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Glenwood Springs council slated to discuss Colorado Open Records Act policies this summer

 

Discussion over Glenwood City Council’s Colorado Open Records Act policies will be continued in a city council work session later into the summer.

City staff and council members want to meet in-person with members of the local news media — including the Post Independent, KDNK and more — to dig into their concerns over the city’s proposed policy to log all CORA requests which would be made available to the public to view on the city’s website. Anyone can make a public record request, including corporations or individuals of the general public.

CORA provides that all public records shall be open for inspection by any person at reasonable times, except records otherwise exempt by law or deemed not in the interest of the public.

City Attorney Karl Hanlon asked the council if they wish to post the CORA request log online, noting that the log is already maintained by the city.

“If you’d like, we could post who asked for it, what it was for, and when we fulfilled that request so people can go online and look at it and see what they’re able to download,” Hanlon said.

Federal government agencies provide a Freedom of Information Act request log that is made publicly available online.

Hanlon said such logs are a way to hold governments accountable and prove that a response was made to a request, and if that request was denied, the reasons why.

Glenwood Springs Post Independent Publisher Bryce Jacobson spoke in opposition of keeping a CORA request log, as well as city policy that requires notifying the impacted party of who requested the public records.

“That log is a terrible idea. I think that’s a bad policy, I don’t know of any municipalities that do it. I’d like to know who does that,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said that in certain situations, notifying the impacted party of someone who has requested certain public records, such as a contract for a past project that was bid out could give the impacted party an unfair advantage.

For the contractor requesting the project contracts for jobs that have been bid out in previous years, being able to see the proposed prices submitted by their competition from previous years gives them an idea of how to structure their prices in an open bid.

However, under the city’s CORA policy, the contractor who would be the impacted party of the request now knows is looking at their previous bid submissions and may retaliate against the requester competing against them.

“The fact that you have a CORA request policy that says you will notify the impacted party is just counterintuitive to the CORA request policy,” Jacobson added.

Amy Marsh, KDNK Carbondale Community Access Radio news director, said notifying impacted parties seems to set a dangerous precedent, opening up the possibility of retaliation.

Marsh asked if the request forms included in the proposed CORA request log would redact the name of a requester.

Hanlon said he didn’t know and that was not outlined in policy to his knowledge, but could be at the discretion of the city’s chief operating officer Steve Boyd, who handles CORA requests.

Mayor Jonathan Godes paused the discussion as the back and forth between council members and members of the public fits a work session format more so than a city council meeting discussion where public comments are typically limited to three minutes.

Godes and the council did open up the conversation and allowed both Jacobson and Marsh to speak more than three minutes and actively engaged in the discussions.

Continuing the discussion in a work session also affords everyone the ability to meet in person, if desired, and discuss the issue in depth to ensure the transparency and accountability in the CORA process.

Reporter Shannon Marvel can be reached at 605-350-8355 or smarvel@postindependent.com.

Western Slope water woes likely to continue

The Colorado River in Rifle.
The Colorado River flows through Rifle on Saturday.

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Garfield County is on track to endure one of its worst droughts since 2002, according to a National Weather Service meteorologist.

“Right now it’s quite a bit worse than it even normally is these days,” said Rich Tinker, a drought expert with the Climate Prediction Center in Maryland on Friday. “Even if you just look at Colorado, probably you’ve got about three-quarters of the state in either our highest category or our next highest.”

What Tinker’s referring to is the U.S. drought monitor, a weekly map that shows exactly where the country’s most intensely affected areas of dryness and drought are. And based on this measure, extreme to exceptional drought conditions currently envelop the entire county.

Meanwhile, exceptional drought conditions – the highest intensity on the drought monitor – cover the majority of the rest of the Western Slope and Southwest regions of the state. To the east, the Front Range and High Plains are also threatened by either abnormally dry or moderate to severe drought conditions.

A lack of heavy snowpack in Colorado ski country this winter could lead to a vast spectrum of potential impacts. Ranchers might lose forage pasture. Reservoirs could recede. And bearing in mind the Grizzly Creek Fire this past summer in Glenwood Canyon, a drought like this is conducive to large fires, according to Tinker.

“What would be really nice would be to get a nice, heavy snowpack over the next coming winter,” Tinker said. “The odds are against it, but hopefully things will turn out differently.”

A stray branch pokes out of the Colorado River in Rifle on Saturday.

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A wet winter, however, is a key factor here, Tinker noted. If the winter does see higher levels of moisture, they’ll cause a decent enough undergrowth which could later dry out by next spring and summer.

“This is exactly what you need to start fires,” Tinker said.

But, Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, said the currently dry soils of the Western Slope could pose a threat to the efficacy of a good snowpack altogether.

The same thing happened this past year. The Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys welcomed an average to slightly above average snowpack. The snow, however, fell on dry soils, causing a domino effect on the ensuing spring and summer seasons.

“What it means is, we’re going into this snowpack season with dry soils once again,” Pokrandt explained. “The problem with dry soils is that they have a degrading effect on next spring’s runoff.”

There is, however, another factor that could make or break next year’s soil conditions: La Nina.

Pokrandt said the entire country this year falls under this weather pattern, meaning time will only tell whether the valley gets hit with a decent amount of snow this coming winter season. Typically, places like Wyoming, Utah and mostly northern Colorado reap the benefits of a precipitation-heavy La Nina.

On the flipside, La Nina is a phenomena that typically leaves parts of southwest Colorado, New Mexico and California high and dry, according to Pokrandt. It’s sibling weather pattern, El Nino, means dryer conditions in the northern part of the Rockies.

“Certainly, a really healthy snowpack is going to help mitigate how the snow runs off,” Pokrandt said. “If we have a good winter, plus moisture in April and May, and not with the deficits that we’ve seen? Let’s hope that La Nina treats this area well and we can mitigate poor soil moisture.”

In other words, moisture needs to remain constant. If lush undergrowth occurs following snowmelt, that’s a good thing. If monsoons neglect to follow, everything basically turns to kindling – exactly what happened this past year.

“Monsoons were a no show. All our forests were tinderboxes,” Pokrandt said. (And) all it takes is a spark from maybe a chain dragging along the highway. Somebody carelessly and thoughtlessly tosses a cigarette out the window or lightning strikes. Or what’s even more grieving is careless campers and their campfires.”

A good monsoon season – between July and August – will depend on what happens above the Gulf, said Pokrandt.

“We need a high-pressure system to set up over to the Southwest, closer to Texas,” he said. “If a high-pressure system doesn’t set up in the proper place, then we’re not getting that moisture sweeping up from the right locations.”

SNOWPACK’S A PUNCH

Here is some good news from Russell Cabe, retail and rental manager at Sunlight Ski & Bike Shop in Glenwood Springs: The world-class ski and snowboard runs interspersed throughout the valley are somewhat immune to La Nina’s wrath – or lack thereof.

“Usually, honestly, even if it is not an ideal amount of snowfall in the season, between snowmaking and good grooming, you can still have a fun year,” he said. “Unless it’s really uncommonly low snowfall, it usually isn’t that big of an effect.”

Cabe, who’s been skiing and snowboarding this area on and off since 1992, said the past 7-8 years, in fact, have been average or better as far as “fresh pow” is concerned. When asked, he couldn’t quite remember the last year when the slopes were that exceedingly bad – maybe a few bad days here and there, at most.

“People may not get as juiced as they would be on more powder days,” he said.

As for the good days?

“You can feel the joy on the mountain,” he said. “You can hear people yelling all over the mountain because they’re going to the powder stashes they love, they’re hitting the spots that they love to be at. You see how people treat each other at the bottom and the lift line… There’s just kind of a joy all around the mountain when the conditions are like that.”

rerku@postindependent.com