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San Luis Valley Briefs

Brief by Marcia Darnell

Around the San Luis Valley – April 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

Safecracker Wanted

The state veterans center at Homelake, near Monte Vista, is screening applicants for the job of safecracker. A turn-of-the-century, walk-in safe (with a Yale lock) holds historic records and residents’ valuables at the center. The staff lost the combination during a move three years ago, so the word is out: Safecracker wanted.

Blanca Recall Spins On

The state attorney general’s office will look into the situation in Blanca, which has erupted into multiple firings and locked doors on the town hall. The attempted recall of Mayor Myrrl Smith began after allegations that he harassed city employees, fixed tickets for relatives, and gave out free water and sewer services without the town board’s permission. Smith’s protest hearing resulted in the disqualification of 27 signatures on the recall petition.

A new petition also calls for the ouster of Town Trustees Ted Baldwin, Brenda Ritter, and Lucian Velasquez. Bitter and Velasquez are also town employees. The town board didn’t re-hire for 1999 the town clerk, Alice Sanchez, and municipal judge Dave Marquez, her husband. Marquez has notified the town he intends to sue for $1 million for defamation of character, violation of constitutional rights, and wrongful termination. Stay tuned.

Good Growth

Rep. Diana DeGette, our woman in Washington, has introduced legislation to expand the wilderness areas of San Luis Hills, Great Sand Dunes, and Rio Grande National Forest. The proposed law would also protect wildlife and archeological sites.

More Good Growth

For more of a wilderness experience, send money. The Nature Conservancy in the Valley needs to raise $7 million to buy the Zapata Ranch. The chapter is applying for a $2 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, but the rest has to come from other sources. The ranch, near Great Sand Dunes National Monument, is home to elk, cattle and bison. An inn and golf course would continue to be leased to their current manager.

Lynx Loss

Two of the lynx reintroduced into the San Juans have died, reportedly of starvation. The two were young, and wildlife officials say they may not have learned adequate hunting skills. DOW spokesmen say the plans to release more of the big cats will change, ensuring only adult animals are released. Meanwhile, legislation was introduced to require approval of the state legislature before similar reintroduction of species in Colorado.

Probing Deeper

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Dept. will investigate elections in Alamosa and Rio Grande counties. Until November, no Hispanic legislators had been elected in 50 years, despite the fact that 45 percent of the counties’ population is Hispanic. An investigator spent time searching through voting records before heading back to Washington. A report has yet to be issued.

Spud Defense

The Valley’s potatoes will be vigorously defended this year. Late blight, the same disease that ravaged Ireland 150 years ago, showed up in the Valley’s crop last growing season. This year, state and federal officials will examine every load of seed potatoes that comes in, and see that cull potatoes are disposed of properly. Liberal applications of chemicals is another arrow in the quiver. In addition, hotlines will be set up for reports of blight from farmers and home gardeners — blight strikes tomatoes, too.

Crop insurers are responding to the crisis by toughening their standards for compensation for crop losses. Spokesmen for American Agrijusters said that growers will disqualify themselves if they plant potatoes in a particular field more than once every three years. That would eliminate about 90 percent of Valley growers.

From Well to Worse

Blight may be a minor problem, though, if the water isn’t there. Snowpack is down for the year — way down. Estimates place the runoff between 65 and 90 percent of normal. Worse yet, water engineer Alan Davey says the Valley’s aquifer isn’t being replenished fast enough. Davey has been monitoring the water situation in the San Luis Valley for 24 years, and says the aquifer is down

200,000 acre feet from 1997. He urges farmers and ranchers to replace the water they pump out before the big well runs dry.

Water Rising

Some good news on the water front: Restore Our Alamosa River has been accepted into Water Keepers Alliance. The alliance is a national advocacy group for cleaning and restoring waterways. ROAR was selected from 130 applicants. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., prosecuting attorney for the alliance, will spearhead a fundraiser in the San Luis Valley in May.

Oil Up Again

Canola may make a comeback in the San Luis Valley. The colorful crop thrived in the land of cool sunshine a few years ago, but InterMountain Canola pulled the plug on the project when it proved too expensive to ship the crop to the crushing plant in Goodland. But the Valley grew a lot of canola per acre, much more than is grown in Canada, its home. So if prices rise, the bright, sunny flowers may bloom again soon.

Forcing a Vote

Voters in Alamosa will referee the spat between city and county officials over a tax. A November vote will determine whether to reallocate the county’s 2 percent sales tax. The county now keeps 0.8 cents of its 2 percent sales tax, with the other 1.2 cents going to the city of Alamosa. The proposed switch would cut the combined rate to 1.5 percent, with .5 percent spent exclusively on roads for at least five years. A forum on the issue was held (after city officials refused to participate, then reconsidered) and drew more than 100 residents for many questions and few answers

Logging Lawsuit

Costilla County filed suit to force an injunction against Taylor Ranch to stop logging on the ranch, known locally as La Sierra. The logging, they say, is going on without a county permit and violates county land use regulations. La Sierra was used by local people for logging, fishing, and hunting for generations. The Taylor family closed it to public use in 1960. Lawsuits, protests, and acts of violence have ensued since.

Ski City?

A village planned for Wolf Creek Ski Area is back, after 12 years. The Village at Wolf Creek is to include condos, hotels, and no congestion.

Developers need to assure sewer and water delivery without selling bonds, a hurdle that delayed construction for 12 years. Mineral County has extended the preliminary approval period to April 30.


Dianna Brown is making good come from her loss. Brown testified before the San Luis Valley Transportation Planning Region meeting, and got the team to move repairs on U.S. 149 up the priority list. Brown’s son died in an accident on the highway between South Fork and Creede in December. Her words mean the work to make U.S. 149 safer will happen sooner — and perhaps save more lives.