential factors.

Third, we need enough skilled public health field workers to carry out this time-consuming and challenging work. Interestingly, Apple and Google have teamed up to develop a computer application for citizens to use that could potentially speed up the reporting and contact tracing of cases, thus helping to address the shortage of public health field workers.

We have carried out social-distancing in spite of its heavy burden on all of us, economically and otherwise. This method is working. We should prepare to move swiftly, but carefully, into the next phase of fighting this disease. The next phase must include sufficient numbers of public health field workers and coronavirus tests to properly carry out contact tracing. But we must ensure that the rates of coronavirus infection are under sufficient control before we reduce social distancing and move into this next phase. This means that we must continue social distancing for weeks or even months. Otherwise, we will risk a predictable increase in the number of new cases.

America appears to be finally waking up from what one scientist referred to as “sleep-walking” this pandemic. The disorganization, delays and mistakes that have been made at the highest levels of our government have been reported in detail. Let us hope and, more importantly, expect that our government will make the right decisions and actions moving forward.

Stephen M. Hessl, MD MPH, is a retired physician living in Carbondale. He graduated from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in 1968 and is board certified in internal medicine and preventive medicine. His entire career was devoted to work in public institutions, including the U.S. Army, the Illinois Department of Public Health, Cook County Hospital and Denver Health. His primary interest has been in the prevention and treatment of occupational diseases.

Chacos column: Climbing out of April’s black hole of time

COVID-19 is causing the social disruption I’ve been yearning for since watching the early 1960s television show “Leave it to Beaver” as a child. And it’s not for the ability to clean my house wearing a dress and pearls like June Cleaver, but it’s for the new normal I want to embrace on the other side.

Notwithstanding the tumultuous, excruciating situations we will face as trauma infiltrates our lives in the coming year, I find beauty in the straightforward way the Cleavers led their lives. Therefore, to find the silver lining and a more simplistic future, I’m tackling my anxiety, fear and changing times with the boyish appetite of Wally and the Beav when they’re called home for a meatloaf dinner.

Anxiety

It’s our body’s natural response to stress. Anxiety is asking us to overcome and deal with some hard, new truths. And I’m learning to harbor a healthy level of it and not let anxiety swallow me whole. Just last week the idea of home-schooling my three children had me making a color-coded flowchart for electronic devices, Zoom meetings, classroom assignments, daily chores and book reports. By noon I was polishing the silver, and an hour later I walked the dog around the block twice. By 3 p.m. I had frantically vacuumed the living room like Magda in “There’s Something About Mary.”

I’ve since scaled back my manic, all-consuming need to control my family’s new daily routine. I’m trying to encourage my kids to embrace the simplicity in mastering a few life skills instead. I have them reluctantly cooking from scratch, typing, doing laundry, exercising and honing their mental math by measuring out mom’s perfect martini. Sure, my offspring work a few daily assignments online with their teachers, but we’re still searching for the right fit with compassion, routine, love and a dash of formal learning.

By nightfall, I’m emotionally and physically spent, but in spite of my third-rate home-school program, I’m finding the happy.

Fear

This is the emotion that shows our ugly, warty underbelly. Fear is what makes us ignore the other person in the same grocery aisle and what makes us all run out for a year’s supply of toilet paper. Fear has people buying into half-baked opinions by a full-fledged narcissist and has us questioning the authenticity of the world’s top infectious disease scientists.

But if legitimate fear is a result of COVID’s alarming rate of infection and death, then its unpredictability and economic disruption serve to exacerbate that feeling. What a wily tool for someone who thrives on keeping us in one of our most primal, innate, hardwired and automatic states of emotion.

Fear plays into our phobias and fuels our desire for safety. It’s what permits some of us to sit and swallow daily, irrational remarks with unconditional devotion. To move through fear mongering, I’m finding the facts without accepting “just a feeling” from the Situation Room. And I promise not to hoard any more toilet paper.

Change

I’m one of those exasperating, rolling-stone types that thrive on stressful situations, well out of my comfort zone. Confined in the same routine for too long, I become a teenage pimple ready to pop.

So, not surprisingly, I’ve been training my whole life for this moment of COVID-confusion and thinking outside-of-the-lines panoramic pandemic.

And, if we can see the subtle order in the chaos and confusion, we will be stronger on the other side. The massive disruption we are facing both locally and internationally may just be the change we can gift future generations. I’m banking on it with the stimulus check that should be arriving by the end of April.

And in the meantime? I will employ due diligence on tackling everything I can realistically achieve, aiming to please the ones I love.

And for the things out of my control? Well, that’s just a “nasty, snarky question.”

Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.

Memories & Milestones

Thanks to Julie Olson

Advocate Safehouse Project would like to thank Julie Olson for her 25 years supporting our community and a very important cause. She has touched so many lives, and we sincerely appreciate her for that.

Pam Ruzicka

president, ASP board of directors

Mother and daughter earn black belts together

Recently Joanna Bartnik and daughter Gabriela or “Gabi” Bartnik earned their black belts in the Western Tang Soo Do Federation in a testing held at the Brian Mable Karate school in Glenwood Springs. The test was part of the spring gathering of clinics and tests held by the WTSDF each March in Glenwood Springs. Congratulations to Joanna and Gabi on a job well done.

Guest opinion: Playing the long game

As a professor of public health for the past 22 years, it is clear to me that we are in the very early stages of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Playing the “short game” is fine for now — people are giving this virus the due diligence it certainly deserves. Public health history, however, has taught us that rapid development of effective medication and vaccines is not realistic. Instead, it will ultimately be long-term changes in health behavior that can stem the morbidity and mortality of this new virus.

This “long-game” vision of beating the virus has two parts. Part one is about containing the spread — this is currently receiving ample attention in our community, in Colorado, and in the nation. Part two is about avoiding death for people who do contract the virus. This is a grim topic that is not receiving adequate attention.

Having studied health behavior change for my entire career, I wish to acknowledge that the advice offered in this column suggest actions that are very difficult for most people to adopt. The advice is centered on a single goal — increasing what is known as maximum oxygen capacity. This is a measure of how much oxygen the lungs can take in during increased exercise. In essence, it is a measure of pulmonary fitness — one that determines how well the lungs may perform under the stress of COVID-19.

Fortunately, maximum oxygen capacity is something that anyone can increase through daily exercise. It is an incremental process, and one that requires a long-term investment in proactive self-care. For everyone, but especially those people over 60 years of age, who is not a runner, biker, Nordic skier, etc., now is a good time to begin the slow and gradual process of making this all-so-important investment in fortifying the pulmonary system in the event of being infected by the virus.

This proactive self-care is actually a key aspect of changing the death toll. Ultimately, the study of epidemiology comes down to three factors that each influence how quickly an epidemic (or pandemic) spreads: 1) the agent (the virus itself), 2) the environment (e.g., crowed urban conditions, weather, social habits), and 3) the host (i.e., the person infected). It is currently the case that control efforts are focused on the host, particularly isolating people during the infectious period (this begins about two days before symptoms occur and extends several days after recovery). Changing the “host factor” by increasing maximum oxygen uptake is a precaution that will address the fatality rate of the virus, rather than the rate of transmission.

Adopting the daily health behavior of progressively more challenging aerobic workouts is, of course, not an easy task. It will take concerted efforts for each person to find his/her own “best methods” to find and maintain the routine that works best for them. Adopting exercise behaviors in concert with friends and family members is extremely helpful, especially when it comes to outdoor aerobic activities. Even more important is the act of learning new skills that favor successful adoption of the behaviors (e.g., learning how to stretch and condition leg muscles to avoid injuries when walking quickly, jogging or running). For added motivation, people who are not in optimal shape aerobically will also benefit from daily workout routines in the form of fortifying the body against heart disease, obesity, hypertension, diabetes and even some forms of cancer.

Dr. Richard Crosby is a professor of public health and holds a PhD in health behavior from Indiana University. He is the author of numerous textbooks on the topic of health behavior and has published well over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles addressing theories of health behavior change. He has recently moved to Glenwood Springs.

Wednesday letter: Fox News

The Fox is in the hen house

While touring the Southwest recently, I spent the night in five different motels. When I turned on the TV, four of the five were tuned to Fox News.

This shouldn’t surprise me. Fox News is the highest rated news program. But it does frighten me. Fox News makes no attempt at objectivity, but serves as nothing more than a sounding board for President Trump and the revised Republican Party he’s fashioned in his image.

Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity, a proponent of many debunked conspiracy theories including the Barack Obama birther movement, speaks nightly with Trump. Neither is filling in the other with the news of the day. They’re inventing the lies that will further solidify Trump’s base.

Proven sexual predators Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly have also been closely associated with Fox News. I wonder how those oh-so-moral evangelical Christians that make up a large portion of Fox’s audience justify those sexual dalliances as they did with Trump and Roy Moore.

With print media on the way out, will the Fox News crowd stick to their TV sets or turn to online sources like Steve Bannon’s blatantly neo-Nazi Breitbart News? The mainstream, corporate media could do a better job of unbiased reporting, too. Perhaps because they’re very fond of the First Amendment and Trump and his followers are more enamored of the Second Amendment, the major networks don’t have much nice to say about 45.

It’s something to look out for. This country needs a reliable, reputable news source, one that tells it like it is and not like it sells. If only Uncle Walter could come back. We need another most trusted man in America.

Fred Malo Jr.

Carbondale

Publisher’s column: Panic at the Costco — shifting away from the mob mentality

In our relationship, my wife and I have some very distinct roles.

For example: She worries a lot. I tend to worry about nothing.  We balance each other out.

It was interesting, however, as the coronavirus news started to come out that neither of us were worried. Sure, we took it seriously, but we weren’t running to the stores or buying masks. That view changed last week when she made a trip to a store.

“Costco is scary,” she texted me. “If people aren’t panicking, going to a store will make them.”

One incident on her trip: My wife stopped in an aisle to look at something, a woman came behind her and hit her with her cart. My wife visibly stumbled, yelled out in pain, and looked back to see what happened.

The woman who hit my wife looked at her, did not apologize and just started shoving stuff into her cart.

My wife, who is probably too nice of a person (and made me write that there some nice people at Costco, too), was bothered by the lack of consideration this woman had for her by not apologizing, but also the lack of consideration for others as this woman — and many others — was clearly in panic mode.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Apparently that doesn’t apply to people if they’re afraid of not having any toilet paper.

Coronavirus should be taken seriously, but at this point, a mob mentality of panic is a bigger concern. We need to readjust this mob mentality from fear to helping — each other and ourselves.

So how we can do this? Here are a couple of ideas:

• If you go to the store, fight the urge to buy everything, even if others are doing so. Buy what you need for the next couple of weeks, not more. If we do that, we should avoid shortages.

• Be considerate of each other in public. At this point, we’re not around each other that often, so we might as well make it pleasant. … from a socially acceptable distance.

• Take this one day at a time. The timeframe keeps changing. The truth is, we don’t know how long this will last, and I know that can cause its own level of stress. People’s jobs and businesses’ futures are at stake. That’s a very real fear. We cannot control the future, but fear of the future can overwhelm and control us.

• Stay connected. For some people like me — who is an introvert at heart, there are aspects to social distancing I like. But as humans, we have to stay connected. We have scheduled FaceTime for our kids and their friends on almost a daily basis. At the Post Independent, we’re launching a Happy 1/2 Hour webinar with our team to keep us connected even if we can’t be in the same office. Figure out ways to do so.

• Practice gratitude. In times of distress, it’s good to focus on areas of gratitude. I’m grateful for being able to get my work done from home, but also getting daily updates from my kids about their Lego challenges. (They are not interruptions but unplanned breaks).

• Try to find a North Star to get you through this. I’m also a big believer in seasons and reasons. We all have seasons of highs and lows, and while we’re in the season, we may not understand why. But all seasons pass and somehow make us stronger afterward.

• Stay healthy by working out physically and mentally. Stress will break down your immune system. Working out and taking care of yourself mentally are important.

Those are a couple of ideas but I’m certain there are plenty more.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember we are all in this together. There is a ripple effect of actions, either positive and negative. We can control that.

Now, I have no doubt some of you will read this and want to blame the media. And I get that. We are told almost daily we are either doing too much coverage of the coronavirus or we’re not doing enough.

Trying to find the balance of informing the public is a tough one and one that our newsroom as well as our sister papers are in constant contact about. I’m proud of our team.  

But we also don’t control how people act. We didn’t cause the NBA or other sports to suspend their seasons. We didn’t cause President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency, nor cause Gov. Jared Polis to shut down businesses. We reported on it.

Some people read news stories and are fine. Some people run to the store and buy all the toilet paper. And some people say we’re causing a panic.

Whether you think we’re doing too much or too little, I can tell you we are constantly trying to meet the public’s need for information. And if you have ideas on how we can better provide that coverage, let us know.

Thanks for reading. Be safe.

Jerry Raehal is publisher of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. You can reach him at jraehal@postindependent.com.

On the Fly column: Pre-trip sermons

If you have fished with guides, you have surely listened to your share of “guide spiels” before your day on the water together. In my experience, whether you are the guide or the guided, this little chat at the beginning of the trip sets the tone, lays out expectations and helps create an understanding right out of the gate. The spiel usually explains everything you need to know for a successful day, boiled down into easy-to-digest nuggets. Some clients get with the program right away, others still need to be reminded to set the hook well into the afternoon.

If you listened to 10 different guides give their pre-trip sermon here in the valley (or anywhere in the world), you’ll hear 10 different approaches concerning how to catch fish. There will be some universal truths (setting the hook, reading the water, what insects are hatching now) but also completely different takes on technique, philosophy, methodology and goals for the day.

Many people (and rightly so) find a guide they click with and feel they’re set for years to come. I’d argue that it is important to experience more than one approach on how fly fishing is “done.” I personally like to borrow this and that from different people, plus a few things I have managed to distill myself, combined into what works for me.

There is a clear difference in guide spiels, once you listen to your fair share. Like any career, once you perform a task a few thousand times, you learn how to break it down simply and deliver clear and concise instructions on how it is done. A seasoned guide also learns to read people. Some clients just want to catch a pile of fish, others are more concerned with tuning up their cast or learning more about entomology. Different strokes, different folks. Whether you are a guide or a “sport,” take time to listen to each other. It makes for a great day on the water, regardless of how many fish you catch.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

Beinstein column: Something different from the purpose of either party

I know we aren’t literally living through a Civil War. People aren’t dying, no group is seceding from the Union, and we’re all still part of the same country.

Yet, it most certainly feels like a Civil War. A president won’t shake the hand of the opposition, the leader of the opposition shreds a president’s State of the Union. Fox and MSNBC describe two different universes. And each side acts if this the other is truly evil.

Throughout all of this I can’t help but think of Abraham Lincoln. During the dark days of 1862, he privately wrote, “In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose.”

Despite their respective attempts, neither Republicans nor Democrats can really claim to be acting according to God’s purposes. If the Republicans are most appealing to His favor because of tax cuts and conservative judges, why did the Democrats win the House in 2018. And, if the Democrats are acting upon His will, why does Trump’s popularity keep increasing and the credibility of its own nominating process keep decreasing.

It’s nice to dream up some scenario where some candidate rides in on a white horse and saves the day. But that isn’t so. The country continues to become more and more divided.

The scriptures teach us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Pundits make considerable money claiming to understand what this present conflict really means. Politicians arrogate tremendous power for themselves perpetuating a self-serving narrative. But the truth is nobody knows.

As Abraham Lincoln also wrote, “By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.”

One party will be the nominal winner this coming November. But nobody is really winning. The debt is climbing, the fractures are deepening and the hatred is intensifying.

No party or political figure has built a consensus around health care, energy, education, taxes, the economy, and all the rest. But something, we can’t say what, but something positive will come out of all this insanity.

Despite all the turmoil in the early days of our Republic, George Washington did bequeath us with a functioning government. Abraham Lincoln left us with a freer, fairer and more dynamic economy. And Franklin Roosevelt gave us a vision of how a more secure, stable and harmonious society would look.

Eventually, we’ll have a more wholesome and stronger republic because of the present agony. The only thing we can’t say is when that day will come.

As Abraham Lincoln liked to quote, “And this, too, shall pass away.”

Alex Beinstein is a millennial who grew up in Aspen, lived in Carbondale for a while and now writes from Washington, D.C. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.

Vail woman’s passions include rocket science, Seven Summits

VAIL — Meghan Buchanan doesn’t just climb — she ascends. She wants you to, too.

The Vail resident worked her way back from a horrific snowboarding injury — she broke the head off her left femur in Sun Up Bowl — and is more than halfway to The Grand Slam of Adventure — the Seven Summits, and both the North and South poles.

Along the way she launched GGRIT — Growth Gratitude Resilience Integrity and Tenacity — aimed at helping people in general and women in particular overcome obstacles and reach their personal summits, “give people the tools to overcome challenges,” Buchanan said.

This month, she leaves for Mount Everest, the fifth of her Seven Summits. She hopes to return home to Vail in May.

Really, rocket science

Buchanan is an honest-to-brilliance rocket scientist with Raytheon. Her company shares her vision and sense of adventure.

Denali was an enormous adventure. She had good weather for the first part, then, at about 17,000 feet, a storm hammered her group.

“You power through it and keep going,” Buchanan said, which is pretty much the story of her life.

“I recall thinking how beautiful it is,” she said.

Then a more profound thought hit her.

“You get to see it if you put in the work,” she said.

Her guide on Denali told her, “You are ready. Go do Everest.”

So she is. She hopes to arrive in Kathmandu in March and be off the mountain in May.

Her toughest climb

The Vail Valley is home to countless elite climbers and a few who’ve completed the Seven Summits, but few have rebounded from the kind of injury Buchanan suffered.

She was laughing, smiling and loving the powder on Windows in Vail’s Sun Up Bowl on Feb. 6, 2011, a powder day. Everything changed in an instant. Buchanan blasted through the deep powder when she hit a fallen tree, buried under about 4 feet of new snow.

She broke the head off her left femur bone, twisting it so badly that the muscle and everything attached to it tore loose. It was so bad she was bleeding out.

There was so much snow that Super Bowl Sunday that they had trouble finding her. Eventually, ski patrollers followed the screams.

Dr. Rick Cunningham, the surgeon with Vail-Summit Orthopaedics who put her back together, said he hadn’t seen injuries that severe in 10 years. To the untrained eye, it looked like ice cream falling off the cone, or in Buchanan’s case, the bone, he said.

Not so long ago, someone with an injury like that might have been facing life in a wheelchair, Cunningham said.

Cunningham inserted a 14-inch rod into Buchanan’s femur, along with all the hardware to hold it in place. Along with everything else she was suffering, Buchanan’s body tried to reject it, leaving her in constant pain. The femur is one of the biggest bones in your body, and the rod needed to stay there at least a year for it to heal.

After a year and a half, bone marrow was growing back and that pain was gone.

“After 19 months of constant chronic debilitating pain, it was finally gone,” she said. “The life I once knew came rushing back.”

A month later, she could finally climb stairs unassisted. Four months after that, with her team’s approval, she left for Nepal with Love Hope Strength, a Colorado nonprofit — to hike to Everest base camp (17,500 feet) and Kalapathar (18,500 feet), a 14-day trek.

“All the amazing support and people in this valley gave me my leg back. I can’t wait to celebrate with my family and friends,” Buchanan said.

Guest Opinion: Colorado must balance recreation and farming with NEPA Reform

There are hopeful signs for Colorado’s economic prospects in 2020. The Centennial State is not far removed from a record tourism year and the recently relaxed trade tensions with China, Mexico, and Canada mean farmers and ranchers are optimistic about commerce opportunities. Now West Slope Coloradans have an opportunity to offer support for even greater enhanced tourism and agricultural growth by encouraging proposed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reforms that aim to cut down on unnecessary delays to infrastructure projects – delays which have been a drag on tourism, agriculture and economic development.

Originally signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, NEPA requires agencies to conduct environmental reviews on proposed infrastructure projects. Since its signing, the statute has ballooned into burdensome regulation that delays projects and drives up costs. The Trump Administration’s Council on Environment Quality (CEQ) has recently identified a number of potential reforms.

In Colorado there is a productive working relationship between our tourism and agriculture industries. In fact, many of our operations dovetail closely to one another. Ranchers and farmers provide foodstuff for the many restaurants and tourist attractions while the outdoor community – hikers, bikers, and skiers – generate and spread demand for the agriculture industry. Similarly, the industries share vulnerabilities. For example, the Upper Fryingpan Vegetation Management Project would add to the beauty of Colorado by implementing a 1,631-acre vegetation and habitat resiliency program, insulating the land from external shocks and cultivate healthy game populations. As District Ranger Karen Schroyer noted “This project will provide forest products to local and regional industry while also improving forest resilience and habitat…” Unfortunately, the project has turned into a missed opportunity and is yet to get off the ground after three years in NEPA related litigation.

Other projects in Colorado and around the nation have fallen to a similar fate. For instance, water storage projects, which are so crucial to maintaining a sustainable long-term supply of water, are routinely consigned to languish for years in NEPA purgatory awaiting final approval. These delays often stretch unnecessarily into decades. The White River water storage project near Rangely is already taking years just to receive the necessary state approvals, before even getting to the NEPA analysis stage. With things as they currently are, the NEPA process could hold that particular project up for another decade or more.

To combat future delays to critical infrastructure projects like the White River storage project, the CEQ has proposed a slate of revisions to the NEPA statute aimed at protecting agencies’ attention to environmental stewardship while improving and streamlining the approval procedures. Specifically, the CEQ recommends implementing a two-year time limit for environmental impact statements and a one-year limit for less intensive assessments. Further, lead agencies are to strengthen their role as the primary authority on approval to cut down on disputes and delays between agencies. Updates to NEPA come on the back of some startling recent findings by the CEQ that A) the average environmental impact statement took 4.5 years; final environmental impact statements averaged 669 pages; and a fourth of environmental impact states took more than six years.

Welcoming NEPA reform can save projects in Colorado, foster growth for the agriculture and tourism industries, and provide for water storage infrastructure. Coloradans should be familiar with the I-70 Expansion Project. The $1.2 billion project to expand 12 miles of highway near Denver has only just begun construction after its environmental impact statement took 13 years and totaled nearly 16,000 pages. Tourism and agriculture industries will eventually both benefit from the I-70 Expansion, which will alleviate congestion for outgoing agricultural goods and incoming tourists, but a 13-year delay is unacceptable and costly for Coloradans.

At 50 years old, NEPA resembles burdensome and antiquated red tape. Coloradans’ support of the statute’s reform will bring about positive change to industries that have been hamstrung by delays, and will allow vital efforts like the White River water storage project to come to fruition in a reasonable period of time, while still providing for ample environmental review. Public comment on the rules remains open until March 10, and all Coloradans should join together to support a streamlined NEPA so that our state’s current and future development projects will benefit.

Bob Rankin is Colorado State Senator for Senate District 8, which includes Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, New Castle, Silt and Rifle. Jeff Rector is a County Commissioner for Rio Blanco County.