Notes & Commentary for April 1995

Brief by Central Staff

Local issues – April 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

Unfunded MOA Mandate provokes closed airspace

MORGAN COUNTY, W.Va. — Those concerned about the proposed Military Overflight Area (MOA) for Air National Guard fighter-jet training over the Wet Mountain and San Luis valleys might pressure their county commissioners to follow the lead of Morgan County, W. Va.

On Jan. 27, the commissioners there voted 3-0 to close county airspace to all U.S. government flights, except rescues, searches, and “flights in the time of war in the defense of the Nation.”

What drove them to this? On Oct. 7, 1992, an Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane crashed near Berkeley Springs, the county seat. Six national guardsmen were killed and 250 gallons of fuel were spilled.

Federal law required the county to clean up the waste, which cost $10,886.26. The county was assured the feds would pick up the bill. So the county sent a bill.

The Air National Guard sent the bill to the Air Force, and the Air Force said it was illegal for it to pay the bill, and further, “the county government has a legal obligation to provide those services to protect the health and welfare of its citizens.”

Although Morgan County didn’t order any anti-aircraft guns to enforce its decision, County Commissioner Phil Maggio said, “Our only alternative is to ask politely to try not to crash here … we would prefer them not to fly over Morgan County if they’re not going to take the responsibility to clean it up if they do.”

A few days after the county announced it would close its airspace, the federal government paid the bill. No word yet, though, on whether the airspace has been re-opened.

Packer appeal reaches highest court in United States

LEADVILLE — Alferd Packer’s 1883 conviction for cannibalism near Lake City has been appealed to the highest court in the United States (10,152 feet, as opposed to a mere 25 feet at the U.S. Supreme Court) for a final determination.

Judge Neil V. Reynolds will preside over the hearing, scheduled for 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, in the Tabor Opera House.

The trial has been arranged by the Colorado History Group, an informal gathering of writers, historians, professors, and buffs which acquitted Horace Tabor of bigamy in the same venue in 1992.

Packer will be defended by Tabor’s team: Walter Gerash (a Denver attorney who’s pretty good at getting acquittals in real life) and Tom Noel (a writer and historian whom we saw passing whiskey and money to Judge Reynolds during the Tabor trial).

All manner of other current Colorado luminaries will participate, and the audience will serve as the jury. Noel confidently predicts an acquittal on all counts, even though Packer faces new charges of eating meat on Friday, creating an unfunded federal mandate while incarcerated in Saguache County, and of selling arms (and legs) without a license.

Old Spanish Trail Association issues newsletter.

MONTE VISTA — The Old Spanish Trail Association, founded a year ago by Ron Kessler of Monte Vista, now boasts nearly 200 members from 16 states and Germany.

Among their benefits is a semi-annual newsletter, Spanish Traces, edited by occasional Colorado Central contributor Phil Carson of Pueblo.

The first issue reports that Congress may consider adding the route to the National Historic Trail system. Other articles include book reviews and Kessler explaining how to find wagon tracks.

Old wagon tracks are Central Colorado’s connection to the trail, which linked Santa Fé to Los Angeles 170 years ago. The main pack route skirted the San Juans to the southwest, but an alternate wagon route, the North Branch, came up into the San Luis Valley and headed west across Cochetopa Pass or some nearby variant.

Trail Association memberships are $10 for individuals and $15 for families, and you can get particulars from Kessler at P.O. Box 521, Monte Vista CO 81144.

Hard when it comes, harder when it goes

NOWATA, Okla. — The arrival of a Wal-Mart store leads to a familiar scenario as downtown businesses close. So there isn’t much left if Wal-Mart closes, as happened recently in this Oklahoma town of 3,900 people.

The full account is in the March 5 edition of the New York Times (and thanks to Sam Mamet of the Colorado Municipal League for passing it along).

In brief, Wal-Mart opened stores in four Oklahoma towns in 1982. The usual downtown demolition followed as shoppers flocked to the big stores at the edge of town. Then, a year ago, Wal-Mart closed the four stores as it opened a regional “supercenter” in Bartlesville. As the story put it, “the supercenters must draw on customers throughout a region, and they can’t have the hinterland stores holding them back.”

So Nowata residents, many of whom are poor and old and without cars, have to travel 30 miles for toothpaste and toilet paper after Wal-Mart eliminated local competitors a decade ago, then removed its Nowata store a year ago. The town government, heavily reliant on sales-tax revenues from the Wal-Mart, had to raise fees substantially and remains $80,000 in the red.

And thus does the largest retailer in the world determine the character of little towns.

Would a Sagebrush Rebellion end up costing the West?

DENVER — They say the 90s are like the 70s, and one issue from the 70s has returned: the Sagebrush Rebellion.

Back then, it was state legislatures asking for control of federal lands. Most support come from grazing interests, while many environmentalists wanted Uncle Sam to stay in charge.

Now the political equation has changed, according to Robert H. Nelson, a senior fellow at the Center for the New West. “Today the political and economic forces supporting a transfer of federal lands to the states are much broader than during the Sagebrush Rebellion. There is a firmer base of intellectual support. As the 1994 election results show, a political majority in the U.S. wants to cut back on the role of the federal government.”

Nelson did some calculations concerning BLM land in the West, comparing federal administrative costs to revenues from grazing, timbering, and royalties from oil, gas, and coal extraction.

Two neighbors, Wyoming and New Mexico, would come out ahead. Colorado, though, would face additional costs of $57.2 million and collect new revenues of only $43.3 million, for an annual loss of $13.9 million if it took over the BLM land in its borders.

Nelson’s essay, along with a lot of other interesting stuff, is in the Winter 1994-95 of Points West Chronicle. You can get a copy by writing the Center at 600 World Trade Center, 1625 Broadway, Denver CO 80202-4706, or calling 303-752-5400.

They’re looking over some nesting plover

FAIRPLAY — Now that Denver and Colorado Springs both boast new airports, it appears that every ambitious Colorado town wants some jet noise so it can keep up with the big boys.

That may explain all the talk about a Central Colorado Regional Airport, proposed in South Park between Fairplay and Hartsel.

Any construction there, though, will wait at least a year until the Federal Aviation Administration and the Bureau of Land Management can determine what effect the 1,400-acre airport would have on the plover population.

Plovers, a candidate for listing as a threatened species, do nest at the airport site. That might not matter if they also nest in other areas nearby, but “There are not reliable reports that plovers are elsewhere in Suth Park…. There are no definitive records of the number of plovers elsewhere,” according to Eric Brekke of the BLM.