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Holly McLain: That’s a park, not a wetlands in Snowmass Village

Town Park wetlands? If you build it they will come! They will come with dogs off leash to jump in the pond. They will come with children to picnic on a man-made beach.

They will come in larger numbers because our Roaring Fork Valley is growing, as Highway 82 traffic is becoming a slow crawl from Aspen to Glenwood for workers to service the booming pleasure grounds nestled in our mountains. 

A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded by water. If the town of Snowmass Village chooses to disturb their natural wetlands with walking paths, raised boardwalks, bridges and a beach at the originally man made pond, then this natural area will turn into a human byway and amusement park.  

Many native species will leave. Some species will stay, because they have adapted to humans, but the rare, more shy creatures will flee. 

Ecological resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change, retaining the same function, structure and identity. Impacts of construction disturbances caused by this town water park and the human intrusion that follows will remove any semblance of a true natural wetland. 

Snowmass Creek water is clean and clear. I know, because I owned Moon Run Ranch in Old Snowmass for 47 years. Snowmass Village takes water from Snowmass Creek by right. The town prizes this quality water, which is pumped up from the bottom of Snowmass Creek to the village. The Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus, of which I was a member, has fought for years to protect stream flows in Snowmass Creek for aquatic life sustainability. 

The quality of Brush Creek water has always been poor. The soil combination of shale, clay and low stream flow compromises the quality of this urban streamwater.

The proximity of the Snowmass Club Golf Course and Snowmass Water and Sanitation and other urban village sources likely contribute to water runoff of excessive levels of unwanted nutrients.

The Town Park’s man-made pond was improved in 2007 to serve as a filter for sediment and as a catchment retention-containment pond that collects sludge and silt, and is now clogged by bull rushes.

The true wetland, below the pond, is a winding course of small seeps and streams protected by native vegetation and which sustains an abundance of biodiverse life. It also filters the water headed downstream to the Roaring Fork River. 

Dogs off leash are a major problem in the wetland area. It has been reported that dogs have been swimming in the man-made pond. Perhaps the town of Snowmass Village should create a dog park for residents and their animals, which will offset damage done to our natural wetland environment.  

It makes sense to clean and establish a healthy pond, leaving native grasses and some bull rushes near the outlet. If the Town Council votes not to disrupt the natural wetlands, the wildlife will stay!

Holly McLain’s family built the second home on the developing ski mountain in the town of Snowmass Village in the early 1970s.

Art Allard: No plea bargains with the almighty

According to the original state papers, the United States of America was intended to be founded upon civil, human principles described as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” with each requiring the cooperation of the other.

It follows that law was enacted such that political, economic and religious equality be made available to all citizens; that privilege (of any kind) be unrecognized, particularly insofar as class is concerned.

In America, legitimate journalism is properly recognized as the Fourth Estate — that is, as an instrument dedicated to the advancement of liberal democracy.

Since law is the means by which civil, human principles continue, it is noted that law itself exists on a greater and lesser plane.

For America is said, by its original documents, to be “One nation under God.”

Therefore, divine law is of infinitely greater importance than civil (human positive law) in that God, its originator, is supreme, whereas man’s law is merely a weak effort and often at odds with divine law itself.

As taught by the biblical God himself, interference within human (and natural) order occurs according to acceptance of the seven primary failings: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.

These weaknesses were initially revealed to the Jews and later to Christians, by explaining that love of God and love of man cannot be accomplished while in avoidance of divine law which leads to civil disorder.

By definition, failure to obey divine law is called sin, and failure to obey civil law (if proper) is called crime.

Each failure, of course, describes within the individual the suspension of rational thought and behavior.

And so Karl Menninger, the renowned psychiatrist, in aligning sin and crime, produced “What Ever Became of Sin?”

For just as crime carries with it punishment (but only if prosecuted), so does sin. Punishment for crime is determined by one’s fellow citizens, themselves weak, sinful and corrupt. Sin, however, is determined by the divine judge, who is not weak, sinful, corrupt or unjust.

Further, punishment for crime is temporal, no matter the extent of injury to others. Judgment by God, however, is awful and permanent … unless genuine forgiveness is requested, and retribution, if possible, is made available to the injured.

In Aspen, with an economy dedicated to the material interests of those who overlook the sins of pride, greed, lust and gluttony, who deny eschatological concerns, whose wealth permits avoidance of civil punishment, whose lifestyle causes social havoc and damage to nature (the divine construct), and who deny human love, arrogance and disrespect for civil, social order leaves many in precarious straits.

In denial of a final rendering, they remain vulnerable — for, in the divine court of eternal justice, there is no provision for plea bargaining.

Art Allard is an Aspen resident.

Kosdrosky: APCHA’s PR issue has deeper roots

The cliché “the more things change, the more they stay the same” came to mind after reading The Aspen Times’ article “Fear, distrust of Aspen’s housing program a growing concern” last week.

As a former executive director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, I believe the organization’s problems have more to do with politics than public relations. Although both are clearly at issue, one looms large over the other.

APCHA’s governance structure determines its politics. Under Colorado law, any combination of cities, towns and counties may contract with each other to establish “a separate government entity to be known as a multi-jurisdictional housing authority.” The key phrase here being “separate government entity.”

But, is APCHA a separate government entity independent from the political whims and controls of either the city or county?

In 2012, three years before I started with APCHA, the all-citizens APCHA volunteer board hired a third-party law firm out of Boulder to investigate this very question.

According to the law firm, all housing authorities in Colorado are authorized by state law and defined by intergovernmental agreements. Once created by any combination of contracting local governments, every housing authority should act as an independent governmental unit. But, “at some point … an entity would cease to be an independent governmental unit if the governments that created it take over all of its decision-making functions.”

In 2019, the city and county amended the agreement governing APCHA that replaced the all-citizen board with a hybrid of citizens and elected officials. This “reform” measure gave elected officials from the city and county not only a direct seat at the housing policy table, but also an oversized influence on any of APCHA’s little remaining administrative independence.

In short, the city and county doubled down on demoting APCHA to a department of the city without calling it that. They did so despite warnings from the previous all-citizens APCHA board at the time in The Aspen Times and the 2012 legal opinion, which stated: “Regardless of the financial relationship between the parties or delegation of APCHA duties to the city, the APCHA is not a department or division of the city or county. It is an independent political subdivision.”

Anyone who knows APCHA knows that it is not currently run as a separate government entity nor as an independent housing authority as intended under state law. Anyone who says otherwise strains the limits of credulity.

APCHA clearly has a public-relations problem. But, that problem is just a symptom of a much larger issue, which is the politics of its intergovernmental agreement as defined by its overreaching creators.

Mike Kosdrosky, MPA, is the principal and owner of Workforce Housing Solutions.

James McMahon: Fear of wolves rooted in myth

Wolves are coming to Colorado, and so far I have not witnessed people preparing for their arrival. Letters appear in local papers suggesting that ranchers will be the victims once wolves return. Hunters won’t find elk. Outfitters will go broke.

The myth of wolves is driving this concern, but the reality of wolves is not. 

Wolf advocates have downplayed the negative impact of wolves. The passing of Proposition 114 is a feather in the cap for those whose goal was to establish connectivity between wolves from Canada to Mexico.

Now comes the hard part. If Colorado is to be different from the Northern Rockies, where wolves are being hunted, or southern New Mexico/Arizona where reintroduction is a dismal failure in a hostile human environment, reintroduction must be done differently.

The key lies in understanding wolves. There’s no doubt that ranchers, hunters and outfitters will be affected. Rural residents will be, too. People will have to adapt. Wolves will put elk herds on the move so hunters will have to actually hunt to find them. Livestock predation will occur. Pets will be killed. These are facts.

Still, none of these people will suffer nearly as much as they fear. A single rancher, such as the case in North Park, might find himself singled out because a wolf pack established a territory that includes his ranch. Pure chance had that pack chase a herd of elk through his cattle and start them on the run.

Wolves have been missing from Colorado for at least 80 years. So people’s views of wolves are rooted in hearsay. Wolves and humans co-exist in relative peace in places in Europe, like Spain, where wolves were never eliminated.

It would be most helpful if Colorado Parks and Wildlife were to dedicate a full-time person to educational outreach providing factual information about wolves. Conflict can be reduced if the public has a better understanding of wolf behavior. 

Most wolf packs never bother livestock. Ranching has always been a hard way to make a living, but ranchers live on the land in ways that city folk never will. As people who know our wildlands, perhaps some can come to see wolves as a new and fascinating neighbor. A difficult neighbor, to be sure. Can we be curious? Can we be fascinated?

It’s time to prepare. Ranchers would be well served by studying both the non-lethal methods and stockmanship practices that result in minimizing losses. Running untended livestock in the mountains where wolves are present will have to change.

The Colorado Cattleman’s Association can take a lead role by providing training in stockmanship practices that reduce livestock losses. Likewise, Colorado Woolgrowers could be researching sheep dog breeds in Europe that successfully protect against wolves.

Ranching is an integral part of Colorado. Ranches provide open space, wildlife habitat, and grand vistas that make Colorado an amazing state. It is only if ranching remains profitable that ranches will continue to provide a shield against a landscape filled with subdivisions. 

If wolf opponents and advocates remain stuck in their views, reintroduction will result in fear and conflict. It is the people of Colorado — ranchers, hunters, outfitters and wolf advocates alike — who will make reintroduction a success or a dismal failure. 

I do not see us on that path. I see obstinance on both sides. Unless we all start to prepare, the current trajectory is toward dead sheep, dead cows and dead wolves.

James P. McMahon has a B.S. in ecology and animal behavior from the University of Illinois and extensive experience in community organizing. He lives in Durango.

Elizabeth Key: Aspen’s housing noose tightens

Last summer, on my lowest day, I shamelessly wept in public. I melted out of my car, my butt hitting the asphalt, door left ajar, spine curled under like a kicked dog, splayed fingers catching my tears. My pent-up anguish, frustration and fear gushed from my body in rivulets of snot, tears and saliva. It was an unexpected meltdown, a cleansing purge of the emotions I could no longer control.

When I was finally brave enough to ask for a divorce, I knew I would lose my home, but I never thought I would lose the valley where I was born and raised or the community that defined me during my lifetime. I had seen myself grow through the community’s eyes and watched them age through mine. Each wrinkle a communal gift, each haircut a conversation, each achievement a celebration, each encounter the glue of wallpaper of my life.

There are those who bought newspapers from me for 50 cents in the courtyard of Clark’s Market during middle school. Those who accompanied me on car trips to the big top in the big city. Our mothers conversed in the front seat while we tried holding our breaths in the backseat through the length of the Eisenhower tunnel.

The children I grew up with splashing in the hot springs on summer days, daring each other to dive off the Olympic heights of the diving board, and bumping our bodies down the seams and twists of the water slide, followed by a game of putt-putt on the faded greens beneath.

There are those who have checked me out for decades at City Market and look like Father Christmas, who converse in the royal we. “And how are we doing today? We are fine today. Yes, we are doing just fine.”

There are those I know by voice in the farmers markets or know their dog’s name but have neglected to remember theirs. There are those of nameless faces who have given me a hundred smiles, the occasional wave, and possibly a knowing glance. All of these people, generations worth, are the fingerprints of my identity and add depth to my life experience. It is no small thing to lose a residence but losing a community is to be ripped from your roots.

PUSHING LUCK

My housing issue was daunting, seemingly insurmountable. I was parched in this wasteland of a housing market, a barren search radius encircling my ZIP code and beyond. During this time, my good friend and neighbor said, “It just takes one.” It just takes one break, one chance encounter, one act of compassion, one dot on a Zillow map to change homelessness into stable housing.

I took up his mantra and forged ahead, looking for one rental, one apartment, one condo or one house. I pushed my notifications and placed Realtors in the favorites on my contact list. I looked at depressing and unaffordable rentals with broken fluorescent lighting, low popcorn ceilings, and dark crevasses for bedrooms. I allowed myself to be vulnerable to hope, envisioning the abundance of security and stability. I knew I was not alone in my search, and I tried to view that as a comfort rather than a competition.

During this time, Anne “Annie” Vores was also looking for stable housing in Snowmass. Annie has carved up the slopes of Aspen and Snowmass as a ski and snowboard instructor for the past 50 years. She has probably produced hundreds of moguls with her turns, her line permanently imprinted in the memories of the mountains. 

As Annie stretches into her twilight years, she finds that the community she has contributed to for decades may have become uninhabitable for year-round residents lacking seven-figure bank accounts. The co-tenancy agreement she entered 30 years earlier fell apart when her co-tenant’s husband died, and the wife decided to sell.

Annie said she never used employee housing because she could always find a home until recently. She is currently living in Aspen Ski Company housing with her partner of 17 years, Tim. Annie said Skico has been very accommodating, but they have a length-of-stay policy.

“It’s like, well, doesn’t the 50 years I have worked count for anything?” Annie and Tim need to move out in the fall. Now, the housing market is bleak, and they may be forced from their community.

Tim laments the lack of support for older populations who have served the valley for decades. “There wasn’t a policy of how retirees might be able to stay here once you stop being of value to the economy,” he said. “You’ve got to move. … An immediate goal was can Annie make it to her 50th year of working on the mountain? Kinda as a personal achievement.”

UPHILL QUEST

Aspen City Councilwoman Rachel Richards has worked in the Aspen government for decades. She has advocated for the affordable housing program during her career, but she said many community members actively lobby against it.

“It has reached this crisis point where some community members say, ‘Hey we should turn into a rental-only housing program, so that way we kick out anybody as soon as they are disabled, or old. … They don’t think about the consequences to the community by not allowing anybody to develop any equity and not have any security,” she said.

Along with the local housing crisis, the pandemic has caused a cultural and economic shift worldwide. It has exacerbated and accelerated many issues across the country, but the disparity of wealth in Aspen makes the results especially acute and glaring.

“I believe it is obvious that our community and our valley are being hollowed out of permanent residents and long-term community members on a daily basis,” Richards added.

Remote work has availed people who were previously relegated to urban coasts to choose to live where they vacation. Surging housing demand has overinflated the market, making once-affordable housing a valuable commodity. Owners displace much of the local long-term renting population to cash in on the housing market or switch to more lucrative short-term rentals. This leaves locals homeless, cast out from their long-established communities.

SHORT-TERM BOON

Richards said the Glenwood and downvalley communities, which previously absorbed displaced Aspen locals, have shifted housing priorities in favor of tourism: ”They can now short-term rent their units for a weekend and make what they used to make in a month. It’s not that Aspen’s short-term rentals are killing everything. It’s that everybody is short-term renting.”

Aspen’s Mayor Torre said the city of Aspen is trying to regulate short-term rentals and address development to protect the local community.

“We are trying to put some mitigation in for these monster homes that are taking housing away from people, he said. “We are putting in regulations even around the demolition, the taking down of some houses currently housing a local.”

Parker Lathrop is an Aspen native and the chief deputy of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department.

“I have a lot of friends who had that ski bum lifestyle,” he said. “They lived in the old Aspen ski lodges, or they rented a smaller home, whether at the base of Smuggler or the West End.”

Parker noticed that housing was torn down or remodeled as values increased, permanently removing affordable housing options for the local community.

He had a discussion with a group of his lifelong local friends at a recent gathering. He observed Aspen locals being washed down the valley and recreating with their displaced community in the downvalley towns.

“They have that same community that used to be up here in Aspen developing in the midvalley,” he said. “They miss being in Aspen next to the ski mountains. … All the people they spend time with, everyone, is down in that midvalley now, so they aren’t missing it as much as they thought they would.”

He reflected how they’d prefer to have stayed in the upper valley, where their roots are, if the housing market hadn’t gentrified them out. “Unfortunately, the mid-valley is also becoming financially unattainable for the working class,” he added, “pushing them farther down the valley and even out of the valley, down the 1-70 corridor as far as Grand Junction.”

Richards said that downvalley communities are no longer interested in housing the upvalley workforce. She said, “If you look at the new free-market units that are coming online outside of Pitkin County, they are all geared toward second-home ownership pricing.”

Denise Drake moved to Aspen in 1979 and currently works for a senior caregiving company. Her longtime roommate suddenly moved without notice, leaving Denise responsible for a two-bedroom apartment she couldn’t afford. She has actively been looking for a home since October and is currently living with a friend. She initially looked into moving to Grand Junction but has decided she can’t bear to leave the valley despite the distressing changes.

Now she sees the wealth infiltrating downvalley communities. “Basalt has been Aspenized,” she said. “The billionaires pushed the millionaires to Basalt. It’s the greed. It’s the Airbnb. That’s what is really killing this valley. … It’s lost its charm. It’s the money. The people don’t appreciate what Aspen used to be. They have no clue of the history.”

THE REAL NEED

Mayor Torre has worked in the Aspen City government throughout his career. He also noticed a lack of support in the private sector for housing mitigation: “We need a paradigm shift. We need less greed and more compassion. We feel a need for housing, we know it’s growth, but we think this is good growth and community-building growth.”

When Aubry Mineghino first moved to Aspen from Maui nine years ago, she rented a place without a kitchen for $1,000 a month and did her dishes in the shower. She and her dog spent last winter sleeping in her Toyota Sunrader camper that she parked on quiet streets all over Aspen. At night they slept homeless among some of the country’s most expensive and typically empty real estate, while the median home price in Aspen this past year pushed $15 million.

“It was super tough to find legitimate spots that weren’t in people’s neighborhoods,” she said, “I would pull up late, then wake up early and then go to the Aspen Recreation Center shower, sauna and go do my day.”

Mineghino, who is a massage therapist, said, “My clientele is very high-end. I have a lot of clients who have homes that they live in for one week out of the whole year. … It’s a weird in-between of empty homes in the valley and the difference between people that make a lot of money and us hardworking people that live in the valley who support the wealthy.”

Deputy Parker said, “I definitely know some people who have been in the valley for a long time that are now living out of their vehicles — a fair amount of people call their cars home.”

Mineghino feels like homelessness is being normalized in the Roaring Fork Valley. “From my end, and other people I know in the valley, they have all lived in their trucks, or they have had no housing for a while. It’s just become ‘Oh, you live in your truck? OK, great.’”

Not having access to secure housing is stressful and takes a toll, Aubry said. “It feels hard to focus on daily life and what matters most when you have to figure out housing. It takes away from the rest of my life and relationships. … It really stirs up everything else in your life when you don’t have a home.”

Mineghino hopes that increased awareness of the locals’ struggles can inspire change to make Aspen a more inclusive and vibrant community.

“People who are coming here from LA or Miami or New York. They are totally oblivious and unaware,” she said. “If we had housing for everyone, you would have more people waiting at your table or checking you out at the grocery store.”

She said that her income has nothing to do with being homeless: “We’re humans, of course. Our worth is not our monetary income. It’s crazy. I just never thought that I would be making $70,000-plus a year and be homeless.”

RETHINK TOURISM?

At the same time, Councilwoman Richards recognizes that Aspen no longer has the workforce to support high-end tourism. She said, “The guests are not going to get their services or the expectations for the high dollar they are paying (to be) satisfied.”

She believes that Aspen needs to reconsider bringing in large numbers of tourists.

“You can’t just keep bringing them in and have them find out that the breakfast shop is closed, they can’t do housekeeping changeovers on your room, there are no cabs in town,” she said. “This is bad, and it’s going to continue to get worse.”

Many of the solutions to this crisis are as scarce as housing. Richards implores the private sector to be more conscientious and not rely on the city of Aspen to supply the majority of affordable housing.

“If everyone thinks the government is going to solve everything for the private sector so it can crank out $2 million homes and still have a workforce, the government is not going to be able to do that,” she said. “I’d like to see hotels closing off a few rooms and housing their own workers in their hotels.”

NEED TO DO MORE

The city of Aspen is attempting to aid in this crisis by building more affordable units and adding stricter regulations. Still, much of the Aspen community will be wiped out before anything significant can be accomplished.

My “just one” came from a last-minute call from a Realtor while I was dreading the move to Fort Collins.

Community isn’t about commodity, but it does take investment. The wealthy have been skimming a living wage off the working class, who are an integral part of a functioning society.

The ecosystem of community needs balance. The mass indifference of the elite is dehumanizing and demoralizing. The headstones of closed signs “due to staff shortage” represent the locals who have lost their homes and livelihoods.

People need to step out of the echo chamber of wealth and stop cannibalizing the community they depend upon. Open your hearts and homes to the people you are displacing. I recently opened my home to a homeless local. Hire locals and pay a living wage.

The private sector can save the historic Aspen community. It only takes one act of compassion to change a life.

Elizabeth Key is from Aspen and lives in Redstone. She can be reached at lizkey79@icloud.com

Writers on the Range: Ditches are a vanishing paradise

Annette Choszczyk lives in rural western Colorado these days, but when she was a kid, the Highline Canal in Denver was her summer paradise.

“To us, it was river and a playground, complete with rope swings, swimming holes, crawdads and a trail alongside it that adults and kids could walk on to the foothills or far out into the prairie.” They always called it a ditch, this 71-mile-long canal that carried water all over Denver.

Throughout the West, thousands of ditches that snake for miles through semi-arid country are nothing less than beloved. They add living green corridors to walk or bike along, impromptu wetlands frequented by birds, and always, a respite from summer heat.

But now a warming climate delivers less melted snow to rivers that supply these diversion ditches with water. Federal legislation also mandates piping many earthen ditches to cut salinity in the Colorado River water that’s sent to Mexico.

The result: Dry trails, disappearing wetlands and the end of a rural and urban amenity.

Many people mourn the loss. “With less water we have to figure out how to try to retain the best of what we value the most,” says John Fleck, a water researcher at the University of New Mexico’s Utton Center. He says the Griego Lateral, in Albuquerque, that he regularly bikes along, was built in 1708, and during the COVID lockdown, the ditch bank was mobbed with bikers and walkers desperate to get outdoors. “There is incredible value in these ditches,” he says.

But Fleck points out that we’re confronted by difficult choices: “How much water do we keep in rivers and which ditches do we save?” Any loss can be painful, and in a blog post, Fleck said simply: “I love living near a ditch.”

You could say of Cary Denison, former project coordinator for Trout Unlimited and an irrigator, that he was born in irrigation boots. “In western Colorado, my dad was the superintendent of the Fire Mountain Canal,” he says, “and my first job was irrigating.” These days, though, Denison thinks rivers get shortchanged because too much water gets diverted into ditches.

“Then a river suffers,” he says. “We need to maintain enough water in the river for fish and plant life.”

Dennison recalls a startling moment as he irrigated family property outside of Hotchkiss, Colorado. The gated 12-inch pipe was clogged, so he and his brother began cleaning it out, expecting a mass of leaves and twigs. But the clog turned out to be the biggest brown trout — “and I fished almost daily,” he says — that he’d ever seen. That fish had come a long way. Their property was 9 miles from the diversion where the river was sweeping almost entirely into the ditch.

These days Dennison is an irrigator himself and lives in the town of Ridgway. But he recalls that giant brown trout as “a day where irrigators should have taken less.” The experience led Denison toward his work in conservation: “We need to take only the water from rivers we absolutely need.”

Fleck and other students of the Colorado River see a time coming soon when many water diversions will cease because of their lower priority dates. Some ditches are already dry, as the water gets left in the river for the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California. These states share the river equally with the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming, where the river begins and gathers strength.

Over centuries, Fleck says, “one of the things that we’ve done in all these Western landscapes is to narrow the river itself with levees and dams and control it in a narrow channel. And we’ve distributed water across the floodplain through ditches. It’s this huge rich, complex social and cultural ecosystem that we’ve all lived in for hundreds of years.”

But increasing aridity is already changing that pattern. Earlier this summer, Choszczyk, who now lives in western Colorado, mourned the loss of some of her local ditches as they got piped, ending the riparian ribbon that enhanced her neighborhood.

“Generations of children will have poorer childhoods because they will never have a ‘wild’ place along a ditch to explore,” she says.

It’s hard to love a semi-desert once you’ve come to appreciate the wonders that a ditch can bring.

Dave Marston is publisher of Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to lively discussion about the West.

Writers on the Range: The ‘Keystone Pipeline’ won’t make gas any cheaper

”A report that the Biden administration is weighing greater imports of Canadian oil is putting a renewed focus on the canceled Keystone XL pipeline and whether it would have made any difference with today’s tight oil supply.” — Energywire

Ever since boycotts started blocking Russian petroleum products, social media has been rife with memes that blame rising gasoline prices on “the cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline.”

Example: “Sooo, if shutting down Russia’s pipeline(s) will hurt their economy, wouldn’t shutting down ours hurt our economy? Asking for a buddy.”

Most of the criticism comes from people who recycle truthiness. Former vice president Mike Pence: “Gas prices have risen across the country because of this administration’s war on energy — shutting down the Keystone Pipeline.” Republican Rep. Jim Jordan: “Biden shut off the Keystone Pipeline.”

Here’s what really happened: No one shut down, canceled or shut off the Keystone Pipeline. It is fully operational, daily delivering 590,000 barrels of tar-sands oil in Canada to U.S. refineries.

What some pipeline advocates think is the “Keystone Pipeline” is a 1,700-mile “shortcut” called Keystone XL, or KXL. It would have sliced through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast, delivering 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day. Many residents of those states fought fiercely against the pipeline cutting through their land.

Now, “Build the Keystone Pipeline” has become a social-media mantra, as if the United States could so decree. It is the Canadian firm, TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, that officially terminated the project once President Biden withdrew its permits.  

Even if construction on the pipeline began tomorrow, KXL could not be up and running in less than five years. The KXL pipeline was a project developed by a foreign company that would have delivered foreign oil products to mostly foreign markets.

When President Trump re-permitted KXL in 2017, his own State Department reported that it would not lower gasoline prices. The price of oil is set by the global market and certainly not by U.S. presidents. What’s more, the project was just about dead for a number of reasons, including litigation from aggrieved property owners whose land TC Energy seized by eminent domain.

We should also remember that rendering gasoline from tar-sands oil, the planet’s dirtiest petroleum, is far more polluting and energy-intensive than conventional refining. Some carbon content is burned off in a process that belches greenhouse gases and generates toxic waste called petcoke, which is dumped around the United States in piles six stories high. Petcoke billows through neighborhoods and infiltrates schools and houses even when windows are shut.

Bitumen, basically asphalt, continues to be strip-mined from what used to be Canada’s boreal forests in Alberta. Too thick to be piped, it’s spiked with volatile liquid condensate from natural gas and thus converted to a toxic tar-sands cocktail called “dilbit,” short for diluted bitumen.

Dilbit, sent through the existing Keystone pipeline, contains chloride salts, sulfur, abrasive minerals and acids, and must be pumped under high pressure. It’s murder on pipes.

In addition to greenhouse gases and petcoke, tar-sands waste products include lakes, rivers, fish, wildlife and people. Between 1995 and 2006, when tar-sands extraction was accelerating, Alberta’s First Nations suffered a sudden 30% increase in cancer rates.

KXL, if built, also threatened the world’s largest aquifer — the Ogallala. Anyone who thinks Nebraska lacks water should visit Green Valley Township, where I encountered Ogallala water so close to the surface it flowed along dirt roads and ditches. Pintails, mallards and widgeon billowed out of them. But parts of the aquifer are now depleted, and a major dilbit spill could finish those parts off.

In 2011, a pipeline representative named Shawn Howard assured me that ramming a dilbit pipe through the Ogallala aquifer would be risk free.

“Why,” he demanded, “would we invest $13 billion in a pipeline and put a product in it that was going to destroy it like these activists are trotting out? It makes absolutely no business sense.”

The existing Keystone pipeline has ruptured 22 times, including spills in 2017 and 2019 that fouled land and water with 404,000 gallons of dilbit. Business sense, as the oil industry consistently reminds us, is an attribute more often desired than possessed.

Ted Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring conversation about the West. He writes about fish, wildlife and the environment for national publications.

Guest Column: New polling shows Coloradans broadly support curbing Big Tech’s influence in news

The news that Sheryl Sandberg would be stepping down from her role as chief operating officer at Facebook has reignited the conversation over the power of Big Tech companies in the United States.

Sandberg’s tenure at Facebook included high-profile instances of Facebook’s abuse of data privacy and amplifications of Russian-sourced misinformation during the 2016 presidential election. It also overlapped with the rise of Big Tech monopolies, which have amassed far too much control over our economy and our politics, and over the news, content and information we gather and read.

Alphabet and Facebook — through their news aggregator sites, Google News and Facebook News sites — have used their economic and political might to gain control over the vast majority of the news and information Coloradans consume by appropriating the work of small, local and independent journalists. 

Put another way, Google News and Facebook News have come to dominate the news and publishing space by expropriating the work of smaller and local operators, who don’t have the capacity to fight back against these tech giants.

To be sure, Coloradans recognize the threat of Big Tech’s stranglehold over the news and media space and are united in their desire to curb Big Tech’s outsized power and influence.

New polling by Schoen Cooperman Research — which was conducted among a representative sample of Colorado adults and commissioned by News Media Alliance — shows widespread concern over Big Tech’s power, as well as strong support for reforms to rein in Big Tech monopolies. 

Three-quarters of Coloradans are generally concerned about the economic and political power of Big Tech companies — and are even more troubled by the power that Big Tech companies have over the news industry and especially over small, local, independent journalists. 

Indeed, roughly 4-in-5 Coloradans are concerned that Big Tech companies have too much power over the news and publishing industries (83%), and that Big Tech companies manipulate the news and publishing industries for their own gain (79%).

In the same vein, Coloradans are broadly concerned that Big Tech companies are driving small and local news outlets out of business (80%), and largely agree that Big Tech’s monopoly over the news industry is a threat to the free press and is unfair to small and local news outlets (82%).

Not only are Coloradans widely worried about the power and undue influence of Big Tech companies — they are also strongly supportive of elected officials in Washington, D.C., taking steps to address the issue. 

Roughly three-quarters of Colorado adults agree with statements referencing the need for Congress to take action, including: “I support Congress taking steps to give small and local publishers more power in negotiations with Big Tech companies” (77%) as well as “Congress needs to rein in Big Tech by passing reforms that would make the publishing industry fairer for smaller media entities and local operators” (73%).

Further, majorities of Coloradans decidedly support Congress allowing news publishers to band together to collectively negotiate fairer terms for use of their content by Big Tech (71%) and increasing regulations on Big Tech in order to curb their power over the news and publishing industries (59%). 

Importantly, Coloradans indicate that a political candidate’s support for these reforms — or lack thereof — could impact their vote in an election. By a four-to-one margin, Colorado adults would be more likely, rather than less likely, to support a candidate for Congress who backed the aforementioned reforms. 

In terms of the specific reforms Congress can enact, our survey sought to determine support for a proposed piece of bipartisan legislation that was introduced earlier this year, known as the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act . The JCPA would allow news publishers to negotiate fair terms for use of their content by Big Tech companies.

After seeing a brief description of the bill, strong majorities of Coloradans we surveyed support Congress passing the JCPA (69%) and believe it is important for Congress to do so (64%). And, by nearly a 4-1 margin, Coloradans would be more likely, rather than less likely, to support a candidate for Congress who supported passing the JCPA. 

To that end, seven in 10 Coloradans agree with the statement: “Elected officials who oppose the JCPA are allowing Big Tech companies to continue manipulating the news and publishing industries for their own gain, leaving small and local publishers powerless.”

In my experience as a professional pollster who has worked in the industry for more than 40 years, it is rare for an issue to attract such widespread, bipartisan support. Colorado’s elected officials from both parties now have an opportunity to support the JCPA, which our data indicates could have a positive electoral impact for these members. 

Put plainly, Coloradans are deeply concerned about Big Tech’s outsized influence, its manipulation of the news industry, and the threats posed to small, local, independent media. 

Fortunately, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act is viable a solution that would put an end to Big Tech’s market manipulation and selfish profiteering — which has hurt local journalism immensely — while making the news industry freer and fairer. 

Douglas Schoen is an American lawyer, political analyst, author, lobbyist and commentator.

Writers on the Range: Tips for a new code of the West

It’s not always easy living in the rural West, with customs so entrenched that everybody takes them for granted. What makes it hard for the newest newcomers is that they’re caught up in a mysterious culture.

Learning the Old West code was easy decades ago. Novelist Zane Gray’s “Code of the West” told men to wear a hat only outdoors, to never wave but nod at someone on horseback, and to treat women with chivalry. You — and you were always presumed to be male — were also advised to take your gun belt off before sitting down to eat.

But here we are in 2022, and from what county officials and some jaundiced newcomers tell me, the cultural confusion for newcomers almost always starts with private property. For example, the newbies tend to get huffy about their boundaries and can’t believe they have to fence livestock out.

Wyoming, of course, is a classic fence-out state where cows outnumber people more than 2 to 1. Irrigation is another area of contention, as water law can be murky. A ditch may run close to your property but that doesn’t mean you can take water out of it.

To make the urban-rural transition easier, I’ve collected 10 tips guaranteed to ease you into your new life. But first, know that you will never become an oldtimer, although with patience you might become what Western historian Hal Rothman dubbed a “neo-native.” Here’s hoping this helps:

1. Always wave at neighbors when you see them and make eye contact with everyone who passes you, either in a car or on foot. This is not a challenge; it means you’re neighborly. And be cordial to everyone you see at the post office because you will see them everywhere. You may even see their dual personas, as many locals must work two or even three jobs to pay the rent. 

2. Never go for a long hike with new boots. Take enough water and food for yourself and to share. Bring a rain jacket and sweater and waterproof matches. The saying “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” is dead-on accurate. And when someone on a hike assures you that “it’s all downhill,” it’s only partially uphill. “A little technical” means the mountain has hair-raising sections, while “just around the corner” means the end of the trail is not.

3. Realize that nobody is more important than anybody else. Rich and poor may sport raggedy clothes. Notable figures in town are probably dogs; learn their names.

4. Know that it’s considered rude to insult a person’s dog, but if it comes on your land and harasses your cattle, you can shoot the dog. If your dog chases wildlife, you’re in for a big fine and maybe worse.

5. Flashing your headlights to oncoming cars is good form if there’s a hazard ahead, usually a deer, or perhaps a deputy sheriff trolling for speeders.

6. Notice that law enforcement people are not the only people carrying guns, and a gun on the hip doesn’t necessarily indicate political party.

7. Always stop to help people on a trail or road because federal agencies are spread too thin for fast rescues. Locals would stop to help you, even if your hat logo fails to reflect their politics.

8. You might be bored senseless, but you will learn what local public service is all about if you sample meetings from school board to county commission. And immediately volunteer at a nonprofit or two, while also subscribing to your local paper if you’re lucky enough to have one.

9. Clean jeans are considered dress-up.

10. Forgo saying you’re pretty good at something unless you have a death wish. For example, in Durango, Flagstaff or Jackson, saying you’re a “good” mountain biker or skier is an invitation to be politely left behind at midday.

Bonus tip: If you think about buying a house next to a yard full of old farm implements, don’t be tempted. That yard collection is permanent. Complaining, however, rarely works in the rural place you’ve adopted. A painful lesson might be that like it or not, you can only change yourself. Wagon wheels are always a safe decoration.

Dave Marston is the publisher of Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He grew up in rural Colorado.

Guest commentary: Don’t call me unaffiliated

I don’t want to be called unaffiliated. That’s what Colorado’s Secretary of State calls me. Merriam-Webster says it means I am “not associated with another.” It is not true.

I am an independent. And as of July 1, 2022, I am associated with 1.7 million other independent voters in Colorado. We are, by far, greater in numbers than any party. And we continue to grow for reasons I will explain below.

When it comes to being an independent, I am not a newbie. I have registered with a party only once when I was turning 21. Back then, a Democratic precinct captain in Chicago promised a summer job if I registered as a Democrat. I needed the job. It was how things worked in Chicago.

“Not a Republican” or “not a Democrat” cannot define us. We are a phenomenon. Ten years ago, we made up 30% of Colorado’s registered voters. Today, we are 45%, and it won’t be long before we become the majority.

Independents are growing because Republicans and Democrats can’t get things done; because they have allowed extremists to determine policy; because they have installed incompetent ideologues in offices of public trust; and because, for too many years, the power of money has increasingly dictated whose interests get served and whose get shafted.

Demographics have influence. Those under 35 are more likely to register as an independent. They don’t see political parties like their grandparents. In a recent national poll of Americans 18 to 29 years old, only 7% believed the United States was a “healthy democracy.”

Election reform makes a difference. Since 2018, Colorado independents can vote in the primary of our choice. And since 2020, when a citizen obtains a driver’s license, renews or changes their address on it, they are automatically registered to vote, unless they ask to opt out. As a result, taking part in elections is easier.

True, as a group, we are not alike. Many are former Republicans and Democrats disgusted by their party’s plunge into extremism. Others are true moderates who will have more influence as an independent than by continuing to play their former party’s “lesser of two evils” game. Some are apolitical. They feel a responsibility to vote but have no allegiance to a party. And there are some, unbelievably, who feel the major parties are not extreme enough.

But there are also huge differences within the Democratic Party and also within the Republican Party. Having different ideas does not disqualify us from being a group.

While we do not think alike, many of us share a common goal. When almost half of Colorado’s electorate is not represented by a political party, it is time we exert influence proportionate to our numbers. It is time independents have more say over how elections are run. Republicans and Democrats no longer deserve the right to completely dominate the political process.

What can we do?

We can make election administration nonpartisan. Why should campaign finance and election oversight be left to a politician whose party has a stake in the outcome? We cannot afford another Tina Peters, the indicted Mesa County clerk. It is an unfortunate truth, but Peters is not a one-off. Today, there are more like her, trying to gain control over our elections. And if the plans Republicans are making actually occur, 2024 election results can be overturned if they don’t like the outcome.

Primary elections need reform. Many states are experimenting with replacing separate party primaries with a single primary, throwing all parties together on one ballot. Proponents say it leads to fewer extremist candidates. There are several different approaches being tested across the country. We should evaluate each and decide which, if any, fits Coloradans best.

Only extremists deny that our future and our strength depend on cooperation. The Democratic and Republican parties have proven incapable. It will be up to all of us to use some independent thinking to turn things around in Western Colorado.

Steve Mandell lives in Montrose. He is a former consumer research director for a Fortune 500 company. He is also a member of RestoreTheBalance.org, a nonprofit educating Western Coloradans about the danger posed by political extremism. His opinion here is his own and does not represent Restore the Balance.