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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.

Shiffrin graces cover of Sports Illustrated

Extra, extra, read all about it.

Mikaela Shiffrin is on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s March issue, and she’s dubbed “the world’s most dominant athlete.”

For readers of Sports Illustrated who do not live in a ski community, it may be controversial to call Shiffrin “the world’s most dominant athlete.” The average American sports fan might be more inclined to focus on the likes of LeBron James, Tom Brady or Mike Trout.

It’s not the first time Shiffrin’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She was the cover girl for the 2014 Olympics preview as well as after winning slalom in those games in Sochi, Russia.

She is, however, the first Olympic athlete, according to a press release from the U.S. Ski Team, to be on the cover in a non-Olympic year in recent years.

The shoot for the SI cover took place on Feb. 1 in Trentino, Italy, after Shiffrin won two World Cup speed races in Bansko, Bulgaria, at the end of January.

Obviously, shortly after the shoot, Mikaela got word that her father, Jeff, passed away suddenly, making this a poignant time for publication.

Greg Bishop, the author of the Sports Illustrated piece, wrote, “None of (her fame and success) mattered when the call came, when Shiffrin, only 24, learned that her father, Jeff, had suffered a grave injury in an accident at home in Colorado. Mikaela and her mother, Eileen, immediately flew back from Europe and were able to spend Jeff’s final hours by his side.

The article profiles the well-known story of Shiffrin growing up and her parents, Jeff and Eileen, trying to instill a sense of normalcy in her life; her first World Cup podium, her Olympic wins and the spectacular success of her 2018-19 season.

The piece then transitions into how Shiffrin was trying to deal with this season and the accompanying unrealistic expectations.

“This season’s been a bit of a struggle again. If that’s where the bar is now, it’s nearly impossible to even come close to that, let alone exceed it,” Shiffrin is quoted as saying by Sports Illustrated.

Through telling her surreal experience of being at last summer’s ESPYs and not feeling like she belonged in such star-studded company — she knew she wasn’t going to win Best Female Athlete and didn’t bother writing a speech (soccer player Alex Morgan was a mortal lock) and apparently her hands were shaking when she met the NBA’s James — Bishop writes about the constant struggle in Shiffrin’s life between being a normal person and the fame that is a part of her life, whether she wants it or not

The issue should be at newsstands soon.

On the Fly column: The valley’s best fly tyers

Last weekend the Roaring Fork Valley Fly Fishing Club, the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Roaring Fork Fishing Guide Alliance hosted the fifth annual Iron Fly Competition at the Tipsy Trout in Basalt. This year’s event was a smashing success, with some returning winners on the podium plus a few new fresh faces.

Who are the best fly tyers in the Roaring Fork Valley? Local youngster Ruthie L. took home the gold in the youth division, and local guide Brandon Soucie claimed the title (again) in the adult division. These two local Basaltines made their “trout town” quite proud.

This isn’t exactly a serious event — the main ingredients are having a lot of fun and meeting fellow fly tyers. Tyers came from as far as Park City, Utah, this year. Tyers are given a bag of materials and a hook for each round, and judges (varying from quasi-experts to never-evers) advance the best tyers to the next round. Mystery materials this year ranged from baling twine, wine corks and latex gloves, which must be incorporated in the fly. Proceeds from this event will benefit local youth fishing camps, Project Healing Waters, the Mayfly Club and others.

None of this would be possible without generous support from Alpine Angling, Basalt Firearms, Boulder Boat Works, Brick Pony Pub, Capitol Creek Brewery, Colorado Mountain College Spring Valley Fly Fishing Club, Crystal Fly Shop, El Korita, Fishpond USA, Heather’s Savory Pies, HMC Construction, John P. Newbury, New York Pizza Basalt, Orvis, Shannon Outing, Roaring Fork Anglers, Roaring Fork Conservancy, Roaring Fork Fishing Guide Alliance, Roaring Fork Valley Fly Fishing Club, Tan Bar, Taylor Creek Fly Shop, The Tipsy Trout, Timbo’s, Willits Grill and Woody Creek Distillers.

Congrats to Ruthie L., Jacey R. and Gracie C. from the youth division, plus Brandon Soucie, Andrew Soliday and Cal Massey from the adult division. See you next year.

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.

Guest column: A depressed town fights back

For nearly half a century, coal fueled the blast furnaces of the 1,410-megawatt Comanche Power Generating station in Pueblo, a city of 110,000 in southern Colorado. You can’t miss Comanche, the state’s largest coal-fired power plant; it dominates the flat landscape for 40 miles in each direction, just as its plume of smoke dominates the sky.

That’s why residents shuddered in August 2017, when Xcel Energy announced that Comanche would shut down Comanche boilers 1 and 2, by 2025. Pueblo had already suffered through steel-mill layoffs and closures in the late 1970s and early 1980s, losing 8,000 of 9,000 jobs. This is a place that knows the pain of an industry cutting back. Yet what’s happening in Pueblo today offers some hope to other towns experiencing the death of a fossil-fueled economy.

That’s because a new industry has come on the scene in Pueblo. Vestas, a Danish windmill factory that employs some 900 people, makes tower bases for giant windmills. And business is booming: Wait time for a new Vestas windmill is five years, says Colorado Public Utilities Commissioner John Gavan. For Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar, who is focused on employment, Vestas’ existence helps to ease the pain of losing Comanche’s jobs. “We’re gonna lose good jobs when Xcel shuts down those boilers,” he says of Comanche’s coming closure, “but our air will be cleaner.”

What does it mean when two of three boilers sit idle? Each boiler devours trainloads of coal along with millions of gallons of water bought from the town, which makes good money on the deal. Comanche used to run flat out, with coal-powered steam spinning the turbines that make electricity, but the rise of renewables means coal plants power up intermittently. “Coal-fired plants are running at 54 percent these days … and plants are built to run at capacity,” reports Bloomberg.

Frank Hilliard, who helped build the plant’s third boiler, is a roll-your own cigarette-type guy who lives in Walsenburg, a busted coal mine town 50 miles south of Pueblo. Hilliard says the remaining boiler at Comanche is young and powerful, shipping out 857 megawatts. But he fears it’s on the chopping block, too.

“We just built Comanche 3, and they want to shut the damn thing down,” he complains. He wishes that Xcel and the other big utilities didn’t hate coal. “Coal created damned good work,” he says, “and most jobs require college now.”

But hate isn’t the problem; it’s the market. Three hundred coal plants have closed in the past 10 years, representing half of U.S. coal generating capacity, reports the research firm S&P Global. 2019 was the second-biggest year ever for coal plant closures, and utilities are pushing early shutdowns for remaining coal plants.

To comply with Colorado’s 2040 goals of 100 percent carbon-free electricity, the smart money predicts that Comanche 3’s closure will happen sooner, perhaps much sooner.

When Hilliard worked on Comanche 3, it was one of the last coal turbines built in the country. He’s still proud of what he accomplished. “We built Comanche 3 with the plan that it would power Colorado until well after my kid died. These plants are really something. How can we just destroy them?”

It happened fast, this economic turn away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. Along with Vestas Windmills symbolizing a new economy, Xcel is building the state’s largest solar installation, a 240-megawatt solar farm, which will surround the 139-year-old Pueblo steel mill, now Russian owned. Mayor Gradisar says his Slovenian immigrant grandfather worked there for 50 years making steel using coal, yet he embraces the town’s new future.

“Pueblo will be one of the first steel mills run on renewables,” he says, “and the Pueblo Mill is already the biggest recycler in Colorado, using nothing but scrap metal.”

Gradisar is counting on Pueblo’s grit: “This is a city built by immigrants,” he says. “The mill had 40 languages going — hard work is in Pueblo’s DNA.”

These days, Pueblo needs all the economic help it can get as it leads the state in all the wrong categories: mortality, crime and high school drop-out rates. The rapid layoffs in the 1970s and 1980s slammed Pueblo on its back, and the town has never really recovered.

Meanwhile, Mayor Gradisar is banking on the new economy. “If the citizens approve, we’ll municipalize the electricity grid, and home-grown wind power will cut our electrical bills by 15%,” he says.

As for Hilliard, he continues to miss the good old days, “I don’t like change, but I’m not gonna fight it.” He says. “I’m too old and too broken-down to look for a new job. “It’s time to move on.”

David Marston is a contributor to Writers on the Range.org, a private nonprofit organization dedicated to lively discussion about the West. He lives in New York and Colorado.