Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Boycott The Glacier Club, Now.

Rather than comment, I'll just let the cartoon speak for itself, with the help of a story reprinted here from the Durango Telegraph:

Forest Service inks golf swap
Modified land exchange draws strong objections

by Will Sands

The Chris Park Campground sign welcomes visitors to the popular Haviland Lake Recreation Area, located north of Durango. Last week, the Forest Service announced approval of a modified plan, which will trade 228 acres of public land near Chris Park to the Glacier Club for a new golf course and up to 125 homes. In exchange, the agency will receive 170 acres of inholdings and $444,000 in cash./File photo
by Will Sands

Hiking trails and picnic tables are on the verge of becoming fairways and vacation homes just north of Durango. Last week, the Forest Service announced approval of a modified plan to replace a portion of the Haviland Lake Recreation Area with nine additional holes of golf and as many as 125 homes. In exchange, the agency will convert two parcels high on the Forest Service wish list into public land and receive a generous amount of cash. The approval is already stirring strong emotions in the greater Durango community, and at least one appeal is already in the works.

Several years ago, Western Land Group, a Denver-based outfit specializing in facilitating public land transactions, approached the Forest Service on behalf of the Glacier Club. At that time, the resort had secured options to purchase two 160-acre parcels representing the only private inholdings remaining in the Hermosa Creek Roadless Area. One is located in Hermosa Park near the Hermosa Creek trailhead and the other sits high above the Animas River Valley at Mitchell Lakes. Speaking to the significance of the parcels, Ann Bond, Forest Service public information officer, commented, “The parcels are the only reason we’re considering this. They’ve been on our acquisition list for decades. Those are the last two private parcels in the Hermosa Roadless Area.”

In exchange, the Glacier Club requested approximately 320 acres north of the existing resort and currently inside the Haviland Lake Recreation Area. The acreage would be subdivided into exclusive homesites and another nine holes of golf, bringing the resort’s total to 36 holes.

After several years of study, numerous public hearings and various land appraisals, the Forest Service put a modified stamp on the land exchange. Last week, just prior to Memorial Day Weekend, the agency announced approval of a “lighter” land swap configuration.

According to the decision, the Forest Service will acquire the coveted 160 acres in Hermosa Park as well as a 10.3-acre inholding inside the Weminuche Wilderness. In exchange, the agency will transfer 228 acres inside the Haviland Lake Recreation Area to the Glacier Club. In order to pick up some slack between appraised values, the Glacier Club will make a $444,000 “cash-equalization payment” to the U.S. government. Mitchell Lakes, the other 160 acre parcel, was dropped from the land exchange when the Glacier Club and the land owner were unable to agree upon a purchase price.

Upon making the announcement, San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles wrote that the final decision was an attempt to strike a balance.

“We thank the public for a lively and energetic discourse, which I believe led to a decision that better reflects the community’s values,” he wrote.

Though the decision was applauded by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. John Salazar, it generated a more subdued response on the ground in Durango. Kitty Benzar, a concerned citizen and longtime Haviland Lake user, expressed her disappointment. She noted that the final outcome too closely resembled the original proposal and vowed to file an appeal of the decision. “I think the Forest Service’s modified alternative is a total loss to the public,” she said. “I think the next step of the process has to be an appeal.”

Benzar reiterated many longstanding public concerns about the land swap – a long tradition of hiking, cross-country skiing, bird watching and other activities at Haviland Lake; that the Hermosa Park parcel is too remote to be considered a comparable exchange; and that the Glacier Club development would effectively wipe out a large portion of a historic wagon road, among other things.
“This exchange is pretty much the same now as it was then,” she said. “It’s obvious that the Forest Service has been in bed with the Glacier Club since the beginning and is ready to give away the farm.”

When the land swap first saw daylight, Rockwood resident Richard Robinson formed the group, Save the Haviland Lake Recreation Area. Though Robinson shared Benzar’s concerns, he did credit the Forest Service for making some progress in the last three years but added that it was not enough.

“What they’ve done is more in the right direction,” he said. “But it still doesn’t get us to where we want to be.”

Robinson added that the proposal does not offer an adequate buffer between the proposed Glacier Park development and the Chris Park campground. In addition, it makes no guarantee against the resort pursuing similar expansions at some point in the future.

“It’s true that we could have lost all the acreage and come up totally empty,” Robinson said. “But this thing is still far from perfect.”

Like Benzar, Save the Haviland Lake Recreation Area has started looking into an appeal. The exchange agreement was signed last Friday but will not be implemented until after a 45-day appeal period has ended and all appeals are resolved. And while the Glacier Club had planned on breaking ground in 2011, resolution of the differences surrounding the land swap could take longer than expected.

“I don’t think the Glacier Club should start getting ready to move dirt anytime soon,” Benzar said in closing. •

Documents regarding the Hermosa Park Land Exchange are available for public review at: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/sanjuan/projects/nepa_project.shtml ?project=20955 or in person at the San Juan Public Lands Center, 15 Burnett Court.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Directly after 9/11, there was a small spurt of sanity regarding the reasons why American had just suffered the worst terror attacks of its short history. Chalmers Johnson wrote an excellent book about it, called Blowback that outlines the causes and effects of American Empire.

Sadly, that brief period in which we actually attempted to discern the root causes of terrorism was snuffed out by a tidal wave of groupthink nationalism, engendering classics like "freedom fries" and "they hate us because we're free."

Israel's boneheaded attack on a group of civilian ships carrying aid for Gaza might have been a chapter in Johnson's book illustrating exactly the right way to not only create a new generation of Islamic extremists, but enrage just about everyone else.

Leaving aside the larger question of the blockade's legitimacy, the entire episode could have been handled without drama. Israel could have allowed the boats to dock at Gaza, then distributed the aid or confiscated any alleged weapons without compromising their need determine what was on the ships in the slightest. Instead, in seeming oblivious imitation of the Bush Doctrine, Israel sent heavily armed assault teams abseiling against a group of unarmed activists, including an 18-month-old child, the Irish Nobel peace laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, and an elderly Jewish survivor of the Holocaust.


Worse, the Obama administration has been forced into a mediating position between our allies Turkey and Israel, completely derailing a peace process already on life support.

As the controversy inevitably pivots into squabbles about a state's right to defend itself, Israel's serial inability to see that using a sledgehammer only makes the problem worse is as frighteningly obvious as it is maddeningly, infuriatingly... unsurprising.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Fickle Face of Sprawl

The impact of growth on a small community like Durango is significant. We may be in a recession, but development impacts on infrastructure regardless. If there is money to build, there must be money to mitigate impact, because it's fundamentally unfair to make the many pay for the profits of the few.

Costs in increased traffic, pollution, infrastructure damage, cultural heritage loss, wildlife displacement, tourism decline, wetlands loss, quality of life degradation and increased housing costs effects everyone. More growth does not make housing and land prices go down. It makes them go up. Durango was more affordable 15 years ago, before the boom. Boomtowns are expensive places to live precisely because of unregulated development.

For example, during the boom years, 2000-2006, La Plata Couty's average yearly wage grew $7,000, from $27,223 to $34,029. I'd like to know what the demographic of that is, (the spread amongst the professions, but that data isn't available. We could reasonably infer, however, from the increases in employment by profession, that most of that income growth took place in construction and realty.)

La Plata also added around 5,000 jobs from 2000-2006. The county's population grew by around 5,000 people, which means that the area attracted as many new people as it could employ, hardly a ringing endorsement for the benefits of growth for those already here, and most likely the reason unemployment started at 3% in 2000 and ended at 3% in 2007. We should expect a drop in the percentage if rampant development were so good for our economy.


Total county expenditures in 2000 equalled $50,074.546, $9.6 million of which was capital spending, or spending including infrastructure. Total county expenditures in 2006 equalled $70.3 million, $16 million of which was capital spending. Spending on our infrastructure almost doubled during the boom. Growth is expensive, and as I've documented, its impact in jobs/wealth is minimal, except for the few who are directly involved in building and selling. Granted, some of the money gets spread back into the community, but it's not a fount of public manna as so many of these folks proclaim.

la plata county budgets

Commissioner Riddle has made some very poor decisions recently, but this one is particularly bad. She made a statement proceeding her decision to demand a 10% cap on impact fees without negotiating. I've responded to the key parts of her statement below:

I am proposing that we pass a flat impact fee of 10% with no ratcheting effect of that percentage.

Not only is this too low, but without the ability to adjust it upwards or downwards, the country effectively gives away a tool to slow or quicken growth. It's akin to the Fed saying, "we're going to permanently set interest rates at 10% and not worry about the economy." Not only do we forfeit monies that the county needs for maintenance, we revert back to a case by case negotiation that is inequitable and unpredictable.

Because of the inability of Commissioners Riddle and Hotter to understand "compromise" means a counteroffer, that is exactly what happened. More inequality, more expense.

A reasonable exchange could hvae gone like this: White: 60%. Riddle: 10% White: 40% (what he next offered) Riddle: 30% White: 38% Riddle: 32% White: 35% Riddle: Deal.

35% impact fees is not unreasonable, and would be pretty close to the statewide average. Instead, we have nothing. Commissioner Hotters complete refusal to allow any fee is particularly egregious, and an irresponsible position for an elected leader to take.

On the issue of growth paying for itself, I am not certain that I whole-heartedly agree with this premise... I have come to believe the cost of growth should be paid for by all of the residents of the county. Transportation and roads are used by each and every individual, whether they carry goods to market, ride a school bus or bicycle to work. It is important infrastructure that needs to be paid for by everyone.

This is a huge change for Commissioner Riddle, whom I endorsed under the slogan: Grow Smart, and who just in April stated, “Right now, 100 percent of the impacts are paid by the community at-large,"


Commissioner Riddle would never have been elected with the slogan, "Residents Should Pay for Growth," because not everybody benefits from growth. Those that benefit directly are the developers, landowners and builders. Jobs may or may not result. There is no guarantee a business park will be filled, but its impact on water, wildlife, and infrastructure is a certainty.

The reality is that we as government cannot continue to have new growth and provide the infrastructure needed as well as all of the other services that are being utilized at unprecedented levels with our stymied economy and with oil and gas on the decline.

Precisely why growth should pay it's own way. This is classic privatization of profits and nationalization of loss.

The 10% impact fee as well as the idea of increasing the mill levy came as a direct compromise proposed by one of those entrepreneurs, who has built a business with locally grown employees who love and want to continue to live in our community. That same conversation shed some light on an area that I had been unaware ofin the cost required via existing taxes and fees already placed on businesses that shoulder the weight of building our economy.

As I've shown, growth does not "shoulder the weight of building our economy." At best, it is neutral, and at worst, it costs us real dollars. The damage to our health and the environment is less calculable, but no less real. Commissioner Riddle's decisions are not in the interest of country residents, and certainly not the platform of "smart growth" she was elected on.


The news from the disaster this fine Sunday is that BP has declared scientists will not be allowed access to the accident site because measuring the rate of oil flow is...well, here, read it for yourself:

BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.

"The answer is no to that," a BP spokesman, Tom Mueller, said on Saturday. "We're not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It's not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response."

That's right, actually getting a solid estimate of the amount of poison that is currently geysering into the waters of the Gulf is not desirable, or even really that important. No need to know how much oil boom we should deploy, how many volunteers we might recruit, how much of the coastline is at risk...none of that is in any way connected to the amount of oil being vomited up.

With this little ditty, the very last drop of BP's credibility as the contrite corporate giant trying to make good has vanished into the muck of its actions on the ground. From trying to get employees of the doomed drilling rig to sign waivers to their abysmal blame fest before congress last week, the British energy giant has pretty much proven what everyone except for Sarah Palin already knew: BP doesn't give a rat's ass about the Gulf, the people that live there, or the absolute disaster they have inflicted through sheer greed. The company is in full damage control mode, which means denial, cover-ups, and massive amounts of bullshit.

The US should respond with subpoenas, charges and jail sentences if warranted, and a host of new regulations that will permanently outlaw deep water drilling. As the continually more hideous debacle unfurling before us proves, this kind of extraction is beyond our ability to perform safely.

[UPDATE 5-19]

60 Minutes has released an excellent documentary, speaking with one of the survivors of the rig explosion, who has laid serious charges of negligence on BP's shoulders. It's must see viewing.

Watch it here:


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Vatican Upheavals

There's a big part of the Catholic church that revolves around forgiveness. I'm not Catholic, or even Christian for that matter, but it seems to me that being forgiven for whatever you did sort of revolves around the idea of doing "it" right the next time. Or maybe not doing "it" ever again. If the guys at the Vatican had been, like, my wife...I would have told them to tell their story walkin' back around 1956. But that's sort of the nature of long term-relationships: the more baggage you've got, the harder it is to make a break.

Some of that baggage must be pretty good. Suitcases full of nostalgia, surely. Steamer trunks of solace, carefully packed and folded when someone passes on. Maybe even a carry-on bag of mischievous notions, kept ready for a little spontaneous venting at the late night barstool.

I'm not sure I could lug around crates of pedophilia, though.

The Church has had ample opportunity to do something real about the consistent scandals emerging from it's ranks for lo, these many years. Instead, they've just stuffed more and more down the hole. It's time for a big change. Ordain women. Get rid of abstinence. Put in a one strike rule...do something. And you better do it soon, guys. It's getting pretty damn heavy on the other end.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Well, it's finally over. We have reform, and it's a great thing. Not single payer, not perfect by any means, but a pretty damn good start. And, of course, there is already a backlash. Republicans in the form of a grumpy John McCain have put the country on notice that everything and anything the Dems do will be stonewalled because...well, because they won.

I don't begrudge the GOP a little bitterness. The ones that weren't totally in the pocket of the insurance cabal actually seemed quite sincere in their ideology. The utter despair I'm seeing amongst their ranks reminds me of how I felt when Bush went to war. I can relate to that hollowness of the chest, and the almost constant stress headache.

But I have to say, deciding that the answer to losing this battle is to turn into a brick wall, refusing to even allow committees to meet for non-partisan things like pine beetle control and such, is just crazy. And it's bad for the country.

I disagree profoundly with the conservatives, but I don't want a war. I want them to have a voice, a seat at the table. I want that because I continue to hope that they might see, when the earth does not go screaming into the sun over the next few years, that progressives actually have some pretty good ideas. And, I want to know what they think, too, because they are Americans who deserve to be heard.

So come on, guys. Drop the petty lawsuits. Stop with the tantrums. We know you're pissed, but removing yourself from the discussion out of spite isn't going to do you any good. We've been there. We know.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Settlement Slapstick

Israel and the U.S. have overcome worse spats than the current brouhaha over the announcement of new settlements in Jerusalem just as Veep Biden arrived in country to attempt a reboot of the peace process. One way or another, things will get patched up.

The question, however, becomes more serious when a closer look is taken at the internal politics that seemingly led to the embarrassing faux pas. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is caught between strident right wing expansionists, and a desire to heal the strained relations with the U.S. that have hardened since Obama's inauguration. The Prime Minister's ability to operate unsabotaged by his own people is now an issue, and that, of course, has implications for his tenure in office.

With the Arab League summit in Tripoli looming, Netanyahu must surely be aware that America will expect movement on Israel's part in return for Biden, in the words of one Haaretz correspondent, "...wiping the spit off his face by pretending it was rain." Europe, too, has withheld upgrading various agreements with Israel until it becomes clear that peace talks will actually take place.

If there was ever a doubt that the first thing the Palestinian Authority would want on the table was borders, there is none now. Israel will be unable to credibly demand that the U.S. back them on security being the first order of business, and Netanyahu has only himself to thank for that.