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Colorado man sentenced to life in prison for killing wife, 2 daughters

DENVER (AP) — A Colorado man was sentenced Monday to life in prison for killing his pregnant wife and their two young daughters and dumping their bodies on an oil work site.

Prosecutors have said they agreed not to seek the death penalty in exchange for Christopher Watts’ guilty plea, after seeking approval from Shanann Watts’ family.

Watts had pleaded guilty to three charges of murder in the deaths of his wife, Shanann Watts, and their young daughters. He also pleaded guilty on Nov. 6 to two counts of killing a child, one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body.

The 33-year-old will not be eligible for parole.

A friend asked police to check on Shanann Watts on Aug. 13 after not being able to reach her and growing concerned that the 34-year-old expectant mother had missed a doctor’s appointment. Officers initially handled the search and soon sought support from Colorado investigators and the FBI.

Meanwhile, Christopher Watts spoke to local television reporters from the front porch of the family’s home in Frederick, a small town on the plains north of Denver where drilling rigs and oil wells surround booming subdivisions. Watts pleaded for his family safe return, telling reporters their house felt empty without 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste watching cartoons or running to greet him at the door.

Within days, he was arrested and charged with killing his family.

Court records revealed that Watts acknowledged to police that he killed his wife. Watts told investigators that he strangled her in “a rage” when he discovered she had killed their daughters after he sought a separation.

Prosecutors have since called his account “a flat-out lie.”

Police learned that Christopher Watts was having an affair with a co-worker. He had denied that before being arrested.

Authorities have not released autopsy reports or any information about how the mother and daughters died. Prosecutors have said the reports would be released after Watts was sentenced.

The girls’ bodies were found submerged in an oil tank, on property owned by the company Watts worked for until his arrest. Shanann Watts’ body was found buried nearby in a shallow grave.

The killings captured the attention of media across the country and became the focus of true crime blogs and online video channels, aided by dozens of family photos and videos that Shanann Watts shared on social media showing the smiling couple spending time with their children.

But courts records showed the couple’s lifestyle caused financial strain at times. They filed for bankruptcy in June 2015, six months after Christopher Watts was hired as an operator for the large oil and gas driller Anadarko Petroleum at an annual salary of about $61,500. At the time, Shanann Watts was working in a children’s hospital call center for $18 per hour.

They reported total earnings of $90,000 in 2014 but $70,000 in unsecured claims along with a mortgage of nearly $3,000. The claims included thousands of dollars in credit card debt, some student loans and medical bills.

Annual Aspen feast on Tuesday showcases valley’s blossoming farm movement

An annual feast in Aspen on Tuesday will feature an unprecedented amount of food grown and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley, according to organizers.

The Farm To Table Community Meal presented by the Farm Collaborative, formerly known as Aspen TREE, will feature bounty that would be suspected — potatoes, onions, squash and other storage crops that are in fairly decent supply. But it also will feature loaves of bread made from grains grown at the Old Snowmass open space for the first time this summer.

"We make an effort to set the menu to what we can get," said Cooper Means, agricultural director for the Farm Collaborative.

He was in charge of working with the valley's farmers and ranchers to procure food for the feast.

"It's one of the most exciting days of my job," he said.

He ended up getting 1,700 pounds of vegetables and greens from Erin's Acres, Roaring Gardens, Two Roots, Rock Bottom Ranch, Sustainable Settings and Wild Mountain Seeds — all located in the middle Roaring Fork Valley. The meat is coming from Mountain Primal Meats in Emma.

Farm Collaborative's goal this year was to purchase at least 75 percent of the ingredients for the community meal from farmers in the Roaring Fork Valley. The remainder comes from the region — the North Fork Valley around Paonia and the Lower Colorado River Valley west of Glenwood Springs.

The local food will feed an estimated 1,500 attendees. Local chefs are donating their time and expertise to prepare the meal, with the help of volunteers who assist in everything from prepping to serving to cleanup.

The Farm To Table Community Meal will be served at the Hotel Jerome, and is free and open to all. There are seatings at 5, 6 and 7 p.m., though space is filling fast (reservations are required).

Farm Collaborative started the meal 10 years ago to celebrate the growing local food movement. The feast not only provides fresh food that tastes good, it builds awareness and support for local farmers, according to Eden Vardy, the collaborative's executive director.

"We're grounding ourselves in our home," he said.

The Farm Collaborative has a long-term lease on 14 acres from the city of Aspen at Cozy Point Ranch, at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road. Its mission is to expand its farming and ranching operations, and educate people on what's being undertaken and what's possible. It also assists the broader local food movement in multiple ways, such as helping set up a tool library so that small farmers don't have to scrap together funds for machinery that is sparingly used.

Vardy said the benefits of the local food movement are immense, from keeping dollars in the valley to carbon sequestration.

"Our local decisions and actions have global repercussions," he said.

The meal also will mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of Aspen TREE, now the Farm Collaborative. The goal always has been to showcase local foods at the meal.

"The beautiful thing is we've had this dramatic increase from within our valley," Vardy said. That's only been accomplished by "extremely difficult" work by small farmers and ranchers, he added.

Means and a handful of his friends were reminded this fall just how hard farming is when they harvested grain grown at Pitkin County open space ground he leases in Old Snowmass in a trial to find out what varieties can handle this environment. They used ancient scythes for the process. Mountain Oven in Paonia will mill the grain and prepare the bread.

The community meal served 150 people in its first year. Now the number served has grown tenfold, including volunteers.

This year's event requires about 250 volunteers. To learn more about volunteer opportunities and sign up for a shift, go to http://www.thefarmcollaborative.org.

(Editor's note: This article was corrected to reflect that grain was grown on Pitkin County Open Space and Trails land under lease for agricultural uses in Old Snowmass.)


Glenwood Springs close to securing rights for new whitewater parks

GOLDEN – The City of Glenwood Springs has paddled around the last of several big obstacles in its way to obtaining water rights for three potential whitewater parks in the Colorado River, at Two Rivers Park, Horseshoe Bend and No Name.

While final approvals are not expected from various entities until late January, the city's water attorney, Mark Hamilton of Holland and Hart, told a state agency last week that general agreement in the water court case was at hand.

The proposed water rights are for "boating, rafting, kayaking, tubing, floating, canoeing, paddling and all other non-motorized recreational uses."

Glenwood Springs made the crux move in its five-year journey Wednesday, when Aurora and Colorado Springs signed off on a "call reduction provision" in the city's proposed water rights decree.

The provision carves out 30,000 acre-feet from the city's proposed 2013 water right to allow for future upstream transmountain diversions by the Front Range cities. Glenwood Springs had earlier offered a 20,000 acre-foot carve-out provision.

The city made another key maneuver Thursday, when the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board agreed to amend a negative 2015 finding on the city's water rights application, and agreed to settle with the city in water court.

"Forgive us for being cautious and careful and slow," said Russ George, who represents the Colorado River basin at CWCB. "This one is not an ordinary (Recreational In-Channel Diversion). It has its own complications, and overall it had become just a tricky, thorny, complicated project."

It also was announced Thursday that the Colorado River District and the town of Gypsum support the settlement in concept and are working on final approvals.

no name sites low priority

Under the settlement, Glenwood Springs has agreed to consult with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on the location, size, design and construction at the three prospective whitewater park sites, including giving Horseshoe Bend the lowest priority of the three locations because of bighorn sheep in the area.

"Horseshoe Bend kind of sits in third position for a variety of reasons," Jay Skinner, an instream flow specialist for CPW, told the CWCB directors Thursday. "It certainly is our least favorite of the three sites."

The Two Rivers Park location is just downstream from central Glenwood Springs, and just above a busy boat ramp at the park.

Horseshoe Bend and No Name are not far upstream from downtown in Glenwood Canyon. They are on a Class II stretch of river below the Class III-to-Class IV Shoshone run. The highway is separated from the river at Horseshoe Bend, and there is an Interstate 70 rest stop next to the river at No Name.

The city has previously obtained settlements in the water court case from the Bureau of Land Management, the Colorado Department of Transportation, Denver Water, Ute Water Conservancy District, Grand Valley Water Users Association, West Divide Water Conservancy District and the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool.

"This ends three years of really intense negotiations and collaborations with the applicant (Glenwood Springs) and a lot of work finding compromise and middle ground on this," Pat Wells, general manager of water resources and demand management at Colorado Springs Utilities, told the CWCB on Thursday.

Aurora and Colorado Springs, as partners in the Homestake storage and diversion project, have a high interest in the city's claims for flow levels in the Colorado River, as they now intend to build a dam and reservoir on lower Homestake Creek as part of the "Eagle River MOU" project.

That project includes diverting 20,000 acre-feet of additional water under the Continental Divide from the upper Eagle River basin. It also includes diverting 10,000 acre-feet of water for Western Slope uses.

In 2012, the two cities told federal officials "as much as 86,400 acre-feet of water supplies may be developed by completion of the Homestake Project."

As such, Aurora and Colorado Springs wanted some protection from Glenwood Springs' pending water right, which would carry a priority date of 2013.

protects summertime flows

The city's water right would span 183 days, from April 1 to Sept. 30 each year.

For 137 of those days, the water right calls for a steady flow 1,250 cubic feet per second, which is the same level of flow that the senior Shoshone hydropower right can call for on the river, above the proposed whitewater parks.

So, for the bulk of the time, Glenwood's new water right would make no difference on the river, as it is in the shadow of Shoshone.

But the city wants to step out of that shadow and call for 2,500 cfs of water for 46 days, from June 8 to July 23. And, it could call for 4,000 cfs of flow on five days around the Fourth of July, in order to hold competitive boating events.

It is in the 46-day high-flow period when the carve-out will kick in, and reduce by about 25 percent the amount of water the city was pursuing.

"It does limit, significantly, the amount of time that this water right is going to be able to call," Rob Harris, an attorney representing both Western Resource Advocates and American Whitewater, in support of Glenwood Springs, told the CWCB. "But frankly, that's the nature of compromise."

Harris said the remaining flow levels in the river still work for the whitewater parks.

"These are the proper flow rates," he said. "These rates are the rates that stakeholders in the city and in the community have asked for, and balancing that with this carve out is appropriate."

Editor's note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and other Swift newspapers. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Aspen’s housing program holding scofflaws accountable, focusing on compliance cases

With the creation of an enforcement position within the local housing authority earlier this year, all but a dozen or so compliance cases remain out of the 150 that were active when Bethany Spitz took the job almost four months ago.

"It's huge," she said of the effort made thus far in getting people who live in the roughly 3,000 ownership and rental units within the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority compliant with the rules. "A lot of it was following up and taking action on little things like a tenant who hadn't qualified."

There are bigger cases lingering, however. Six notices of investigations have been issued to homeowners, as well as three notices of violations and two appeals from residents to the APCHA board of directors.

Individuals who live in APCHA units are required to provide proof that they work a minimum of 1,500 hours a year in Pitkin County, among other regulations depending on what the deed restriction is on a particular unit.

Tenants in rental units are required to re-qualify every two years by providing tax and employment information. Homeowners must do the same.

Prior to Spitz coming on as APCHA's compliance manager, there was not a full-time person dedicated to ensuring that the thousands of people within the program are legally living in their units.

As a result, APCHA has had low response rates, which prompted the APCHA board earlier this year to recommend to city and county elected officials to pass a fine structure for dozens of different infractions that's designed to force people to prove they are in compliance.

"We will go to 100 percent compliance, whatever that takes," said Spitz, adding that the first goal of APCHA is to educate the public on what their responsibilities are when living in taxpayer-subsidized housing.

Spitz said a random audit done in August selected 20 homeowners. APCHA asked them for qualifying information. Only 50 percent of them responded, which necessitated Spitz having to issue notices of violations to those residents in order to get them to comply.

Spitz said next year the goal is to conduct five audits a month for homeowner units.

There also will be a census within the entire program, which will coincide with the planned $1 million Housing Information Management System that is designed to improve the system's data collection, reporting and analytics.

Spitz said a comprehensive database and system will help manage all of the units in APCHA's inventory, and who is living in them.

APCHA operates mostly on complaints, and many of them are anonymous. Those cases are more difficult to prove because it often becomes a he said/she said situation, Spitz said.

The board, which is made up of seven citizens, must make decisions on individuals' appeals after they've been served a notice of violation.

The board earlier this year recommended to elected officials that a hearing officer be charged with evaluating appeals from residents so it can focus solely on policy.

With a stronger emphasis on compliance this year, APCHA has turned over 12 ownership and 25 rental units.

"We are turning over units for qualified people who are living and working in Pitkin County," Spitz said. "And maintaining public trust and the integrity of the program."


What’s the Big Deal: Snowmass condo sale nears $3.8 million

"What's the Big Deal?" runs Mondays and is based on the most expensive property transaction recorded in Pitkin County through 3 p.m. each Friday.

Price: $3.775 million

Date recorded: Nov. 15

Address: 610 Streamside Court, Snowmass Village

Subdivision: Owl Creek Homes Phase VII

Buyer: CJCA Holdings LLC

Seller: David Barnes trustee, David Barnes Trust

Property type: Condominium

Year built: 1998

Livable space: 3,862 square feet

Property tax bill: $13,171.28

Business Monday Briefs: Sammy Sosa sued over Aspen rental deal; uphill industry meeting moved

Uphill symposium moves to spring

A three-day symposium centered around the uphilling industry that the city of Aspen is organizing has been moved from the first weekend in December to the last weekend in March.

Phillip Supino, the city's long-range planner, said feedback from people in the industry and equipment manufacturers said the original dates of Dec. 6 to 8 are difficult for travel and springtime would be better.

Hosting the gathering will coincide with the city's economic development initiative as part of incorporating the elements of the industry into the resort community.

Ex-MLB slugger sued

A lawsuit in Pitkin County District Court claims former major league baseball slugger Sammy Sosa balked on a rental agreement in Aspen.

Litigant MTWK Snowbunny Lane LLC claims Sosa used a Florida limited liability company to agree to rent a home for 17 days during the Christmas holidays of 2017. Sosa and the LLC, however, did not pay the required $100,000 deposit or the agreed amount of $9,500 per day to rent the Snowbunny Lane home.

"Mr. Sosa failed to provide the required deposit despite numerous requests, and ultimately due to his failure, the homeowners suffered significant financial loss due to the inability to find a new renter so close to Christmas," said suing attorneys Daniel and Kathryn Becnel of Louisiana in a statement issued Friday. "Despite request of payment of the contract, Mr. Sosa and his representatives failed to respond or address this matter."

The suit also claims that Sosa's LLC is not in good standing with the state of Florida.

Skico debuts deal

Aspen Skiing Co. announced last week the debut of its Early Season Free Fridays package, which runs through Dec. 21.

Visitors who book two nights of lodging at participating lodges and buy two adult lift tickets, at a discounted rate of $60 a day, receive their third ticket free.

Tickets must be purchased by 6 p.m. Dec. 14 by calling Stay Aspen Snowmass at 800-679-3154.

Aspen Mountain opened Saturday. Snowmass opens Thanksgiving Day, while the lifts are scheduled to start cranking Dec. 8 at Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.

Court allows class-action against Aspen towing company

Attorneys for a man suing an Aspen towing company for overtime compensation can start sending notices to other prospective plaintiffs to form a class-action suit, according to a court ruling delivered last week.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix, in an 11-page order issued Nov. 13, cleared plaintiff and former Shaun's Towing and Recovery driver Joseph Durrant to notify current and former employees of the company about the litigation and provide instructions on how to join the class action.

Mix's order supported Durrant's motion describing eligible class members as "all tow truck drivers who worked for Shaun's Towing And Recovery, LLC and/or Shaun Healy, at any time from three years before the date of the mailing of this notice through the final disposition of this case, but did not receive overtime for hours worked over 40 in any workweek."

The notice also must tell prospective plaintiffs they may have to appear in Denver for court proceedings, Mix's order said.

Durrant's complaint, which was filed in December in the U.S. District Court of Denver, claims he worked as a driver with Shaun's Towing from August 2015 until February 2016, earning $13 an hour plus 30 percent commission. The suit claims he wasn't paid for "the required rate of time-and-one-half for all hours worked over 40 each workweek."

The suit makes claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Colorado Minimum Wage Claim Act and the Colorado Wage Claim Act.

Durrant has alleged he and other employees were paid for two weeks of work regardless of the number of hours they logged. Some workers put in as many as 96 hours a week, Durrant alleges.

The defense has countered that Durrant cannot recruit "similarly situated employees" to join his suit because drivers could be required to cross state lines as part of their job, while Durrant did not.

Durrant and other employees "are exempt from receiving overtime compensation under the FLSA as they are subject to the Motor Carrier Act Exemption," the defense argued. The defense asked that the class be restricted to drivers who only worked within state lines, but Mix ordered the class could include all drivers.

The Motor Carrier Act exempts employees who work overtime, provided they are involved in interstate commerce through driving activities, from receiving time-and-a-half pay.

Mix's ruling said the defendants failed to provide information to the court supporting that distinction.

"Defendants have offered no basis for differentiating between employees who worked solely in Colorado and those who worked in Colorado but also transported motor vehicles across State lines," the magistrate judge's order said.

However, Mix said that argument can be brought up again after the discovery portion of the litigation.

At this stage of the case, Mix also noted that the plaintiffs only need to demonstrate a "modest showing" that Durrant and other class members were victims of labor law violations by Shaun's Towing.

Shaun's Towing started in 2005 and serves the entire Roaring Fork Valley.

Corpus Christi, Texas, attorney Clif Alexander, who represents Durrant, and Shaun's Towing lawyer Michael P. McGovern of Knoxville, Tennessee, could not be reached for comment last week.


Students take the lead on river issues at second Youth Water Summit

If the future will be drier and warmer and more arid due to climate change, students of the Roaring Fork Valley may be the ones dealing with it. And, after the second annual Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit wrapped up in Carbondale on Thursday, it's clear a lot of students are already thinking about conservation.

The day-long conference featured student presentations, discussion periods where students talked to each other and the adults in attendance, and speakers including Christa Sadler, author of recent book "The Colorado" about nine eras of human interaction with the Colorado River.

The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Program hired Sarah Johnson with Wild Rose Education to organize the event. Johnson began coordinating with teachers last spring to get the students to think about projects. During the fall, Johnson went to the schools to work with the students on the projects and teach basic river science.

"I facilitate a process where the kids get to understand that the things they care about are important," Johnson said in an interview. "It's not about what teachers care about, it's about what students care about. What they care about and are curious to know more about, they can research, and form an opinion that's based in evidence."


Sixth graders at Glenwood Springs Middle School visited Mitchell Creek Fish Hatchery to collect samples of insects that live on or near the water, some of which are extremely sensitive to water pollution. The students found about seven species of macroinvertebrates, but the most common was the stonefly, which is extremely sensitive to pollutants and cannot survive in dirty water.

GSMS uses the Expeditionary Learning model. Researching river health through macroinvertebrates helped students get outside the classroom and learn about an important topic.

"I think it was really fun to be outside and do something active. I think that hands-on activities are more important than others," GSMS sixth grader Max Mazur said.

The students concluded in their presentation that the river was healthy, but as student presenter Damien Christie said in the presentation, macroinvertebrates "can help us understand our rivers and ecosystems, they can show us that the environment is changing, and they can help us monitor climate change."

"My favorite part was definitely standing up there and teaching people about macroinvertebrates," Anika Backofen, also a sixth grader at GSMS, said of the project.

After the presentation, event moderator April Long, Clean River Program Manager for Aspen, said that she just hired a research group for $30,000 to study macroinvertibrates.

"Next time, I'll just hire you guys," she said.

"We brought students from each grade level here. We found kids that are passionate about rivers, and also kids that have taken it upon themselves to do a project around the river," outdoor education teacher Rob Buirgy said.

The GSMS sixth grade does a river expedition, and students who get excited about something they find can suggest a research project for the river summit.

A group of seventh graders at GSMS studied how restaurants affect the Colorado River, and the eighth graders made a video about climate change.

Coal Ridge High School juniors Aidan Boyd and Erin Flaherty presented an overview of the arguments for and against developing the South Canyon area near Glenwood Springs. They sampled the water of the creek and found dangerously high levels of E. coli and potentially harmful alkalinity.

Various proposals for South Canyon development include incorporating the natural hot springs into a resort and providing camping amenities, boosting tourism and allowing for the river to be cleaned up. But other groups wish the land to remain as open space.

"I thought it was very surprising how split Glenwood was," Flaherty said.

collegiate perspective

The summit brought together students from Coal Ridge, Glenwood Springs High School, GSMS, Aspen High School and Carbondale Middle School. But the event was not just for middle and high school students.

Through EcoFlight, a conservation advocacy group that organizes flights throughout the West to examine watershed areas from above, students from Colorado Mountain College, Colorado State University, Colorado Mesa University, Adams State University and Western Colorado University shared perspectives from a three-day trip.

During the trip, the students met with farmers and local officials, Native American groups and conservationists, organized by EcoFlight program coordinator Michael Gorman.

"They got a well-rounded look at water law," Jane Pargiter, conservation director for EcoFlight, said in an interview. "We are conservationists, but we really want them to be educated by the fabulous speakers."

Jonathan Williams, who studies environmental policy at CSU, found himself ready to step into an advocacy role after the three-day trip.

He was familiar with the Colorado River area after years as a river guide, but after "seeing it from above, and talking to the communities, in relatively quick succession," Williams said he found that all the pieces came together and were pushing him to pursue conservancy.

"The mission of EcoFlight, at least for me, worked," Williams said.

CMC photography major Sarah Cherry said the trip gave her a concrete basis for pursuing conservation through art.

"You can see the problem and see the changes," Cherry said of getting a view of the river from the air.

broadening the conversation

The thrust of the Youth Water Summit was to connect students and young adults to river issues, but the message was not one of strict conservation. The discussions ranged from what local politicians can do to improve water use to how community members and students can advocate for river health.

"It would be great to promote an ethic of being involved in protection or restoration of a resource before it gets to the point that it is impacted," said Long, of Aspen's Clean River Program. "With water, I think that we are already, in the West, very aware that we are threatened. Or at least, we should be."

One potential shortcoming with events like the water summit and programs like EcoFlight, one audience member pointed out, is that participants tend to already be interested in environmental causes.

"I have a lot of friends who come from ranching families. Sometimes they see things differently, and sometimes we agree," said Andrew Soliday, a CMC student and landscape painter who grew up near Ruedi. "But as young people, we are talking about it."


Austria’s Marcel Hirscher wins men’s World Cup slalom opener in Finland

LEVI, Finland — Away from the slopes, life has changed a lot for Marcel Hirscher over the summer.

On the slopes, not so much.

The seven-time overall champion posted the fastest time in both runs to win the season-opening men's World Cup slalom on Sunday.

After getting married in June and becoming a father in early October, Hirscher had recently been downplaying his chances for the new season, citing the changed priorities in his private life.

However, the Austrian was at his best on Sunday, edging Henrik Kristoffersen twice, and finishing the race 0.09 seconds ahead of the Norwegian.

"It's a big gift that it worked out," said Hirscher, who also had his offseason preparations hindered a year ago after fracturing his ankle in training.

"Last year the summer preparation was very special, and this year as well," he said. "Last year: injured, in a cast. This year: carrying our little son through the living room."

Hirscher and Kristoffersen, who were 1-2 in the discipline standings for each of the past three seasons, continued their slalom rivalry.

Their dominance was underlined once more as the rest of the field, led by Olympic champion Andre Myhrer of Sweden, was more than 1.4 seconds behind.

His third place made Myhrer the oldest skier to reach a World Cup slalom podium. At 35 years and 311 days, he beat the previous mark, set by Italy's Patrick Thaler in 2014, by four days.

Hirscher said he was relieved after leading Kristoffersen by 0.07 seconds in the first run.

"No matter what happens next, it's great and super to know that I am among the fastest," he said in-between the runs.

Clement Noel came closest, trailing by 0.38 in third, but the Frenchman skied out at a tricky passage close to the finish of the final run.

Many racers struggled at that point, and Hirscher said he was helped by teammate Michael Matt, who warned him over the team radio right after his run.

"Otherwise I could have easily lost those nine hundredths there," said Hirscher, who added 0.02 to his first-run lead over Kristoffersen.

Hirscher and Matt were two of five Austrians in the top 10, and Hirscher expected some of them to close the gap to him and Kristoffersen soon.

"There has been a generation change in the slalom team, and those guys are now definitely ready for podiums and victories," Hirscher said.

By coming runner-up, Kristoffersen kept a remarkable series going. Since the start of last season, the Norwegian has been on the podium of all 10 slalom races. Only Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark had more top-three slalom finishes in a row — 12, in 1975-76 and again 1977-78.

Sunday's race was the first of the men's season after a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, was called off due to bad weather in October.

Last year's winner, Felix Neureuther of Germany, skipped the race after breaking his right thumb in training Friday. Neureuther, who was set to make his comeback from a one-year break due to a torn ACL, flew back to Munich to undergo surgery.

The men's World Cup continues with speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta, next weekend.

Colorado plans changes in state mental health crisis system

WESTMINSTER (AP) — Most people who walk in the door of a small, brick building labeled “24/7 Crisis Center” are depressed, suicidal, or experiencing audio or visual hallucinations. Others are young adults going through the first breakup of their lives, feeling so distraught they want to talk to a therapist.

Every crisis is “self-defined,” and Colorado’s 12 walk-in centers have had almost 68,000 visits since they opened four years ago.

The centers — along with a statewide crisis hotline, mobile crisis teams and five-day stabilization clinics — were created in response to the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, a mass murder committed by a University of Colorado graduate student who, according to his attorneys, was “in the throes of a psychotic episode.”

Now, four years after Colorado’s $33 million mental health crisis system was set up, it will undergo radical change, The Colorado Sun reports.

State officials, who are seeking new contractors to oversee the system, say an overhaul is needed to improve mobile-crisis response, incorporate local mental health services that already exist and, more broadly, put separate people in charge of financial and clinical decisions.

“We see this as an evolution to the crisis system,” said Dr. Robert Werthwein, director of the state Office of Behavioral Health.

But for those who manage the current system, the overhaul is an affront to their progress. There are now four contractors that manage four mental health crisis regions, and none of them bid on the new contract. The new system will transform the four regions into seven, in part to align with the state’s Medicaid government insurance regions. It will break up the metro-area region into three regions.

Each of the seven could have its own contractor, or one agency could oversee all seven, under the rules.

The current contractors — which are coalitions formed by groups of local mental health centers — are accusing the state of tearing up the process instead of simply tweaking what is flawed. They filed a formal appeal to the state, which was rejected, and planned to appeal in Denver District Court.

Meanwhile, responses to the state’s request for proposals were due the week of Nov. 4, and state officials hope to have new contractors by the end of the year.

“You are not going to have statewide crisis services,” said Rick Doucet, CEO of the Community Reach Center, which runs a walk-in crisis center, a five-day stabilization center, a mobile-response unit and a respite center in the north Denver suburbs. “You are going to have probably a hodgepodge of services offered across the state. There won’t be much in the way of integration or communication and it definitely is going to damage the metro area.”

Colorado Crisis Connection, the contractor for the Denver metro region, was created by six mental health centers, including the Mental Health Center of Denver and Community Reach Center.

The agency, which holds the state contract, subcontracts to its own mental health centers to provide crisis care. Many of the mental health centers, including Community Reach Center, increased their services to provide mobile response teams and walk-in clinics four years ago.

The legislation that created Colorado’s crisis system also created a new source of funding for mental health centers willing to expand their services to fit the requirements of the law. The system received a boost in 2017 with legislation that made it illegal for Colorado to lock people in jail on mental health holds if they had not committed a crime.

“That was a pot of money that allowed us to expand,” said Doucet, noting that the state funding has helped fund crisis services for people who had no insurance or were underinsured.

Under the new plan, developed by the state Office of Behavioral Health, the contractor will hire a variety of mental health providers in a region, including some that already exist and others that might open. In Douglas County, for example, a mobile-crisis unit that already exists could receive state funding to become part of the crisis system.

It removes the conflict of interest that exists in allowing coalitions of mental health centers to make decisions on how to spend state money at the same time they are making decisions about what is the best for patients, Werthwein said.

Werthwein said the state “has to take some ownership” for the system’s flaws because the rules weren’t specific enough. He is particularly disappointed with the network of mobile crisis teams, which two-thirds of the time have responded not to a home, dorm room or workplace as intended, but to emergency departments and mental health centers, according to state data.

State officials also were distressed about the findings of a sample analysis of calls to the hotline. In several instances, the hotline dispatcher wanted mobile teams to respond, yet the teams chose not to go out on the call. “That’s a problem when two behavioral health entities are conflicting on whether they need to go out,” Werthwein said.

Doucet, however, said state officials should allow mental health providers who know the community to make decisions about when to respond. They get to know frequent callers and know whether a mobile unit might escalate the situation, for example.

He also took issue with the implication that mental health providers cannot properly manage spending and patient welfare at the same time. For decades, they have served state Medicaid clients.

The crisis system, billed as revolutionary and Colorado’s first statewide network for mental crisis help, now has 107 beds where patients can stay up to five days, 12 walk-in centers and a handful of respite care centers where people can voluntarily check in for 14 days.

The system, though, lacks accountability and “has not been managed well” to make sure its contractors are in compliance, according to an independent review that noted that the state Office of Behavioral Health has only two employees responsible for the system.

The review also suggested the state align its crisis regions with its Medicaid regions, since Medicaid is one of the largest insurance payers for mental health services in the state. The shift would reduce duplication, including in billing, and could improve data collection.

The state and current contractors also are battling over administrative costs.

The current contractors say they have kept overhead expenses to under 10 percent and contend that breaking the four crisis regions into seven will mean more overhead. The state’s request for proposals said the new contractors cannot spend more than 25 percent on administrative costs.

The current contractors and the state also are at odds over the allocation of funds to each region. The state claims the remodeled system will dispense funds more evenly, tying regional allocations to population. Contractors, though, said rural areas will get the short end of the deal.