BACA BLOG: My reports from Crestone and S. Colorado

Great Sand Dunes NP and Sangre de Cristo Fourteeners near the Crestone-Baca subdivision


Archived:  My Local Pandemic Reports

BECAUSE the South African variant of COVID 19 has somehow infected two staffers and one inmate at the Buena Vista Correctional Center, mass testing and vaccination began at the medium security prison this week. The three infections, discovered by random screening of positive test results, were the first signs that the mutation had reached Colorado.

The variation, labeled B.1.351, is said to spread more rapidly and possibly be more resistant to current vaccines. The Colorado Department of Corrections and the Chaffee County Department of Public Health were trying to determine the source by contact tracing.

Prisoners have no priority under state vaccination rules, but Gov. Jared Polis has given the Corrections Department discretion in dealing with covid infections. The Buena Vista prison has had 516 positives since testing began almost a year ago. The facility has about 1,200 inmates.

In a news release the department said other measures to control the outbreak include restricting staffers to specific areas to avoid cross contamination, quarantining of anyone testing positive, mandatory masks throughout, suspension of in-person visits and temperature-taking of all staffers entering the prison.

The Buena Vista facility outbreak has not spread to the community. Buena Vista and Salida were given the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s “yellow” designation, third lowest of six levels of risk. And Andrea Carlstrom, the Chafee County health director, said the county was about to have its risk level dropped one notch to “blue.”

Saguache County has usually been ranked lower than other San Luis Valley counties, and the current ranking was “yellow,” meaning “caution.” This contradicted the New York Times classification of Saguache County as “very high risk” in its nationwide survey of all counties.

The March 8 statistics from the state health department indicated there have been 1464 positive covid tests and 24 deaths in Chaffee County and 3072 positive tests and 58 deaths in the San Luis Valley.  The three-week increases were 85 more positives and one more death in Chaffee County and 213 more positives and four more deaths in the Valley.


THE NATIONAL COVID DEATH TOLL has been tracked mathematically since March by Bill Miller of Crestone. His graph as we approached mid January shows the beginning of a fourth deviation, representing the beginning of a possible new peak. Two weeks earlier he changed the axes of the graph to make the projection easier to see. Now that line is branching upward. Of the 2 million covid deaths worldwide, 400,000 have been in the United States.

And of the national death toll, 54 deaths have been in the San Luis Valley and 23 in neighboring Chaffee County, according to my compilation of county reports by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  Total cases since March have been 2859 in the six counties of the Valley and 1380 in Chaffee County. In the month since Jan. 15, the Valley has had eight more deaths and 411 more cases, and Chaffee County has had one more death and 177 cases (Chaffee totals include the Buena Vista state prison). Saguache County has had no new deaths in that period and 26 more cases.

Among the active outbreaks in the region listed by the state, Monarch Mountain had 17 employees infected by covid 19.


THE FIRST covid-19 clusters in Colorado were at winter sports areas, including Crested Butte in Gunnison County.  Gov. Jared Polis ordered all ski areas closed at the end of March. This was no big problem because the 2020 season was about over.  The Christmas holidays, however, account for a quarter of the income at ski areas in most years.

And from the weekend before Christmas onward Monarch Mountain west of Salida was crowded, with overflow parking and some brief waiting lines at the lifts. Staffers reminded skiers to keep their masks up and enforced the 25 per cent crowd limit indoors. The theory of last season’s infections elsewhere in Colorado was that they were spread during meals and after-ski gatherings among guests and group occupancy at expensive condos among staffers. Skiing or boarding in the open air was not considered infectious.

At Monarch, an outside food van opened at the beginning of the new season, selling burgers and pizza slices through a window to customers taking seats on lawn chairs spaced six feet apart on the snowpack or eating in their cars. At the lifts, single skiers were allowed to keep double chairs to themselves or share only with one other on the quadruple chairlift. The more compact groups were supposed o be family related.

Ticket sales windows were closed on Saturdays and Sundays, and advanced tickets bought on the internet had to be dated. In a website letter Randy Stroud, the general manager of Monarch, asked visitors to avoid weekends and the usual busy times — Dec. 26 to Jan.3, Martin Luther King weekend and President’s weekend. The annual New Years Eve fireworks display was cancelled.

“We will do everything in our power to make sure we have set the stage for the season to be successful, but we will need you, our guest, to be a part of this success as well,” Stroud wrote.

Andrea Carlstrom, Chaffee County Public Health director, wrote in a biweekly report: “Tourism is a vital part of our economy.  CCPH recognizes that anxieties about tourists coming to our county from areas that are experiencing higher prevalence are real.”



A RAPID INCREASE in covid cases in Alamosa and Salida, the two urban areas most frequented by Crestonians for shopping and health care, brought intensified restrictions by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as the pandemic entered December.

Alamosa County at the end of November was raised to the red warning level, or the fifth in the state’s six-step ranking of county covid restrictions. Chaffee County also was raised one step, to the orange or fourth level, effective Dec. 4.Saguache and Rio Grande Counties remained “yellow,” or at the third level that represents the state median.

Red means “severe risk of covid 19 spreading rapidly,” requiring businesses that are allowed to remain open to operate at “very limited capacity,” according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and yellow means elevated transmission levels but no shutdowns.

Andrea Carlstrom, director of Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH), said, “The majority of our county has worked so hard to keep this from happening.Now is the time to protect us from sliding into the red level.It is going to take each and every one of us, and if anyone can do it, Chaffee County can.”

She said, “At this point, the majority of spread is through social gatherings and travel outside of the county.CCPH’s plea is to limit social interactions to no more than 10 people from 2 households (if you have to), wear a mask and space yourself when interacting with others, especially indoors, do not leave the house if you are symptomatic, and follow current isolation and quarantine orders.Creative curbside, delivery, appointment, and online options are encouraged, especially for our highest risk populations.”

The evaluations by are based on a number of factors including the rate of new cases, percentage of positives in testing and impact on hospitals.

In late November the chief medical officers of the three hospital and clinic groups serving the San Luis Valley issued a joint statement urging compliance with pandemic safeguards plus getting flu shots in the wake of the region’s infection surge.

“In recent days, the rapid rise in covid-19 has put a strain on emergency departments, clinics and hospitals in the San Luis Valley across the state of Colorado, and in our neighboring states as well.” they said. “There is a high level of this contagious disease spreading within our community, mostly within social settings.”

The executives suggested alternatives to in-person shopping, such as buying online for delivery or curbside pickups. They said, further, “When you are ill, please stay home unless you have an emergency. Use video chat or the telephone to visit with your primary care provider. Be sure to get your flu shot. Cover your face when around others, and keep your distance. Keep your contacts to a minimum, and avoid non-essential outings. Please avoid gatherings that are not limited to people you live with every day. Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Please follow instructions if you are told to isolate or quarantine.”

The unusual joint statement was by Dr. Carmelo Hernandez of San Luis Valley Health, Emelin Martinez of Valley-Wide Health Systems and Dr. Heidi Helgeson of Rio Grande Hospital and Clinics.

Where and how the covid virus spreads is more easily pictured in the state’s list of confirmed “outbreaks.” In Alamosa, for example, a wedding on Oct. 28 left 17 people infected. Alamosa County outbreaks still ranked as “active” in early December included:Alpine Potato warehouse, American Electric, Children’s Garden Early Learning, Evergreen Nursing Home, Sonic Drive In and Walmart.

In Chaffee County there were three active outbreaks, all in Salida:Central Colorado Title, High Country Bank and Salida Vineyard Church.

In Saguache County there also was one active outbreak:Migrant Head Start at Center. No outbreaks were listed in the wide area including Saguache, Moffat and Crestone.

Total positive covid tests since the region’s first infections included: Alamosa County 629 (and 13 deaths), Chaffee County 663 (and 21 deaths), Saguache County 112 (and two deaths), and Rio Grande County 243 (and 4 deaths). The Chaffee total included 292 positive tests at the state prison in Buena Vista.

Covid infection rates in Saguache, Chaffee and Alamosa Counties were ascending their steepest peaks in mid November, as they were in the two SLV Counties, Costilla and Conejos, bordering on New Mexico.Gov. Michele Lujan Grisham of New Mexico returned the state to its early lockdown, closing all non-essential businesses and requiring residents to “shelter at home.” Lujan Grisham, who was state health director before she entered politics, said the state was experiencing “an unprecedented surge.”

My record of county totals reported by the state health department shows the acceleration of infections in the Crestone region from mid-month to mid month (on the 15th of each) since July:

— Alamosa County:July 204 cases, August 233, September 240, October 291, November 460.

— Chaffee County:July 123, Aug. 304, Sept. 318, Oct. 358, Nov. 501.

— Saguache County: July 103, Aug. 106, Sept. 111, Oct. 117, Nov. 193.

Similar graphic increases were shown for Rio Grande County, which went from 112 in October to 174 in November.From Oct. 15 to Nov. 15, the case increase for Conejos was from 44 to 128 and Costilla from 34 to 59.


A PEAK in new covid-19 cases in the geographical circle around Crestone began in late September and continued into the last two weeks of October.In just four days (10/15-10/19) both Chaffee and Alamosa Counties reported 14 new cases. For the first 15 days of October Chaffee reported 24 new cases, Alamosa reported 28, and Saguache County reported six, according to daily records of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

That more than doubled the Chaffee test positivity rate to 4 per cent and sent the Alamosa rate slightly above the state rate of 5 per cent.

The San Luis Valley reported 65 new cases in the first half of October. SLV Emergency, which consolidates reports from the six counties, posted this comment:“In some ways, our current rise in cases is very similar to the rise we experienced in the beginning of May. By the end of May, we had an extremely high number of cases.”CDPHE reports showed that in a three-week period ending June 5, new SLV cases had totaled 163, reflecting outbreaks among agricultural workers. In the current three-week period new SLV cases numbered 65.

The web site added: “On the hopeful side, a smaller percentage of covid-19 patients are dying than earlier in the pandemic.”The SLV death toll has remained at 14 since the beginning of September. The Chaffee death toll stood at 19 for four months following the disastrous outbreak at a Salida longterm care facility, adding one in October.

The current peaks in both the SLV and Chaffee began in a time of high visitation by tourists, although outbreaks identified by the state involved only local residents. The mid-October list of active outbreaks, for example, included two office environments in the SLV — Power Zone Equipment in Center with 4 infected workers and the SLV Rural Electric Co-op in Monte Vista with 3. Active outbreaks in Chaffee were a contractor, Geo Stucco, with 4 plus 1 probable and a campground called Young Life Trail West Lodge with 7 plus 1 probable cases.

Andrea Carlstrom, Chaffee County Public Health director, said in her well-read biweekly report:

“Other than at the beginning of the pandemic and until recently, Chaffee County has been able to reduce the transmission of the virus, despite many people visiting from out of the county and state, reducing restrictions, and mild but real resistance to the public health strategies.”

She went on to say, “The sudden increase in positive cases has me concerned. Our county has made so many sacrifices to get to and maintain a stable covid-19 environment, and while we are all experiencing pandemic fatigue, now is not the time to give up or become lax in our decisions. With the cooler months upon us, including several holidays that include tradition, celebration, and joy, it will be tempting to engage in activities that increase the spread of the virus. Many of us will be experiencing a wide range of emotions as we have to make difficult decisions for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors. CCPH urges you to please do what you can to be accountable and responsible in the months to come, as we are all in this challenging and uncertain time together.”

Her county, in cooperation with Heart of the Rockies Regional Health Center adopted an early program of free testing by appointment, and recently hired two staffers to track contacts with local residents testing positive.

SLV Emergency has been responsible for consolidated daily reports from the Valley counties. But the Valley does not have a spokesperson and leader like Carlstrom. Alamosa, Saguache and Rio Grande, the three counties with most of the SLV population, have been without public health directors since the beginning of the pandemic — due to resignations in the first two counties and a political firing in Rio Grande. The counties have not been able to fill the positions, despite advertising for applicants.

One suggestion, which came in conversation with Saguache County Commissioner Jason Anderson, is that due to budget constraints of smaller population counties the Valley might create a single public health director to handle administrative duties and free the health care staffs of the individual counties to do more of theirs.

The morbidity rate in the region has not followed the surge in verified covid cases.The Chaffee death toll increased by one last week after standing at 19 since late May.The SLV death toll has stayed at 14 since early September.

The New York Times investigated the difference between state reports of deaths directly attributed to covid-19 and the total deaths in excess of the norm.The difference implies a higher covid death toll nationally — perhaps 260,000 by comparison with 210,000 in early October. For Colorado the excess death toll was 3,300, compared with 1992. For New Mexico it was 1,500 compared with 821. In both states the corrected total would be 17 per cent higher.


SAN LUIS VALLEY as of Thursday (10/8) had 39 active covid-19 cases, an increase of 24 in a week. Chaffee County north of the SLV had 25 new cases, including 17 in the past week, most of them in the Salida area. The region accessed by Highway 17 had been stable for most of September.

Six of the SLV cases were in Saguache County, including one in Crestone — a woman who was ending isolation Friday, according to a spokesperson in the county department of public health. A Crestone couple announced on Facebook that they were contacts and were self quarantined. The five remaining active cases were in isolation in Center or the town of Saguache.

In the other five SLV counties, the active cases numbered:Alamosa 17, Conejos 8, Rio Grande 6, Costillo 2 and none in Mineral.

Andrea Carlstrom, the Chaffee public health director, said, “The past two weeks have been significantly more dynamic than usual in our case count and complexity of cases and their impact on the county.”

Linda Smith with the Alamosa County health department told the Valley Courier, “I think people got a little complacent and stopped being as careful. It’s a case of covid fatigue.”

Saguache County lost its health director when she resigned in March and despite advertising for applicants has not filled the position.Two staffers are sharing the post as acting directors.


SEPTEMBER was a healthier month for covid cases in the Crestone region, with only one new death in the San Luis Valley and none in Chaffee County.

Previous SLV deaths numbered 8 in July and 5 in August. Of the total 14, nine were in Alamosa, two in Saguache County, two in Rio Grande County and one in Costilla County.

Chaffee’s death toll has been 19 since May, all residents at a longterm care facility in Salida, but there was one new death this week.

The total number of new SLV cases was 12 in September vs. 45 in August. The total in Chaffee, with half the population of the Valley, was 20 new cases in September vs. 32 in August.

The above data were from running daily reports for each of the seven counties by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

A Los Angeles Times article on the low infection rate in the LA County town, Westminster, which is half Vietnamese interested me because the numbers were comparable with the San Luis Valley. That is, with a population of 90,000, the Vietnamese enclave had 940 covid cases as of Sept. 1, and the SLV with a population of about 45,000 had 524.

The Times sources from “Little Saigon” attributed the relatively low infection rate to a culture involving respect for community, especially elders. Vietnam is partly Mahayana Buddhist in religion but mostly Confucian in everyday culture. The Confucian political philosophy going back to 400 BC is about duty to parents, siblings, political authority, and so forth.

I know this is an over generalization, but the six San Luis Valley counties are in total about half native Latino just as Little Saigon is about half Asian. Could the two cultures be similar (by contrast with the Western European culture asserting individual rights)? Just wondering.



IN 30 DAYS ending Aug. 27 the San Luis Valley had 45 new covid-19 cases and Chaffee County with less than half to population had 32, according to Colorado Department Public Health and Environment daily reports, but the agency said the SLV rate of positives among coronavirus tests was 5.3 per cent while the Chaffee rate was  3.3 per cent. The rate of positive tests for the whole state was 2.7 per cent.

The numbers don’t offer much guidance to Crestonians deciding whether to shop in Alamosa or Salida, since both towns are equally open, with masks required in public and restrictions on crowding, and the infection rate in the south-central region of Colorado was rated moderate.

But one factor is Chaffee testing, led by Heart of the Rockies medical center in Salida, has been wider, and the county has been more detailed in its public reporting. The seven-day report at the end of the month by the Chaffee public health department itemized these new active cases:  three men, ages 44, 42, and 32 residing in the north end of the county and two women, ages 22 and 31 in the south end of the county.

At the end of August, Chaffee, had recorded 314 covid-19 cases and 19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, but about 200 of these cases were confined among inmates of the Buena Vista state prison.And the totals for the SLV counties were:  Saguache 110 cases with two deaths, Alamosa County 238 cases with 9 deaths, Rio Grande 94 with 2 deaths, Conejos 31, Mineral 19, Costilla 32 and no deaths.

Neither of the two central hospitals in the area — in Alamosa and Salida — reported an overload of patients.

Rio Grande County (Del Norte, Monte Vista, South Fork) was in a political battle related to the firing two months ago of its longtime health director. Claiming “unreliable data,” County Commission chair John Noffsker at the time said, “The public health department is being restructured to better address the crisis.” A petition is being circulated to remove him from office.

Bill Miller of Crestone has been plotting national deaths from covid-19. In early August he saw a disturbing deviation from the curve.


CHAFFEE COUNTY’S covid-19 case count rose to 227 on Thursday (7/23) due mostly to the outbreak at the state’s Buena Vista Correctional Center. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment advised restrictions on openings in the county because of the rapid two-week rise in the county total that included the prison.

But Andrea Carlstrom, the county public health director, said, “Rest assured, at this time, we are still following Safer at Home guidelines and do not have to scale back.”

The state Department of Corrections, she said, reported 132 positive tests among inmates and five among staff employees at the prison. Only three prison staffers were included in the county covid-19 total because the other three do not live in the county. Testing for the prevalence of the infection among 1085 inmates began last week. The inmates were required to wear masks and were quarantined in their cells.

The Chaffee County total included 56 cases at a Salida nursing home outbreak that was contained at the end of April, so the remainder involved 34 community members. There were 19 Chaffee County deaths, most at the nursing home,early in the pandemic

The most recent positive community cases included: a 71-year-old man from the north end of the county who was symptomatic and had traveled outside the county, a 74-year-old woman from the south end of the county with no symptoms, and a 63-year-old man from the south end of the county with symptoms, contracted by personal contact, Carlstrom said.

She had noted last week that 14 more positive tests in Chaffee County involved non-residents, either tourists or people from neighboring counties, and these were not included in the county total.

Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center, headquartered in Salida, is dealing with delays of 7 to 10 days in test results from the state lab oratory,Carlstrom said, and, “Those who have been tested must continue to follow isolation and quarantine expectations while waiting for their test results unless they have surpassed the recommended timeframe.”

The hospital had no covid-19 patients and was at 68 per cent capacity.  Carlstrom said the testing program run by the hospital recorded 1496 tests,of which 49 were positive and 36 were still pending.

The Saguache County total from the beginning of the pandemic stands at 106, with two deaths, unchanged since July 1. The county toll includes an outbreak among potato workers in Center.

MOST OF THE 39 NEW covid-19 cases reported in Chafee County since Friday (7/10) were from the State Correctional Complex atBuena Vista, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment confirmed late Monday.

A health department spokesperson said Department of Corrections tests so far revealed 35 positive cases at the prison. More than 1,000 inmates were tested. The state’s running total for the county since March was 121 on Monday (7/13), up from 82 on Friday.

County Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom said late Monday that four community members were tested positive since last week.

“The last week and a half has shown us that Chaffee County does have some level of community transmission of covid-19. Some of the recent positive cases are not sure where they contracted the virus, while others were a close contact with a positive case,” Carlstrom said in a news release.

As for the prison, she said, “Please keep in mind that they are conducting several rounds of testing and will be receiving and and recording results as they come in.”The facility is on lockdown, she confirmed.

Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center and the countytested 97 people at two locations last week.Nurse Emily Anderson noted that positive results involving non-residents would not be added to the Chaffee total unless they were “relevant to the community.”

If any of the outsiders testing positive were from Saguache County, the numbers were not yet reported by the state by Sunday. The Saguache County total has been 103 since June 8 — a significant number for a total population of 8,000 compared with 20,000 for Chaffee County.

The county, where many Crestonians have shopped and sought medical care during the pandemic, was stable for most of May and June after the Columbine Manor nursing home outbreak, with 19 deaths, was controlled.

The community increase was minor compared with the wave of new covid-19 cases sweeping across the southern U.S. from Florida to Arizona.


The Valley Log

The San Luis Valley, with a population of fewer than 50,000 in six counties covering 8,000 square miles, was barely washed by the wave.

The SLV covid-19 crest happened in late May and early June, as shown by a running log (my own) of the state’s daily county reports. At the end of the post-July 4 week the SLV total since March was 450 cases and 10 deaths.

There were 43 new SLV cases in the first half of May, 68 in the second half of May, about 165 new cases in the first half of June, and a decline to about 100 new cases in the second half of June.

In the first 11 days of July the SLV had only 26 new cases while Florida, Texas and Arizona were flaring. This 16 per cent SLV increase was minor by comparison with late May and early June, when new case totals in the SLV were doubling (more than 100 per cent) every two weeks.

National media reports quoted hospital staffers in Miami, Houston, Phoenix and Los Angeles pleading for help and supplies in response to the late “tsunami,” as some stories described it. But in the same period SLV Health Center, which includes the main hospital, in Alamosa, was back to normal.

The six corona-19 deaths in Alamosa, including two in a nursing home, were, of course, not normal.

Donna Wehe, spokesperson for SLV Health, said after the July 4 weekend the hospital had “zero” covid-19 cases. In mid June there were six, some on ventilators, and she described the situation in the Alamosa hospital as “calm, safe, but very busy.”

The first outbreaks in the SLV were among agricultural workersliving in or near Center and Alamosa, followed by urban outbreaks.

The first of these was at San Luis Care Center, an Alamosanursing home, where 20 residents were tested positive and two died. Seven staffers also tested positive plus 12 staffers listed as probables.

Next was Advantage Treatment Center, housing up to 110 court-ordered offenders who work in the Alamosa community by day. State-reported testing showed 17 of these residents with corona-19 plus 7 probables and 10 staffers with corona-19 plus five probables.

Friday Health Plans, an Alamosa health insurance office, had 12 positive tests and 2 probables among the office workers. And Hospice del Valle had an outbreak among three staffers.

I contacted Alamosa County public health director Della Cox-Vieira for a comment, noting that many residents of Crestone go to Alamosa for medical care.

“My message to your community is the same as my message here: Avoid unnecessary activities, limiting the number of contacts. When you go out wear a mask or over-the-face covering. Maintain at least six feet from others, except in your household. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching things you don’t have to.”

Hospital Accommodates High Covid Incidence

THE SAN LUIS VALLEY had 107 new verified cases of covid-19 during the two-week period ending last Thursday (6/25), and on that basis the state health department marked the incidence as “high” in the six-county region.But it was not creating a treatment crisis like those being reported in the urban areas of Florida, Texas and Arizona.

Donna Wehe, director of communications for SLV Health, described the situation instead as “calm, safe, but very busy on our floor” at the 49-bed hospital in Alamosa that serves as the medical hub for the Valley.

“We have been fortunate to have some of our clinical nurses step up and fill some staffing needs due to an average of about six Covid patients hospitalized, some on ventilators, some not, some in ICU, others in our other negative pressure rooms.  It all is closely monitored every day with an eye on our PPE for staff,” she said, referring to personal protective equipment. Visitor restrictions outlined at the beginning of the pandemic are still in place.

The hospital is affiliated with Centura, a rural Colorado health network, but there have not been transfers to other hospitals “on a regular basis,” she said.

North of the SLV, Chaffee County was stable with 77 cases reported by the state, despite the shock of 19 deaths, most attributed to an outbreak at Columbine Manor nursing home in Salida.

The county public health briefing summarized its successful strategy this way:

  • “In Chaffee County we:
  • Maintain 6 feet of physical distance
  • Wash our hands often
  • Properly wear cloth face coverings in public
  • Stay home when sick
  • Get tested if we have symptoms.”

Testing is on Tuesdays at the Salida hospital, Heart of the Rockies Medical Center. SLV residents who consider Salida as their “medical home” are eligible, by appointment no later than Monday, the public health briefing said.


No Variances For Alamosa And Saguache Counties

The SLV  is now the region with the highest covid-19 infection rate in Colorado, according to state health department calculations based on verified cases relative to population. The number of cases in the Valley increased 20 per cent last week (6/7-13) to 302 including five deaths. That’s in a population of less than 50,000.

Most of the cases and all of the deaths were in two counties, Alamosa and Saguache, and the focus of the infections apparently was on outbreaks among agricultural workers working and living in the middle of the Valley at Center. Alamosa had 127 cases and Saguache had 99.

Rio Grande County (Monte Vista, Del Norte, South Fork) had 54 cases, also mostly attributed to the agricultural workers at Center (which is in Saguache County but extends into Rio Grande County).

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment was withholding approval of applications by the commissions of Alamosa and Saguache Counties for variances from the governor’s coronavirus suppression orders going back to the Stay At Home declaration in March. Rio Grande County’s variance application had been approved before the outbreak.

Chaffee County, over Poncha Pass north of the Valley, was approved for a variance on the basis of a stable case load after a virulent outbreak at a Salida nursing home was contained. The county’s death toll, mostly from the nursing home, was 20, according to the department. And the caseload since June 6 was 78.

Chaffee County was congratulated in the state letter granting the variance for its early testing in cooperation with Heart of the Rockies hospital in Salida. Andrea Carlstrom, the public health director said in a news release that as of June 12 the hospital has tested 763 people, resulting in 25 positives for the virus, 735 negatives, and 3 are pending. Of the total, 66 were hospital employees, only one of whom was positive. The hospital has been running at only 40 per cent capacity the beginning of the pandemic.

Business has been active in Salida under the variance, but Carlstrom said the county is asking for a further variance, which would allow larger public gatherings.For the county’s level of infection that apparently would be 50 people indoors and 125 outdoors.

The workers and their families afflicted by the outbreak at Mountain King potatoes near Center are Maya Indians from Guatemala. The two counties with jurisdiction over the health of these immigrants, Saguache and Rio Grande, have no permanent health directors.

Lynette Grant, the Saguache director, quit when the pandemic was declared and has not been permanently replaced. In Rio Grande County, the county commission firing of Emily Brown has caused political repercussions cited in a national Associated Press story, which said in the second paragraph:

“She was at odds with county commissioners, who were pushing to loosen public health restrictions in late May, against her advice. But she reasoned standing up for public health principles was worth it, even if she risked losing the job that allowed her to live close to her hometown.


Center Volunteers Aid Maya Workers

Explaining the surge in Covid-19 cases that has pushed Saguache County to No. 3 in the state’s most-infected list, County Commissioner Jason Anderson of Crestone said, “All of our cases are completely focused in Center.”

The town in the middle of the San Luis Valley is where most of the Valley’s agriculture workers live, and the rapid spread of the coronavirus began with outbreaks at a mushroom farm and a potato warehouse that “share in that body of workers,” Anderson said, adding:“Most are immigrants.”

But they are immigrants from an unusual culture: the indigenous Maya people of western Guatemala and the bordering state of Chiapas in Mexico. English and Spanish are not their first languages. The families in worker housing speak a Maya dialect, health worker Janet Beiriger of Center said, identifying it as Q’anjab’al.

The language barrier has made virus containment more difficult despite the ranks of volunteers, health officials, school employees and social workers who turned out last weekend (6/6-7) in Center. “We have a lot of good people going door to door in full protective gear, knocking on doors saying what they can do to keep safe, handing out masks,” said Beiriger, an employee of the Saguache County health department “We’re just doing everything in our power so we can get things under control.So they can get educated.”

Spanish is the second language of the six-county 8,000 square-mile Valley, and many of the Maya people “speak enough Spanish to understand,” she said. Potato foremen who know the native Maya dialect and some experts from Alamosa helped translate.

Colorado’s daily increase in Covid-19 cases peaked about April 26. The peak in the San Luis Valley may have been a month later, when the number of known cases increased from 137 on Friday May 29 to 238 on June 6, according to Colorado Department of Health and Environment data.The June 8 county totals were: Alamosa 95 and 2 deaths, Saguache 94 and 2 deaths, Rio Grande 46, plus 15 in the other three counties for a Valley total of 250.

The Valley was ranked among the state regions with the highest two-week average infection rates, and Saguache County, with a population of less than 7,000, became the state’s third most infected county.

The ranking was based on the standard measure of cases per 100,000 population, and by that calculation Saguache County had an infection rate of 1,345. The state warns against over emphasizing the statistic for small populations, but the number was significantly higher than the same calculation for the San Luis Valley as a whole: 489. The Valley has a population of less than 48,000.

Anderson noted the Saguache County total was stable at about three cases for a month. “We sat there for a long time thinking our isolation was really going to help out.” Then came the outbreaks at Colorado Mushroom Farm in Alamosa County and Mountain King Spud Growers in Rio Grande County just south of Center.

“The infection moved from there into the community,” he said. Still, “We don’t have a lot of intermixing between our communities and in this situation this has been a blessing.”

The county health department director resigned as the pandemic began, and she has not been replaced. “My job was to put together a task force and finding money to get it into operation,” Anderson said. In addition to the cultural barrier in dealing with affected families was the problem that they apparently are not eligible for federal assistance, although Anderson did not go into this.

On its own, the county commission set up an emergency fund with $3,000 from the sales tax grant fund surplus, and the town of Center contributed another $3,000. The potato company closed its warehouse for two weeks of cleaning. And the state was “very helpful” with emergency services, social services, food banks, and ramped up testing, Anderson said.

Beiringer, the health worker, said many of the people are now out of isolation and ready to work. “Sunlight and fresh air kill the virus rapidly,” she added, hopefully.

“No Ventilation” Directive

The Crestone End of Life Project, which sponsors the community’s open-air cremations at a place called the “Pyre” on a hill, has discontinued them until the pandemic is over. No surprise. Funerals everywhere are cancelled. The surprise in the announcement, in the Crestone Eagle, was a forewarning about the invasive machines called ventilators.

Many hospitals and political leaders decried the shortage of ventilators when the pandemic hit the United States, but the issue has faded because so far there have been enough. And, I suspect, there is a dawning realization that the insertion of an oxygen tube down the throat andair passage and the drugs needed to quiet the instincts of the patient to gag and try to reject it, plus the tangle of wires monitoring the heart and breathing, might not be worth the trauma because by some estimates 80 per cent of the “intubation” patients die anyway.

But half-conscious in an emergency room, how can you refuse?

“You may want to consider writing a special COVID-19-specific advance directive stating your wishes regarding medical care in the event that you are not able to communicate them,” the CEOLP said. “This is especially important if you do not want to die in isolation, away from family, and if you know you would not choose to be put on a ventilator if your illness has progressed to that point.

“Fifty to ninety percent of patients put on ventilators still die. It is an invasive and traumatic procedure. Even those who survive may do so with a much-impaired quality of life.

“A simple directive in writing, witnessed and notarized, can express your wish to remain at home, or if in the hospital, to be released to return home and to not be placed on a ventilator.

“This is a legal choice you can make. Copies should be made and given to your legal representative or next of kin, and this document should be with you if you are hospitalized. You may also ask a trusted family member or loved one to assume the legal role as your medical power of attorney or representative.”

The group also advocates “informed choices” about the when and how of death itself.

South Of Here

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico got some attention in national news for her firm action in locking down the state — first because the NRA threatened to sue her for failing to include gun shops as essential businesses (self protection) and again for quarantining a large county with major highways, McKinley, that borders Arizona and the Navajo Reservation.

And Thursday she was mentioned by national TV commentator Rachel Madow for pointing out the irony that Doctors Without Borders, which goes to impoverished nations, has mobilized to help the Navajos fight the pandemic while the Indian Health Service stands idly by.Madow made sure to say the Indian Health Service is part of the Health and Human Services Department under Alex Azar, the political appointee who blames the home life and social practices of workers for the thousands of infections at meat processing plants.

The Navajo Nation (as it calls itself), with a population of 175,000 at one time had more coronavirus infections per person than any state:3,200 cases with 100 deaths.The Associated Press in a well illustrated feature story released this week tells how one man from southern Arizona probably was the super-spreader, attending a close religious gathering of Navajo families.

McKinley County’s main town is Gallup, where Navajos shop. The county had 1,600 coronavirus cases, by far the highest number in New Mexico, when Grisham imposed the quarantine, enforced by the State Police. The lockdown drew ire in Grants, the main town in Cibola County, which borders on the east, where a bar owner defiantly opened up for business two weeks ago, before that form of partying and protest became popular. Republicans, the usual minority in the New Mexico Legislature, announced proudly that they object to being told how to react to the pandemic and have written a letter to U.S. Atty. Gen. William Barr seeking to protect their constitutional rights.

The Spacey West

The Navajo Nation is where John Ford and later film directors shot Westerns emphasizing the wild frontier, especially at Monument Valley (now closed to tourists due to the pandemic). The27,000 square mile reservation is not at all like Manhattan, but it has a similar remarkably high infection rate, per capita, despite the wide open spaces. So the opinion of Trump The New Yorker that “certain sections” west of there don’t need coronavirus testing is at odds with the super-spreader reality. Trump said in a news briefing, there are very “capable states” with “lot of land.” So, ‘You don’t need testing there.”

The reality is what happened on the Navajo Nation. One person infected a church group, and the group disassembled to isolated homes and infected their close relatives, and on — before they were even aware of the virus.  The same thing happened at another social environment in Colorado Springs, where probably just one player at a bridge tournament initiated the infection of 300 people, hospitalization of 20 and deaths of four.

I got into a discussion about why the infection rate per capita in Canada is less than half that of the United States. One explanation was that Canada from coast to coast is like the U.S. West — spacey.But it’s wrong.

If you cut out the covid-19 epicenter comprising New York City and its tri-state metro area, the U.S. rate is only slightly (one estimate is 20 per cent) higher than in Canada, which does not have a New York.A Canadian Broadcasting reporter went into all this in a fine article with graphics. He  blamed the New York subway system for some of the infection, which was refreshing because you don’t hear that from the media stars (with their body guards) who don’t take the subways. At rush hours in Manhattan there is a median social distance of about one inch in almost any subway car.But “front line” people need to ride the subways or pay about ten times more for a yellow cab or Uber.

The death rate from the coronavirus in the U.S. is twice Canada’s, but that’s another story (Canada has a national health care system, the U.S. does not).

Another reality in this discussion was that the Rocky Mountain West is probably more urban than any other section of the country.A Brookings study says 80 per cent of the people in the seven states live in mega-urban areas. I live between two of them — the Colorado Front Range and Northern New Mexico.


Alamosa Mushroom Farm Outbreak

A covid-19 cluster  involving 11 workers at the Colorado Mushroom Farm in Alamosa brought to 25 the coronavirus positive tests reported by the state health department for Alamosa County as the week ended.

The state reported only five cases in Saguache County after a month of three.But the Valley News said local health department reports disclosed a total of 12 cases in Saguache County. The discrepancy may have been due late results of contact tracing — tracking down people who had contact with known cases. Other San Luis Valley counties remained steady, at Rio Grande 7, Conejos 1, Mineral 2, and Costilla 3.

A news release under the names of director Eric Ball of the San Luis Valley Medical Center and director Chris Killer of Conejos County Hospital emergency department cautioned residents against delaying ordinary medical treatment. They said an elderly Alamosa woman broke her hip and complicated her condition by not going to the hospital for four days.

“If you are experiencing any sort of emergency, do not delay care. We keep covid patients separate from other sick patients as well as putting in place extra deep cleaning procedures,” they said.

Meanwhile, the outbreak at a Salida nursing home appeared to be stable at 28 verified cases and 15 deaths. Chaffee County as a whole reported 68 cases and 17 deaths. The county, where many Saguache County residents shop and seek medical treatment, warns that it is “closed to visitors, tourism, or leisure until further notice.”


My Journalistic Critique

The Los Angeles Times broke a story with this lead paragraph:“Scientists have identified a new strain of the coronavirus that has become dominant world-wide and appears to be more contagious than the versions that spread in the early days of the covid-19 pandemic, according to an international study led by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory.”

Next day in catchup stories the Eastern media generally dismissed the study as not following the usual rules of verification by peer review. The NY Times, WA Post and Atlantic quoted medical experts saying the lab disclosure was premature. The Economist on its web site said the Los Alamos report “raised eyebrows world wide.” TV media, I think, did not carry the story.The NY Times reminded readers that viruses mutate all the time without actually changing characteristics. The lab’s announcement, on an obscure professional web site, and the study itself were unusual for the nation’s foremost nuclear weapons developer.

But I side with the LA Times in this news fight. Its May 5 breaking story by a veteran reporter, Ralph Vartabedian, was a plain uncritical report of what was published by the lab and what the lead writer said in an interview. She said the hurried disclosure was justified because of the urgent subject. The theory, backed by data from the fastest computers in the world, would explain the severity of covid-19 at the New York epicenter by comparison with elsewhere in the country, California in particular. The NY virus thus would have come from Europe and the California virus from China.

And, the theory warns that creation of a vaccine will not catch up with the mutating virus. Vaccine developers everywhere pin hopes on the stability of the coronavirus.In other words, that it does not mutate the way influenza virus does, requiring a new vaccine every year.

Vartabedian is not an impassive reporter.He has been critical of Dr. Anthony Fauci for enthusiastic promotion of Remdesivir, a product of the Bay Area biotech giant Gilead, as a therapy for covid-19.And he has said, “Experts say the rush to build respirators was probably not a great investment, because the death rates on those machines are so high.”

The new LA Times owner is Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire biotech researcher. I don’t know if he sends his wishes to editors, but he has a history of involvement in health reforms, including the bail out of several small California hospitals.


The Gunnison Exception

The highest coronavirus infection rate among counties adjacent to Saguache County continues to be in Gunnison County, where emergency orders, among other restrictions,  banned non-residents from visiting their second homes at Crested Butte winter resort — but an exception was made later for wealthy Texas Republicans, according to an Associated Press report.

The AP found that Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton influenced the Gunnison County commission to exempt one of his Republican campaign donors who complained he was kept from occupying his second home, valued by the AP at $4 million. Robert McCarter is among “at least nine donors” with Crested Butte properties who gave a total of $2 million to the Paxton reelection campaign, according to the report.

Gunnison County, which comprises Crested Butte and the town of Gunnison, home of Western State University, has a resident population of about 17,000 along with many visitors. As May began, the county had 164 COVID-19 cases and five deaths from the virus. A month earlier the rate was 84 cases and one death. At that time the Colorado Department of Health was reporting a standard infection calculation of incidents per 100,000 population, and Gunnison County was ten times the state rate. It was second only to Eagle County in the early “ski area clusters” that made national news in March. The reaction was so strict that the electronic highway sign at the Gunnison city limits warned “No Visitors.”

Neighboring Chaffee County with a population of about 20,000 reported 67 cases on May 1 with 17 deaths from the virus, but all but two deaths were attributed to an outbreak at Columbine Manor, a longterm care facility in Salida. A month earlier Chaffee County reported 17 cases and one death.

Saguache County, with a population of about 7,000, has a long western border with Gunnison County as well as a direct state highway shortcut to Gunnison, but it has been free of new reported infections since April 2, when the county health department reported three COBID-19 positive tests and no deaths. This is typical of all the San Luis Valley Counties, except Alamosa with 10 cases and two deaths compared with four cases and no deaths a month earlier.

In Crestone, residents have been compliant with the Colorado governor’s wishes — first a stay home order, lifted April 26, and now a “safer at home” suggestion. Merchants have been relatively strict, and face coverings have been the rule. But Crestonians complained on Facebook about apparent visitors in town without masks in close contact with each other, as May brought the first warm days of spring.

Tripping Up The Grim Reaper

Colorado”s  stay-at-home order, lifted as of Sunday (4/26), did not have to be widely enforced by the State Patrol because of voluntary compliance and no newsworthy political demonstrations.  Colorado Gov. Jared Polis when he issued the order a month ago said there was no need to fear heavy police enforcement. “It’s not fear of a policeman taking you to jail. It’s fear of the Grim Reaper for your friends and loved ones and perhaps yourself,” he said in answer to a question at a news conference.

The governor’s statement upon replacing the order with a “safer at home” suggestion was this: “The evidence shows that social distancing and the Stay at Home Order are working. The increase in cases and rate of infection are slowing. In addition, there has been a 60% reduction of cars on the road since the beginning of March, which means that there are fewer person-to-person interactions and fewer opportunities for Coloradans to spread the virus. Simply put, by staying home, Coloradans are saving lives.”

To be effective, government laws dealing with social behavior (like Prohibition and its pot progeny) need the consent of the governed.Around here (Crestone) people have consented to avoiding leisure visits to town, and have observed social distancing and wearing respiratory coverings of various kinds in line at the post office. The general grocery store and hardware store have narrowed their entrances and require masks and gloves, providing them at the doors.

But, as the hiking-climbing season begins,I have noticed visitors who don’t take these precautions, in town or out on the wilderness-bound trails near my house. And — strange thing — a week ago two fully armed U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers in marked trucks were patrolling along the spiritual centers road.I hoped they were looking for the vandals in trucks who pushed down signs for various non-Christian spiritual centers a month ago, with at least one of them heard yelling “It’s the end of times!

The officers, however, did not seem to have the vandals in mind. They asked us if we had seen any people with camp fires.  But the USFS officers were apparently enforcing the new fire ban covering the entire mountain West and issuing marijuana citations (it’s still unlawful on federal land).

Last year and the year before a careless group of men, women and children — not a family, not backpackers or climbers —  set up camp under tarps and thin dome tents on the far side of South Crestone creek just across from the trailhead parking lot.  They disappeared in a hurry, leaving the tarps tied to trees. A crew of the Crestone fire volunteers answering a smoke alert doused the fire ring.

And so, last fall the Forest Service cleaned up the site and posted a No Camping sign.

North of us in Salida-Poncha Springs-Buena Vista this statement is repeated on the daily county health bulletins: “Chaffee County is CLOSED to visitors, tourism, and leisure until further notice.Please do not invite your friends from out of county or out of state.This includes our recreational amenities.We all look forward to a time when we are open and back to normal, but that can only happen if everyone does their part to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Saguache County commissioners might have had the same intent — closing to visitors — but it took three tries to get it right. The first version of the order was simply a copy of Gunnison County’s order, with a context applicable to students in dorms at Western State University but confusing here in Saguache County, with no dorms or colleges.

Gunnison County, bordering both Saguache and Chaffee, was the location of one of Colorado’s early “ski area” clusters of COVID 19.Saguache County has had only three positivetests since April 2.

Chaffee on Friday reported 65 positive COVID 19 test results  — a triple increase from 21 cases on April 2, but most were due to an outbreak at Columbine Manor, a long-term care facility in Salida. Of the 13 virus deaths in the county, 12 were residents at  Columbine.

Here in the high (8,000 feet) San Luis Valley at the foot of some sharp fourteeners, we are familiar with a symptom that has coincidental association with high altitude distress.In a New York Times op ed on coronavirus treatment, Dr. Richard Levitan began a discussion of what he called “Silent hypoxia,” a type of pneumonia without the usual finding of fluid in the lungs. Normal oxygen level in the blood is supposed to be 94 to 100 percent, but some victims of the new virus show up without awareness that their oxygen level is as low as 50 percent. By then they are in extreme danger, according to Levitan. The therapy for severe altitude sickness is to go down to a more friendly elevation, and Levitan suggested the therapy for the similar condition in the emergency room ought to begin with oxygen rather than the extreme “intubation” involved with ventilators.


REC Backs Off Demand Charge, Temporarily

Electrical rates for residential customers of San Luis Valley Rural Electric Co-op are about to return to a schedule like the kilowatt-hour charge abandoned last April. That’s when the co-opbegan billing more for maximum demand than actual use, and Crestonians complained to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

The new rate schedules effective Dec. 1 are the apparent result of a pre-hearing settlement of complaints by a group headed by Anne Pace and the city of Crestone. The co-op published the schedules in Alamosa Valley Courier legal ads in ratemaking code without explanation. Pace said the compromise will be effective for 16 months. Details will be published in the December Crestone Eagle.

The legal ads specified two main residential rate groups — those without and those with time-of-day metering.

For the first group, the demand charge (calculated by the greatest 15-minute use in a month) is reduced from $7.59 to $1.03 per kilowatt, and the use charge will be increased from 6.6 cents to 11.7 cents per kilowatt hour. The fee per meter will remain at $35.40 a month.

For the time-of-day group there are two demand charges. The off-peak charge (for 12 midnight to 10 a.m.) will be reduced from $2.85 to 50 cents a kilowatt. The on-peak charge (10 a.m. to midnights) will be reduced from $5.45 to 80 cents a kilowatt. And the use charge will be increased from 4.6 cents to 9 cents a kilowatt hour. The meter fee will be unchanged at $39.40 a month.

Lockhart Unseats 20-Year REC Board Member

Wade Lockhart of Crestone, describing himself as “a green builder” since 1992 and advocating more wind and solar generation, won election to the board of the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Co-op, defeating Mike Rierson of rural Center, a farmer who had held the at-large seat for 20 years.

Lockhart announced, “We won!” by text message when the tally of paper ballots was certified on Wednesday (June 12), the day after the co-op’s annual membership meeting at the Alamosa armory. He won by 63 per cent, or 635 of the 1077 ballots cast, most by mail but some handed in at the meeting.

In impromptu remarks to the audience of several hundred, Lockhart had said, “We have a grand opportunity here in the San Luis Valley to put up more renewables than we have to. If we can have our own renewables it’s going to be cheaper. We won’t have to bring electric energy all the way from Craig or New Mexico.” Colorado’s renewable energy standard for co-ops is 20 per cent of retail electric sales. The SLV co-op’s wholesale provider is Tri-State Energy and Transmission Association, which is dependent on coal-fired power plants such as those in Craig and elsewhere.

Rierson had not mentioned power sources in his remarks to the same audience, sounding instead themes of unity in diversity and keeping rates affordable. “We represent everyone,” he said of the board. “We have to be there at all times to hear the voice of the members.”

The annual meeting followed a standard agenda that included amiable remarks by directors and administrators (the men dressed in uniform white shirts bearing the co-op logo), awarding of scholarships to local college students, door prizes, the candidate remarks and answers to a selection of written questions by chief executive officer Loren Howard.

“We have a complaint filed against us,” he said.Crestone residents, organized by Annie Pace, signed the official complaint and petition that will result in a July 19 hearing in Crestone by representatives of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, although co-ops are unregulated under Colorado law.Howard did not elaborate, but he did defend the main issue of the petition: the sudden imposition of a new set of cost-shifting rates involving “demand” charges.

“My responsibility is to do what’s best for the co-op. Sometimes it’s not the best for you,” he said, referring to complaints about increased charges. “We went through hundreds of accounts to see what this rate change will do,” he said, concluding, “Yes, some are up. Some are down.”

The big surprise at the mass meeting came from the back of the armory assembly hall. A young man named Matthew Robinson walked up the aisle with a sort of military bearing (he is a graduate of West Point) and faced the crowd. He is now an energy manager with a state agency that he did not identify because he was not speaking officially.

He and his partner built a second home (they live in Denver) in the San Luis Valley, designing a solar system that produces more power than it uses, he said, but they decided to sell. “We can’t afford it any more because of this rate change,” he said.

“Public Service Co. (Excel) tried the same rate change,” he said, citing expert testimony to the PUC was against the concept. Among the points made were:that demand charges are not understood, that customers cannot actually monitor their consumption to avoid new charges, that low-income customers are harmed to most, that it is not unusual for businesses to pay less while many residents pay more, that demand charges are untested and that they do not accurately reflect costs.

What utilities want is more stable revenues, he said, and demand charges make sense for large power users because they have the expertise that householders lack. “We are paying one of the highest rates in the state in an area with a concentration of low-income. This is a terrible rate design,” Robinson said.

Customers Complain To REC Board

The San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative heard complaints from perplexed residents of Crestone-Baca struggling to understand the new rate structure that takes effect on April 1. Despite pleas for a delay of the effective date, the board took no action except to enact a 30-day delay in enforcement of  the use of smart meters by those customers who have refused them in the past.

The smart meters, already installed at most homes, record and transmit the running consumption of electric power, beeping radio frequency waves to Monte Vista.

The new rates will appear first on May bills based on April consumption. The change will cost more for consumers that the co-op decided are not paying their fair share of the non-profit costs of providing electric power.Targeted are people with solar panels and second-home owners, among others, the raucous meeting disclosed.

The “Dear Member” notice sent on March 12 came as a surprise for the Crestone residents, although the rate change was telegraphed at the end of the monthly column by Chief Executive Loren Howard in the co-op’s February “Newsboy” mailer.

Matie Belle Lakish, former chair of the Baca Grande POA, waved the notice at Howard, protesting that it was incomprehensible. “Why don’t you get somebody who knows how to write?” she said.

Residential bills right now show a fixed charge plus a calculation of charges per kilowatt power used during the month. The new bills, apparently varying with rate class, will show a fixed charge  plus a kilowatt hour charge, plus a surcharge per kilowatt (not kilowatt hour) for the highest 15-minute spike in demand during the month, regardless of total usage, and for some customers  another surcharge per kilowatt for the highest monthly spike during the hours of 12 noon to 10 p.m. on any day except Sunday.

Some teachers explain the difference between kilowatts and kilowatt hours with the simile of a garden hose. A KW is like the water pressure and a KWh is like the amount of water used.

Providing electricity requires more available kilowatts the more household appliances are turned on at once.

So to keep the demand spikes lower, you need to cut down the number of electric things operating at the same time. The co-op’s innovation of off-peak KW “demand” tells you to save money by using more power between 10 p.m. and 12 noon the next day (or on Sundays).

Daniel Frelka of Crestone protested what he called “the life-style change you are imposing on everybody. I don’t want to roast a chicken and find it costs me 50 bucks.”

Wade Lockhart of Crestone, who is running for the co-op board, pointed out this affects the bathroom showering by those who have on-demand water heaters. Conventional tank heaters can heat up during the night, providing hot water any time at lower costs than the more efficient instant heaters.

Lockhart also engaged Loren Howard in a conversation about people who are frequently away from home in Crestone, including second-home owners. They pay little more than the fixed charge when they use little power. Under the new rate structure they would pay for the highest spikes no matter how much they use.

Lori Nagel of Crestone found this incredible. “Why not just pay for what we use?” she asked Howard, who responded it was complicated, involving costs of always being prepared for peaks.

Nagel said, “This is just a fancy way to increase rates.” Howard responded this is not a rate increase, and board members chimed in on this theme. Mark Rierson of rural Center explained it is an equalization because some consumers (called members) are subsidizing others. If the revenue from residential customers is now $1 million a year, it will still be $1 million after the rate change, he said.

Rierson added, “Nothing lasts forever. Things change over time. The industry as a whole is changing. Savings are not as great as ten years ago.”
The co-op and 43 others in the West buy wholesale from Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which relies on coal-fired power plants such as the 100-megawatt one at Nucla, CO, due to be closed down in 2022 and a 472-megawatt unit at Craig, CO, closing in 2025. A quarter of Tri-State power sources are described as “sustainable” such as solar photo-voltaic generation.

Board member Scott Wolfe of Alamosa said, “We did this as a business decision, helping our business run better.” He told Nagel not to “panic,” that it was not a rate increase but a correction. “Some people under-pay, some over-pay.”

Board chair Cole Wakasugi of Blanca said, “Our biggest responsibility is to protect our co-op.”

There was no response on the issue of smart meters, on the minds of most of the outspeaking Crestonians. Several cited studies about the adverse effects of rf radiation. Several told personal stories of being stricken upon contact with smart meters.

Two years ago a number of Crestonians opted out of smart metering, choosing to pay more for their traditional meters that have to be read visually.But this op-out agreement is now discarded because smart meters are essential for the new rate structure. Lars Skogen of Crestone said, “Our opt-out does have legal weight,” implying that the abrogation could be challenged.

Russel Preister and others called smart meters an invasion of privacy because they might make it possible for somebody to track the behavior of residents, such as when they watch television or cook.

Most protested the short notice. Nagel asked, “What was the urgency?” Frel said it left no time to respond, “Just: boom!”

Board member Wolfe pointed to the February Newsboy as early notice. But the chief executive’s column did say, “An adequate explanation of how this three-part rate will work takes more than the space for this month’s Newsboy article, so stay tuned for further articles on this change in rates.” There have been no further articles.

(A personal disclosure: In 2004 I designed ETS heaters into my Baca home, which was about to be built. The system sets up off-peak electrical heating of heavy firebricks in the units, which release heat by blowers as needed, night and day. The same for the water heater. The deal let the co-op use its excess capacity — the spinning Tri-State generators — at night and at certain times during the day. When there was a wide difference between off-peak and on-peak rates early on, the savings were substantial as compared with traditional electric baseboard heaters, but in recent years the spread in rates has become narrower, and the co-op has stopped providing maintenance of ETS units, although it stocks parts such as heating coils for private electricians to purchase for repairs. Under the new rate structure ETS heating might be comparable to wise use of baseboard heating. We shall see.)


Some Items From Previous Years:


DECLINE AND FALL OF AT&T:  Residents of our respectable little rural community will recognize the problem in the following dialog with AT&T’s helpless help-chat chatterers. It’s a problem all the retailers and delivery services I have dealt with in 10 years solved long ago. But not the once-greatest telephone company on earth. Talking to these guys was like being stopped at the border to a country run by third-world generals. I post the text:

“You are now chatting with Javier C., an AT&T sales representative.

Javier C.: Welcome to AT&T online Sales support.  How may I help you with placing your order today?

larry: OK. I am trying to buy your $20 a month home plan.

Javier C.: Hello Larry! I would be more than happy to assist you with your inquiry about our wireless home phone.

larry: But I live in a rural area without home USPS delivery. Your program will not accept my home address. I get mail at a PO Box. Please help. UPS delivers to this address all the time, Also Fedex

Javier C.: At this time, we are not able to ship online orders to a P.O. Box.  Are you able to enter a physical address which matches all other addresses?

larry: I do not understand. There are no USPS addresses in this community

Javier C.: Larry, For security reasons, to submit an order online, we will need the shipping address to match the billing address on your form of payment. If you do not have a physical address that is not a PO Box, than you would want to contact Sales at 1888-333-6651, where this can be discussed and see what options you have.

larry: OK. Very sad att does not help rural folk

Javier C : Please wait while I transfer you to an operator at AT&T Wireless Customer Care.

Welcome! You are now chatting with ‘Jiezel Morante’.

Jiezel Morante: Hello, Larry. I see that you are transferred to me. Allow me to review the transcript and the memos from your previous interaction so that you won’t have to repeat yourself. Please consider this as a continuation of your chat with my colleague.

larry: OK. I am willing to pay by PayPal if that makes any difference

Jiezel Morante: Thank you for patiently waiting. I see that you wanted to have a the $20 phone plan. First, let me thank you for your business with AT&T. For further assistance, can I have your wireless number first?

larry: My home phone is [xxxx]. It is a VOIP service. This is the service I am trying to replace with att.

Jiezel Morante: Thank you for that information. Let me check for that here on my end. . . . Thank you for those information. As a wireless mobile representative, I can definitely help you with your billing concerns about your wireless account. If you wish to add a home phone, do not worry, I can help you coordinate with the right department today.

Jiezel Morante: Let me connect this chat to the right department. Will that be fine with you?

Jiezel Morante: Are you still there, Larry?

larry: Yes, pls

Jiezel Morante: Thank you. One moment please. Please wait while I transfer you to an operator at National Web Center.

You are now chatting with ‘John B’ at National Web Center.

John B: Hi, I’m sorry for any delay in reaching me.  I see that you have been speaking to another representative. Please allow me a moment to review your previous conversation and I will be happy to assist you further.  

larry: All I want is for you to accept my home address!

John B: Sure, Let me quickly check on that and help you.

John B: Could you please help me with the complete home street address?

larry: [xxxx] / Crestone CO 81131

John B: Thank you for the information.

John B: Could you help me with the Cell phone number or the best can be reached number?

larry: Again:  [xxxx]

John B: Thank you.

John B: I am working on it.

John B: Apart from this, how are you doing today?

larry: I do have an appointment in 30 minutes. And my session to order yr service just timed out

John B: I am really sorry, my system is working slow than expected hence it’s taking a while to check the details, Larry. But I definitely value your time so I request you to provide me your best can be reached number so once I am done with the issue I call back and confirm.

larry: Simple question then:  will att provide service to a PO Box address? I can buy the WHP device on eBay and they deliver here all the time. Will you bill to a PO Box?

John B: If you desired to have wireless, then I can validate the address and can provide you with some amazing offers.

John B: Larry we can bill to your PO Box as well.

larry: OK then tell me how to place the order pls

John B: I will do that for you.

John B: Just give me a moment let me explain you about the cell phones available for you.

John B: Are you looking for a smart phone?

larry: Please! As I have said, I am trying to buy wireless home phone $20 a month no contract

John B: Larry, Please allow me a moment while i transfer this chat to the dedicated department where they will be glad to help you. One moment while I transfer this chat to a representative that is better skilled to handle your concern.

Welcome! You are now chatting with ‘Harry Collins’.

Harry Collins: Hi Larry! Pleasure to have you today here on this chat and I’ll be your partner today and make sure to help you through out of our conversation. 

larry: You are the fourth rep I have talked to this morning. You have wasted more than an hour of my time. And you still don’t have a clue what the problem is. COME ON ATT!!!

Harry Collins: I completely understand that and I really do apologize for the inconvenience Larry.

larry: You do not understand.”

(At this point I politely terminated the chat. I was late for my appointment.)


PAYING THE BUFFALO BILL: Pushing aside for later a March 13 petition by home owners expressing concern about fire protection, the board of the Baca Grande Property Owners Association approved a buffalo and a water letter among other business Thursday (April 10) with divisive political issues running in the background.

The sculpture of an American bison will be installed on the west side of the curve of Camino Baca Grande just south of the turnoffs to the Desert Sage restaurant. The steel art piece, from the estate of the late Richard Enzer, will be anchored on a concrete pad at no cost to POA members. The proposal by Sage Godfrey and Peter Taylor among various donors was approved unanimously.

Tom Tucker and Noah Baen of the Crestone Baca Watershed Council asked the POA board to write a letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board with the purpose of improving natural stream flows in the Baca Grande. The senior rights to divert water downstream belong to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Slowing the stream flows higher up in order to improve riparian reaches requires a new kind of right to “non-consumptive” use. The POA board agreed to the idea of the letter, to be drafted later.

Chairman Bob Garnett, a money watchdog, took exception to two budget items: a proposed cost of $14,530 to send out late-payment notices and $1,180 toward the liability insurance premium for the stables.

POA administrator Kirsten Ecklund said Hammersmith Management is asking $15 plus postage to notify each tardy annual dues payer. Garnett said the price to outsource the work was “ridiculous.” He suggested it could be done for about $2,000 in house. Ecklund was directed to come back with a better price.

On the liability premium, Garnett noted the POA is already paying about $100,000 a year to insure against claims involving Baca Grande property, so why the extra coverage? Ecklund said it’s for specific things like mishaps during trail rides. The POA is obligated by contract to pay one-third of the stable premium, she said. The rest of the board did not object to the expense, but Garnett said, “I’m just not going to sign the check.”

The multi-point “fire” petition was the product of two community meetings in February. Most of the some 90 signers supported the idea, dismissed by the board majority, of creating a fire district under law to replace the private POA volunteer  fire department. Board member Mattie Belle Lakish proposed putting it on the agenda for the next meeting. Board member Bruce MacDonald objected, referring several times to “never ending” discussions. “They say we want this, this and this, but there’s no explanation of how to achieve it. We need somebody to figure it out.”

Mark Jacobi said from the audience that one thing requested was “a meeting between former fire fighters and the board, and this would be “germane and pertinent and better sooner than later.”  Lakish suggested “a dialog to better identify how to come up with details.”

MacDonald said, “People come to the board all the time wanting things. . . It’s not our job to figure out what people want.” Chairman Garnett had the last word. “This is too big an issue to have during a board meeting.” He directed Ecklund to find a convenient time to schedule the special meeting.

Late agenda items by MacDonald brought up the political things humming in the background. One was his proposed letter in the name of the board to all POA members summarizing the settlement of a lawsuit involving him as a plaintiff and Lakish as a defendant, among others. She objected, and there was no final action.

The letter would include an indictment of the Crestone Eagle for reputed errors in a story about the settlement. A member of the audience spoke out on this, suggesting newspapers themselves take responsibility for corrections. The second MacDonald item directed the general counsel to investigate Lakish for “conflict of interest.” A long argument ensued over the fact that her son was once a volunteer fire fighter and she supported the fire district.

At this point the newcomer who suggested the board didn’t have any business correcting newspapers walked out, expressing disgust with what he had witnessed during the meeting. More specifically, he used the words, “a bunch of amateurs.”

He was Dr. Herman Staudenmayer, a practicing psychologist in Denver who built a second home here five years ago. A reader of the Wall Street Journal whose son is a lawyer, he could not fathom the basis of the board’s journalistic intervention or the accusation of conflict of interest.  He said he came to the meeting, his first, mostly to understand the fire department controversy – without result. “I still don’t understand why we need three fire departments,” he said.

THE TORRENTS OF SPRING: Home-rule ardor met political reality in a long-delayed confluence at the crowded  March 27 meeting of the Baca Grande Property Owners Association board. The downstream prospect: moderated future meetings where homeowners seeking a normal volunteer fire department under Colorado law will confront a board majority that says the issue is dead, dead, dead.

The realpolitik has to do with non-resident lot owners, an inactive majority with the power to elect board members by proxy. Will this group eventually accept a transfer of fire engines and other property in order to give life to the yet unfunded Crestone Emergency Services District? And will the twice-defeated property tax levy for the district eventually be approved at a reduced fire-but-no-ambulance amount?

These issues were the undercurrent of an agenda item that had sent the March 13 meeting over a cliff, and the board picked it up again and passed it, 3-1, with proponents claiming it was nothing more than routine housekeeping. The action removes from the books a formal consent by the previous board in 2010 to transfer the fire engines, etc., if and when the district were formed, as it subsequently was.

Board Chairman Robert Garnett again said the action simply “cleans up the books,” and administrator Kristin Ecklund agreed.

A former board member, John Loll, cautioned  the board on the dismissive wording. “Be a little more direct,” he said.

Board member Bruce McDonald did make a tangential reference to the actual politics behind the action. “Everybody knows we sent a letter (to the ESD board) saying we don’t support the district. They just don’t like it, and they want us to change it.”

Bill Sutherland, who is on the ESD board, said a letter of non-support from the POA board erroneously stated the district is not in the best interest of the community. But a year ago the proposition to abolish it was rejected decisively by the district voters. “So the community believes it’s in the best interest.” Therefore, he asked, “should the community have a greater or lesser role?”

Chairman Garnett responded, “The board represents the whole membership – not just here.”

Paul Shippee asked how the board could govern “without feedback,” and Batiste Deluca responded, “They can ignore and we can vote them out next time.”

DeLuca , a retired Washington D.C. lawyer, took the occasion to promote his concept of weighted voting in which members who are residents would have a greater voice than those who are not. He asked Nicole Armstrong, a  representative of Hammersmith Management, how this might be accomplished. She said it would require approval by “two-thirds of the membership,” but first it would have to be proposed by the board.

Deluca concluded this gives veto power to the current board, and, “They owe a lot to the non-residential owners.”  So, he said, “The only way to change is a new board.”

The third vote cast to rescind the 2010 resolution was by Nigel Fuller, and Matie Belle Lakish was the lone no. She suggested the board could pass a new resolution supporting a modified district.

From the audience of some 70 homeowners, Chris Canaly then asked the other board members, “What is your plan?” McDonald rejected the question as not on the agenda, and said, “This is where we were last time.”

The board moved on quickly to a proposed resolution that would authorize its staff, and only its staff, to record meetings – an effective ban on video recordings by members such as the one posted on this web site that showed the March 13 crash. It was tabled for possible consideration at another meeting.

Next was the item most of the members had come for – presentation of a list of requests that had been worked out in two community meetings on fire protection, read to the reluctant majority by Lakish. Discussion centered on complaints that the board just doesn’t listen, particularly when it comes to discussing the ESD district or a version of it. “The members would like to engage with the board on these issues,” she said.

“There’s no way you can have this sort of discussion with 70 people,” McDonald said, adding later: “It’s not an equal playing field and has not been since we (the new majority) were put in. Nobody wants a civil environment where I’m free to speak without being pounced on.”

Fuller proposed dealing with representatives rather than the whole group. Member John Rowe said, “I live here. I should be allowed to speak. And I don’t know what you think about these issues.” Other members echoed this request for an open discussion involving everybody.

Nathan Good suggested mediation, as he had in a letter to the board earlier. Shippee, who sponsors non-violent communication workshops, agreed. “That would be medicine for the connection between the board and the membership. The momentum of two public meetings should not be forgotten.”

McDonald rebutted, “If I was there (at the community meetings), it might have been a little different.”

Mark Elliott rejoined, “You do seem to be defensive.” He was among members who objected to being viewed as “you people.” He said, “Please don’t categorize us. It seems you look at us as some kind of lynch mob.”

Fuller, with a tone of compromise, said, “If there is a meeting, don’t bring your opinions. Bring solutions.”

Mark Jacobi praised Fuller’s willingness to meet, saying, “Let us move forward as humans and try to figure this out without polarizing.”

Carol Deantoni had the final comment from the audience, saying the spirit of the community meetings is worth fighting to keep. “The meetings were good for the community, and we’re going to keep doing it. This is where we live! But we come to this room and suddenly our hearts are thrown in the garbage can. We’re just asking to be friendly.”

The  fifth board member, Russell Schreiber, said to be dying of cancer, was absent. Cards were circulated where members wrote final messages to him, in a reminder that politics is sometimes subsumed by human heartedness.

CALL THE SHERIFF: What began in a spirit of conflict resolution ended with an abrupt walkout (captured on video) as the board of the Baca Grande Property Owners Association abandoned an agenda that included a petition signed by about 90 residents.

The issue underlying both the petition and the walkout was fire-protection politics in the forested subdivision.  The fire chief, Ben Brack, had resigned after the board cut his pay in half, and most of the volunteers followed. Most of the petitioners favor creation of a unified public fire district, funded by a property tax, that would subsume the subdivision’s private fire department funded from the annual association dues.

The petition, a wordy product of two community meetings in February, essentially asked the board to “seriously explore, in good faith” collaborating with the new fire district, if it’s created; to enter into conflict resolution with the former volunteers; to give “thoughtful and clear responses in writing” to questions by property owners; to consider reforms of the dues structure and voting rules to reflect the interests of residents over non-resident owners; and to provide adequate funding for a fire requiring “national response.”

The board’s new part time fire chief, Jack Johnson of Alamosa, and his local assistant, Chris Botz, assured the meeting at the outset that the department is almost back to full strength with new volunteers.  Botz told the crowd, “It’s discouraging when people say there’s no fire department.”  What he called “the biggest fire training in years” is under way.  Instead of the old priority on evacuation in case of a massive wild fire, he said,  “We’re going to meet fire on the ground.”

A longtime former fire chief in the audience, Mark Jacobi, who favors the proposed fire district, engaged in a friendly dialog with Botz about fire mitigation. The amiable atmosphere was enhanced earlier by the announcement that a lawsuit pitting new board members against old board members on the issue of election procedures had been settled. “The lawsuit is over,” said Bruce McDonald, one of the plaintiffs who was subsequently elected to the board last November.

The majority that now controls the board is McDonald, Nigel Fuller and Robert Garnett, who is chairman. The minority is Matie Belle Lakish and Russell Schreiber, who is suffering from advanced cancer and did not attend the Thursday meeting (March 13).

Lakish, one of the defendants, read a prepared statement on terms of the settlement (including a new board election and resignation of co-defendant Schreiber) and said the board now “can move forward in the coming months.” A peaceful glow ensued.

Then came the agenda item called “Rescinding of Resolution 2010-14.” The action of the old board, four years ago, gave provisional support of providing equipment to the Crestone Emergency Services District. Voters created it but narrowly defeated the property tax to fund it. The current proposal would replace the contested and unfunded ambulance-fire district with one dealing only with fire protection.

Lakish said, “In my opinion there is no reason to revoke this.” Garnett said the district in question “has been done” and rescinding the associated resolution was just to “clean up the paper work.” Members of the audience, including Jacobi, expressed disbelief.

Jacobi was recognized by the chair and began questioning the agenda item. His colloquy with the board was amiable until he asked if the board would consider a replacement resolution giving similar provisional support to the proposed fire district. McDonald, a longtime adversary of Jacobi in Facebook debate, said, “We have already put out a statement that we are not supporting the district.”

Jacobi continued talking, and McDonald tried to cut him off, saying, “You’re not going to dominate this meeting.”

Jacobi: “I was just trying. . .”

McDonald: “Mark, zip it.”

Jacobi: “Excuse me?”

McDonald: “Zip it!”

Garnett got to his feet and, turning to administrator Kristin Ecklund, said, “Call the Sheriff.”

The chairman gathered his papers. “This meeting is adjourned,” he said. “I will not sit here and be treated like this.”

He walked out, followed by Fuller. McDonald stayed in his chair, arguing with other members of the audience until he too walked out.

CONCERNED ABOUT FIRE: In the second of two community meetings, home owners concerned about the approaching fire season approved a list of demands to be presented to the Baca Grande POA board, whose three-man majority has disabled the mountain subdivision’s fire department.

The list, to be written up by the facilitators (Kate Steichen and Pamela Ramadei) will  petition the board, in so many words, to:

— consider a pledge to lease the unique private department’s trucks and other fire-fighting equipment to the Crestone Emergency Services District district, if and when it wins funding in another election.

— address immediate fire protection dangers and put responses in writing.

— obtain legal counsel to begin the process of revising POA bylaws — and perhaps opting out of state law — that require an extraordinary majority of all property owners to transfer subdivision property.

— enter into conflict resolution in order to get fire-fighting volunteers who walked away to return.

The new board majority at its first meeting reduced the fire chief and equipment supervisor to half time. They resigned, followed by the bulk of the department’s volunteers. Three who did not resign attended the community meeting to say they were still serving and were training new volunteers, although, as one said, “We have a lot to learn.”

The four-hour community meeting (Feb. 24), like the one a week earlier, was a forum for opinions on what was wrong in a community that had always respected and even loved its volunteer first-responders. The embattled board members (Bruce MacDonald, Nigel Fuller, Robert Garnet) were not among the some 60 who gathered at the POA hall.

Dennis Neuhaus, a resident of some 25 years, had a “pizza” analysis. He said the first hint of problems began when a new board eight years ago, representing the same group of dissidents as now, began nitpicking about the expense of buying pizza for volunteers after training sessions. In the old days, he said, “It was a brotherhood. People loved the volunteers, from the heart.” If the old relationship were brought back it wouldn’t matter that the Baca Grande has the only private fire department in the state because, he said, “We’re Crestone!”

Kizzen Laki, publisher of the Crestone Eagle for 25 years, spoke an homage to volunteers based on her 15 years serving as one. They don’t get paid for carrying a radio all day and keeping it at their bedside all night. They don’t get paid for the stress on their families by fire calls as kids come home to an empty house. They don’t get paid for the traumatic stress. But it was worth it when somebody said, “Thank you, KIzzen. You saved my life.”

But now, she said, “When your boss (on the board) starts jerking you around, at a certain point you just walk away from it.” It began eight years ago when the board began, in her words, “disrespecting people who have put their life on the line.”

Bill Dobson, describing himself as a relative newcomer (from Salida and Buena Vista), suggested that the new attitude has a lot to do with whom the board is listening to — the home owners or the more numerous absentee owners of undeveloped lots.

Batiste DeLuca, a lawyer who has retired here, suggested a solution to the political problem might be “weighted voting.” Every lot under current bylaws gets one vote, but people living here are more at risk than people who own lots but live elsewhere. “The source of the current board’s power is the lot owners,” he said.

Mark Jacobi, former fire chief, responded to this idea by pointing out that the mill levy that would support the new fire district (it was rejected by one vote last May) is in a sense weighted. The property tax is proportional to assessed value. Although the fire district has had solid support and was created by a vote of the people, the  tax has been the chief objection of the dissenting group.

“People have got to start accepting the fact that stuff costs,” Jacobi said.

Of the roughly 5,700 original lots less than a thousand are developed (although many houses involve consolidated lots). Alison McClure, who has researched state law and the bylaws of the Baca Grande, told the meeting that a 55 percent majority of only one third of the votes could change things. This gave rise to the demand that the board seek counsel on this.

Eli Dokson said that regardless of the longterm proposals, something has to be done to ensure fire safety in the short term. And this requires working with the board. “Do what you need to do to get our fire protection back,” he said. His comments gave rise to the item on the demand list that asked for an immediate plan of action.

Lonny Roth, owner of a store in Crestone and a former employe of the current board, made a summary comment about three separate fire-fighting entities:  the Baca Grande, the private protection for the spiritual centers, and the nearby town or Crestone. “Let’s put some of the pieces together, use the fire department as a community builder.”

A DIVIDED COUNTY: The unofficial election results in the recall of Democrat Melinda Myers of Moffat and the succession of Republican Carla Gomez of Center as Saguache  County clerk  disclose a clear political division in the county as well as some voter confusion.

Myers was removed from office on Tuesday (Jan. 24) by a countywide vote of 941-453, a margin of more than two to one, but in the Crestone-Baca precinct the vote was 87-256, three to one against recall. And while Gomez won election by a countywide vote of 762-319, her opponent Patricia Jenkins prevailed in Crestone, 109-50.

The successor votes are at odds with the rule stated on the ballot: namely, that only those who voted to recall Myers could go ahead and vote for her successor. In other words, 941 voted for recall but 1081 voted for a successor, an error of nearly 15 per cent. But the 140 spurious votes would not affect the succession, since Gomez won by 443 votes.

The highly publicized election  drew more voters than the clerk’s race in the general election of 2010, when Myers beat Gomez. The  ballot was headed by an eight-point statement in English and Spanish accusing Myers of gross negligence, violation of duty, failure to fulfill responsibilities, obstructing access to public records and loss of voter confidence. It also asserted that her election conduct was investigated by a grand jury (which, however, did not indict her).

The statement was the same as the statement in the recall petiion signed by more than 700 registered voters and was required by the Colorado recall law. A ballot statement in response, allowed by the same law, was missing because Myers missed the deadline to submit one, claiming she had not been properly informed.

The the state law allowing recall talking points — and they are little else — to be published on the official ballot is at odds with the universal rule against electioneering (as well as alcohol) in a polling place.  It is prejudicial, in my opinion — or at least it was in this case. The law says the electors shall be the sole judges of “the legality, reasonableness, and sufficiency” of the statement, meaning it can be false. This, it seems to me, is at odds with another Colorado law that prohibits anyone knowlingly or recklessly making a “false statement designed to affect the vote on any issue submitted to electors.”

But it’s unlikely anybody will go to court over these contradictions, since Myers obviously had problems and the recall election has already cost the county an estimated $30,000. (It was conducted by the Treasurer’s office.)

Myers’ primary mistake, apart from not defending herself, was refusing public inspection of the ballots from the disputed 2010 election, in which she defeated Gomez by a few votes after a recount. This drew the attention of truth-in-government activist Marilyn Marks, a former Atlanta trucking company owner and chief executive who retired to Aspen in 2002 (according to the Aspen Times).

In 2009 after losing a race for mayor she sued the city, which refused to give her access to the ballots. She lost in district court but the decision was overturned by the appeals court. The city appealed to the Supreme Court, which still has the case.

The city’s position that her inspection would violate the principle of the “secret,” or anonymous, ballot was the same used by Myers, reflecting the position of a Colorado association that includes election officials. In other words, that interlopers cannot lawfully track individual ballots back to the voters. Marks’ position, as I understand it from reading the Aspen papers, is that ballots should be untrackable in the first place — that is, there should be no marks identifying a voter and therefore public inspection does not violate anything at all.

In my opinion, Marks is right, and it is not a trivial issue. The writer Bev Harris began campaigning against “Blackbox Voting” more than a decade ago out of concern about the potential to rig electronic voting machines. She has been influential in restoring paper ballots in a number of states.

Marks was allied with the recall petition committee, which included some familiar Saguache County figures. Namely, Republican Steve Carlson, who narrowly lost his race for county commission after the 2010 recount, Lisa Cyriacks, who has been active in reapportionment, Mike Garcia, Judy Page and Ed Nielsen.

With the 2012 election now to be conducted in Saguache County by a Republican under general supervision by a Republican Secretary of State, I presume that Gomez will avoid the mistakes of her predecessor and that, among other things, the ballots will be open for public inspection next November.

MINUTES OF A TOWN MEETING: The anti-government passion that animates politics nationally was echoing off the walls at Jillian’s studio, where I have experienced yoga classes, a Sufi zirka, a feng schui talk, a sales pitch for ionized water, and such. Crestone is not where Republicans bother to campaign. It voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in both the primary and general elections three years ago.

But here before about 50 residents on folding chairs the speakers, backed by PowerPoint slides on a big screen, were saying we cannot depend upon government – federal, state, county – for relief in the coming upheaval. The main speaker was Vickie Helm, known to most of the gathering, whose only apparent motive in organizing the discussion was to inspire the community to work toward what she called “economic sustainability.”

That title does not convey the spirit of the gathering, just as speaker probably is not the best word for Helm, who was more like an evangelist than economist. She ran back and forth placing imaginary buckets under imaginary sudden leaks in the imaginary roof until, panting and exhausted, she made her point: namely, we’re running around containing leaks without realizing the roof is about to cave in.

OK, call it the sky. Call her Henny Penny. It don’t matter to her, I thought. “In a short period of time we’re going to be going through the same thing that Greece is going through,” she predicted. In other words, our national sovereign credit card is maxed out. “The inconvenient economic truth is this: the United States is broke.” There will be inflation and devaluing of the currency, but no more funding (federal, state, local).

She said somewhere in Kansas a school board proposed charging parents $40 a week to have their kids bussed to school. (I guess that board would never consider a small general tax increase for the general welfare. Oh, no! Forget the communal spirit that used to prevail in rural America if it costs money. Similar problem in Crestone, I thought:  Here an emergency services district to replace the endangered private fire department was created by a thin margin of voters this month, but a peculiar switch of only about 20 of the voters defeated the tax to support it.)

What if everything collapsed by natural disaster or by bankruptcy of the various corporate entities that sell services here but don’t care about the community? Who ya gonna call?

How to weather the coming storm? Up flashed some PowerPoint points:  Support community businesses. Community businesses support each other. How many folks in the audience had businesses? A dozen raised their hands, and she had them stand up. How many would like to learn how to make money on the internet? Two dozen hands went up. “If I get nothing else across to anybody, it is this: The most important thing is where you spend your dollars.”

And, Helm proclaimed the importance of supporting the non-commercial collection of community efforts she called “infrastructure.” Namely, that unfunded Crestone Emergency Services District, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, the various youth programs (thank you, Lisa Bodie and others), the food bank, the charter school (building under construction), the newly consolidated library district. These things, to me, are signs of a young and enthused community with a spirit of American volunteerism.

To the infrastructure she added two information-age essentials that bind the community to itself and to the world: the Crestone Eagle, a successful monthly newspaper in a time when mass circulation dailies are falling like trees (and saving some) and, the fledgling effort to bring high speed internet to this digitally disadvantaged rural area.

Internet. Now here was a cause worth urgent consideration. Cheered on by some in the audience, Mayor Ralph Abrams of Crestone took the floor. He has been working for a year to create a community internet company, and he said it’s going to happen – to begin to fire up in the next few weeks. The company, which he will head, is called Crestone Telecom. It will bring in high-speed internet service with state of the art equipment.

This was the most hopeful project to come up at the meeting (not to dismiss the many undeveloped suggestions for green technology) because it is concrete and ready to go. Problem: the effort is being undermined by a distant corporation. In a word (or maybe two), FairPoint. The sudden unannounced competitiveness on the part of a phone company with more apparent interest in the bankruptcy code than digital engineering is a good preface for the concept economic sustainability. This is probably going to be a test of standard corporate capitalism versus Abrams’ community capitalism.

Further, the year-long drill that Abrams and company were put through by the USDA in applying for a grant under a program that was cancelled at the last minute (budget problems?) is a good case history in support of the argument that we can no longer depend upon government.

Discouraging, this distrust of corporate America and American government (might as well add the corporate media). I stood to say that for reasons of practical politics including the obvious intent of some Republicans to purge all political opposition by driving the economy into the ground, I could not endorse the increasing cynical distance from government. I grew up as a student of the New Deal, which saved America from some of the terrible mistakes made elsewhere (Germany, Italy, even Russia where the mistake began) in reaction to Great Depression I. But that was long ago in a different world.

Anything on the bright side?  Jeff WishMer, a bright young man who works for Chokurei Farm Store, married with a home in the Baca, received a warm applause when he stood to include home-grown food in the infrastructure against the Collapse. He is running for the POA board against an incumbent, Robert Garnett, who opposes the new EMS district and almost anything else that might cost money. WishMer is being criticized by some of these oldtimers because he has said he hates the POA, at least the way it is.

Distrust of government is in the American grain. I became atuned to it not long ago when I went searching in rural North Carolina for family roots. My father’s people were subsistent farmers (and, some of them, moonshiners). These Scot-Irish folks were responsible for the Whiskey Rebellion and many other insurgencies in our history. They’re still around. Take Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., the writer-soldier who won an astonishing victory in 2006, defeating an incumbent Republican to give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. My grandparents on my father’s side were born just 70 miles over the mountains from his grandparents.

Webb has proposed that this Scot-Irish minority, southern in origin but without a history of slavery, has a lot in common with the African-American minority, which goes back almost as many generations. Together they could form a populist force that would revive the Democratic party and its historic principles, particularly in the Republican South (which includes Texas).

Similarly, it occurred to me that the communal sentiments expressed at the meeting in the yoga studio might be wedded with the anti-government sentiments of those  angry folks who seem to support the Tea Party. They might want a divorce, I supposed, once they realize they are being used by corporately funded professional politicians to defeat the many and strengthen government in the interest of the few. Perhaps  Crestone is not that far from Kansas, Dorothy.

GAMING THE SYSTEM: The tactic  was something worthy of the U.S. Senate:  If you don’t have the votes, stop the voting.

Conservative POA board member Robert Garnett was being challenged in his bid for another term by Jeff WishMer. Garnett was supported by the Dunlap group, which opposed the new Crestone Emergency Services District and favors submission to the state “condo” law. WishMer, a young married anti-POA property owner, had informal support among those who are unhappy with what he calls “our private system of governance.”

At the Nov. 18 general membership meeting the Garnett faction withheld enough lot proxies to prevent a quorum. The meeting was adjourned to Nov. 30, when the proxies were submitted and the  quorum was met. The vote was Garnett 357, WishMer 303, with 7 write-ins and 171 abstentions. So Garnett was re-elected.

The other question before the property owners in good standing was whether to reduce the minimum size of houses in the subdivision from 900 to 720 square feet, favored by energy conservation groups. It failed, as it most certain had to, because the condo law requires an absolute majority of all lots  for any such change, or 1715 votes.  Because more non-residents than residents own lots, stirring enough interest to get that many votes on anything is nearly impossible.

WishMer conceded after the Nov. 18 meeting, saying in his letter in the December Crestone Eagle,  “I laughed my way home.”

YES AND NO: Voters approved creation of the Crestone Emergency Services district but defeated the property tax increase to fund it. The unofficial tally by the Saguache County Clerk’s office late Tuesday was 280-256 for the district and 276-258 against the tax. The vote was close enough that results could be affected by 17 ballots uncounted because of apparent signature discrepancies, plus overseas ballots that will be lawful if they arrive in the next week. The vote was entirely by mail.Anti-tax sentiment was clear in the statewide vote against a sales tax earmarked for education. Opponents of the Crestone district argued primarily against the 16-mil tax increase to support it.

The board of the Baca Grande Property Owners Association had promised to decrease member dues to offset  the proposed tax.  The prospect of a district without operational funding was apparently not anticipated.

The lack of funds could complicate the leasing of fire and ambulance equipment now owned by the POA. Members last month voted 541-382 for transfer of property to the district if it were created, but the majority fell far short of the required extraordinary majority. A legal opinion sought by the POA board  said the asset transfer would require approval by 67 per cent of all property owners. Since there are 3339 lots with one vote each, the extraordinary majority would be 2,237 votes — far more than the total cast. Under this nearly impossible standard, even if every property owner who voted had approved  the asset transfer, the proposition would have failed.

Only two property owners spoke when the general meeting was called to order after the vote tally was certified. Steve Smilack said the transfer for a nominal sum was bad business. He estimated the value of vehicles, fire houses, land and other assets at $2 million. Mark Jacobi, a supporter of the transfer, argued that the extraordinary majority was not required in view of a similar transfer of library assets to the new library district last year. This vote was by simple majority. The board’s position, apparently as advised by lawyers, was that the library building was a modular structure and not real property.

The Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act, passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature in 1991, requires the 67 per cent majority for conveyance of common property. The Baca Grande was created more than 20 years earlier, in 1971, and retroactive laws are generally unconstitutional. But the law firm commissioned by the POA board opined that a declaration by the board in 2001 accepting portions of the condo law effectively negated this grandfathering. In other words, under this opinion the  POA is effectively an association created after the effective date of the condo law.

Resident owners who showed up at the October meeting to cast their ballots plus proxy ballots in person at the 7 p.m. scheduled time of the “meeting” Friday waited in line for about 90 minutes while eligibility of each owner was checked, one by one. The canvassed vote finally was announced at 9:20 p.m.

GOVERNMENT AND THE THREE BEARS: The Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife did everything to earn the trust of Crestonians except talk about the issue that was on everyone’s mind: the shooting by a wildlife officer of an untagged mother  bear, orphaning two cubs.  .

Tom Spezze, the southwest regional manager for the department, and a dozen other officials including a bear biologist, traveled from around the region to “listen” to the community, he said. But they ruled out discussion of the incident on the property of  Steve McDowell and Elaine Johnson in August because, Spezze said, it’s still under investigation.

The investigation report certainly will include a crucial piece of evidence just released to Denver 9NEWS. On its web site the TV station quoted the 911 recording in which a woman reports the killing of her goat. “[A] neighbor just came out and said there’s a mom and two cubs,” the voice said. The woman later told 9NEWS what she herself saw was two larger bears.

McDowell, a longtime resident of Crestone, was angry and aggressive, at one point cutting off comment by a wildlife official by saying he’d heard enough from him. The department officials were emphasizing the importance of not providing food for bears, particularly in this lean year. McDowell said he wasn’t going to cut down his “100-old-apple trees” for them.

The two-hour session was educational, but most of us who live with bears around here already knew the basic lesson: during these months keep garbage inside until trash pickup day and censure restaurants, markets and others that put garbage out but fail to bear-proof their dumpsters. Don’t leave dog food outside or bird feeders within reach of bears. (This, I have found, also applies to raccoons, which have less fear of humans.)

What do bears eat? Everything. The biologist said they are carnivores who evolved into omnivores. In preparation for their winter state (the biologist said it is not true hibernation) bears need to consume about 20,000 calories a day.

My research equates that to about 35 Big Macs. With fries. They do love the grease. I heard a story in New Mexico about a bear that invaded a fast food franchise in the early morning hours, carried the entire deep fat fryer full of cool oil out back, then sat down and drank it. You’d think with that kind of diet, cholesterol would take care of the  problem bears. But, seriously, they know how to survive.

The biologist said despite the cycles of feast and famine they have a remarkable survival rate (for adults over a year) of 95 to 97 per cent. Among other adaptations is the winter sleep, which they will shorten or won’t enter if don’t have enough fat. And they have an equally remarkable reproduction mechanism. Though inseminated in mid summer, the embryo does not implant until early winter, and if the times are tough, months later or not at all.

The current issue of Cottage Life, a magazine catering to people who own beach cottages on lakes in eastern Canada, where there a tons of bears, was sent to me by a friend who lives in a forest near Great Basin National Park (NV) where there are no bears at all. A long feature story on bears has a convincing argument why it’s in your self interest (forget the public good) not to feed them. Bears are smart (largest brain relative to body size of any carnivore). If they once find food at a place they will keep coming back, even year after year and even if they find nothing.

As an example, with photos of a door with claw marks and the ripped open exterior wall of  a lake cottage, the mag tells what happened when a family forgot and left a can of bacon grease by a window in their cottage as they left for the winter. The place was clean except for the grease, which the bear easily obtained by ripping out the window. But then the bear decided to trash the whole cottage in search of more nourishment, apparently returning several times.

The last few years a bear has opened cars (usually the hard way) at trail heads near the Crestone spiritual centers. I saw one four-door sedan in which a bear had broken off each door handle, one by one, before tearing out the driver’s window because of a can of peanuts left by a careless backpacker. In August I talked with a concerned family camping at the South Crestone-Willow trail head. A black bear the mother, clinging to her small daughter, described as huge had circled their camp, watching passively.

How to react to a bear? I suppose the first thing is obey the No. 1 Canadian Grizzly Rule, even with black bears: never ever run, it triggers their chase instinct. The magazine I’ve been quoting adds some more commonplace advice involving suppression of your instincts: Don’t startle a bear by aggressive action such as throwing things or even shooting. The noise of a gunshot might  scare a bear, but if you hit him with a small caliber slug it’s more likely to make him mad.

My young dog chased a bear on the Copper Gulch road this summer — not a good idea, according to the magazine. Bears will turn on a dog, particularly if it’s a yapper (mine is not, fortunately).

The mag dismisses a common belief that the most dangerous bear is a mother with cubs. A University of Calgary researcher, Stephan Herrero studied 63 fatal bear attacks in North America between 1900 and 2008. Only 8 per cent involved mother bears with cubs.

Which brings us back to the issue that the CPW was not ready to discuss in public. Did their officer get the right bear? Further was she a problem bear? And if so, did the officer follow the department’s own in shooting her? Stay tuned (Channel 9 included).

HAVE YOUR CREDIT CARD READY: The opponents of the new EMS District published three orchestrated letters in the Center newspaper. Here is my easy refutation:

Smilack’s argument rests upon the premise that public safety ought to be a business. So, I suppose, when you call 911 to say your house is on fire you will be required to give a credit card number. You can then choose from a list of fire-fighting packages: one hose $150,  two hoses $300, and a recommended special deal with three hoses only $400. There will be a $100 surcharge for rapid response. etc.

The refutation of his idea that POA is giving away property is yes, it is giving away property to itself, to all of us, for our increased safety.

Johnson’s accusation that Treat and Joy are making money by volunteering is self contradicting (volunteers are by definition not paid). If he’s going to make a conflict of interest case, let him step forward like a man and use the names and let them confront their accuser. That’s the American way.

Dunlap’s argument that the northern Saguache district has five departments at less cost than the new EMS district with two is like saying Wyoming is able to provide state government at far less cost than Colorado. The measure is population and dwelling units, not departments.

The most treacherous argument is that if the 16-mill tax is approved then the homeowners will no longer be screwing the absentee lot owners. These  are the same folks that supported the Dunlap group in the recall election a few years ago. Now she’s turning on them.

FUEL-EFFICIENT RECYCLING: Crestone-Baca recyclers who drive a hundred miles to deposit their plastic, aluminum, glass, cardboard and newsprint in the appropriate bins in Salida may soon be able to save the gas. The POA board approved a six-month trial of a recycling depot proposed by Jonathan Dobson on POA property off T-road.

It will be assembled  at one of two sites, both approved by the board. One is the west side of the Library-Charter School parking lot. The other is near the old golf course club house, where Cho Ku Rei has just opened its retail outlet. Dobson will be weighing the feasibility of both sites before he chooses between the two. He told me he would like to have it operating within a couple of months.

Cho Ku Rei has no objection to the depot because it likely will bring more traffic to the new business, Dobson said. Folk suggested the other site might be more convenient because people dropping off their kids at school could also drop off their trash.

Dobson, a solar engineer-contractor, told the board, “I promise to take care of it for two years.” What happens after that will depend upon the success of the depot. Board Chair William Folk reminded Dobson, “It’s yours. we’re just allowing you to put it on POA property.” If it turns out to be profitable, however, the POA might be interested in it later, Folk said.

Dobson dismissed the prospect of future profit, saying, “My motive is altruistic.”

Trash collection in Crestone-Baca is by Waste Management, but the national company does not recycle here.

At its May meeting the board also discussed mosquito abatement (the insects are arriving). Since residents are assumed to be against spraying, the only action for now will be to test for West Nile virus. Alamosa, which has an aggressive mosquito control program, might be able to help with the testing.

The discussion brought out a sharp division of opinion on the mosquito problem. Folk said, “I am not that opposed to spraying.” Board member Treat Suomi responded, “I am.” And board member Joy Hill added that mosquitoes can be annoying but that’s no reason to spray. But if the insects are carrying West Nile virus, “that’s another thing. We have to evaluate convenience versus health risk.”

A consideration is that certain birds including swallows feed on mosquitoes by the millions. For that reason the Baca National Wildlife Refuge would have to be consulted in any abatement program.


Elk Elk grazing near Wagon Wheel Road in the Baca Grande  subdivision. Grama grass is healthful, but willows are YUMMY!

BROWSER UPDATE: Between 1,000 and 3,000 elk occupy the Baca National Wildlife Refuge at any given time, manager Ron Garcia told a public meeting in Moffat. Problem: the overpopulation of elk browsing along creeks that drain into the San Luis Valley  is destroying the native willows. One biologist said willow seedlings don’t have a chance to mature.  The result will be the loss of  riparian habitat in a few years. Garcia said the refuge will be experimenting with fencing and other ways to manage the problem. The elk wander freely between the 78,000-acre refuge and the adjacent Baca Grande subdivision.

A woman who ranches in the valley said,  “A management thing that’s being skirted is: Shoot the elk!”  This prompted a Nature Conservancy representative to suggest another solution:  “Wolves!”  And this in turn made ranchers in the audience shudder.  Mike Blenden, director the complex of three Valley refuges, suggested there are many complications with either solution, among them the fact that the elk are protected as game animals.

One rancher summarized: “You quit hunting elk and now we’re losing willows.”

The public meeting was a “scoping” session for the beginning of a four-year project to develop a comprehensive conservation plan and an environmental impact statement for the refuges — the Baca, the Alamosa and the Monte Vista. Blenden was pleased with the turnout for the session, the last of three. He said fewer than ten people showed up at both the Alamosa and Monte Vista sessions. Over 50 attended the Moffat session.

Side note: Jack Clark, a Denver consultant for the Canadian firm Lexam, attended the session and took notes. Blenden asked him if Lexam was still asking $8 million to retire its mineral rights on the Baca refuge. Clark affirmed the amount.

BROADBAND: The cellphone tower proposed for the Baca area would also bring in a strong 3G internet signal. But if you are hoping for the chance to switch to the faster service, there is this cautionary note in a New York Times summary of new tekkie choices:

With the advent of devices like the MiFi, which converts a 3G mobile signal into a Wi-Fi cloud for multiple devices to share, you might be thinking about giving your Internet service provider the boot and using your cellphone as your Internet connection, even when at home. That would work — provided that you get a strong data signal where you live; that you never intend to stream video from Netflix, YouTube or Hulu; and that you have an unlimited data plan from your wireless provider. Given all these caveats, it probably makes more sense to stick with your I.S.P.”

INFORMING THE VOTERS: A heated exchange at the April 28 Baca Grande POA board meeting dramatized a set of problems that often divides the larger Crestone community. Namely, controlled information, official stories, the lack of objectivity.

The board had just authorized mid September, with the exact date to be determined later, for balloting by Baca Grande property owners on the question of conveying the POA fire house, vehicles, land and other assets to the new Crestone Emergency Services District – when (and if) it is created by the voters of northern Saguache County in November.

Robert Garnett, the board member who opposes the transfer as a “give away” (to the town of Crestone) asked manager Shauna Ianson if there would be a “pro and con,” namely a published accounting of arguments for and against the asset transfer before the ballots are sent out this summer.

She answered in the affirmative. He asked if she was going to write the pro’s, and she said yes. Then who, he asked, would write the con’s? She responded, “I’d like it to be you.”

Instantly, board member Treat Suomi exclaimed: “I’d be opposed to that!”

Russell Schreiber intervened to cool things, saying that any information published by the POA “has to be approved by the whole board.”

Well, not the whole board, actually, but the majority. That would be Schreiber and the team of Suomi and Joy Hill, leaving Garnett out in the cold. The fifth board member is the chair, William Folk, a moderating voice who also supports the Crestone EMS district.

Ianson’s gracious impromptu response was wisdom. Let the opposition reveal themselves in the open rather than subvert the hard work of many volunteers by last-minute emails. Let the members judge them on the merits of their arguments.

The con’s were argued by Steve Smilack at the board meeting. Introducing himself as a 40-year businessman, an owner of “multiple properties” who pays “thousands” of dollars in dues, he said things ought to stay the same. Transferring assets for free is “foolish business,” he said. He suggested the POA should be paid “$100,000 a year” by the new district for an indefinite term.

The rebuttal to this is probably pretty simple. As Schreiber put it: “Giving away our equipment to someone else? That someone else is us!” But if the con’s aren’t given equal opportunity, the point-counterpoint won’t happen. There will be no public debate, and the hard work of the committee could be jeopardized in November (when more than just Baca property owners can vote).

Ignoring Ianson’s invitation gives an advantage to the opponents, if they are clever enough, because they can reframe the debate as a matter of official secrecy and deception. This diversion of the issue would have some credibility with property owners who might remember the  old (pre-Suomi-Hill) board’s obscurity. That board’s POA publications regarding the protracted Cottonwood Culvert case never  mentioned the interests of a board member were involved in this expensive litigation, and the out-of-court settlement with an adjacent property owner has never been published.

A policy of  disclosure (similar to what is required by law for ordinary government)  does not mean this non-governmental board should go out and hang itself on every issue. But complacency about the effects of official stories in which opposing views are stifled does hand the board a lot of rope to do so.

Take Garnett’s frustrated reactions to the EMS asset transfer issue. He  challenged the majority in these words: “Why don’t you expose what you’re really doing?” and,  “People are going to find out what you’re trying to do to them. I think it stinks.” He did not elaborate. Suomi said Garnett was merely “trying to tear things up.”

Folk’s measured response to the accusations of withheld information and deceptive practices was to assure everybody in the room (as he did in the culvert case settlement) that the documents on the table at a board meeting are public information. The documents were either going to be on the POA web site or they would be furnished on request.

Openness in this kind of fight is the best defense. But don’t hold your breath. The web site, BACAPOA.ORG, owned by Hammersmith Management, is an exercise in official information. The documents tab produces agendas, minutes of meetings and official newsletters — no raw files. (The culvert settlement is not there.)

Even if  self-serving official information is reliable, it can be boiler-plate boring when it is written from the usual comfort of jargon. What results from all this is the classic “failure to communicate.” And this outcome of the formation committee’s work would be a shame.

But there is an alternative. To read up on the Crestone EMS district proposal, Crestonians can spend some time with the letters to the editor in the May issue of the Crestone Eagle. The lead story in the monthly paper is informative, but it should be noted the authors are co-chairs of the district formation committee.

The letters, however, present a lively point-counterpoint discussion, due to the publisher’s diligence in soliciting both sides.  It would be great if Kizzen could hire someone with no ax to grind, with experience in acquiring and reading documents and training in how to interview all sides and write conclusions – but even daily newspapers these days have trouble affording investigative reporters.

Another hopeful medium by which property owners and the wider spectrum of north Saguache County voters can learn the facts is the series of public forums being organized by Matie Belle Lakish, a member of the formation committee. Presumably the opponents will come forward in these gatherings, identify themselves as Smilack did, and present their case in a fair fight on the merits, free of subterfuge and last-minute alarms.

PLEASE FORWARD: Some guy in San Diego has been getting mail from Crestone-Baca property owners making timely payment of their annual assessments, due March 31. The Property Owners Association gave the right PO Box but the wrong city in its assessment notice. Not to worry, says manager Shauna Ianson, the San Diego citizen is forwarding the mail to Los Angeles. And POA Board chair William Folk said the penalties for late payment will not be enforced.

You can still pay the old fashioned way: take a check to the POA office and let them send it to Los Angeles. Why are we supporting the California economy?  Hammersmith Management has its bank there.

ONE MAN TWO VOTES: Treat Suomi and Joy Hill were elected to the POA board last year running as a team. So it’s no surprise they are voting together. At the March board meeting, however, they carried their unification to another level when Joy was absent and Treat simply voted twice on each issue. He said he had a “proxy” from Joy in each case — a verbal one privately conveyed. Folk wondered if there were a board policy on this, and no one could point to one.

The  twin voting apparently won’t make a difference, except for the record, but the record might show better support for the new Library District agreement than it actually received. The vote was 2-1 with board member Robert Garnett dissenting. But Suomi tossed in two affirmatives to make it 4-1. He said he had a proxy from Russell Schreiber, also absent. The three who were present were a bare quorum of the five-member board.

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS: The board approved an expenditure in support of the Crestone Music Festival that includes purchase of free passes for 10 for POA employees. Asked by budget-minded Garnett if that included board members, manager Ianson said no freebies because “you’re not employees.”

SOLAR FIRE SALE? The sale of Tessera Solar’s  two solar-fired power plants, still in the permit  stage in California, forecasts partly cloudy skies for its innovative SunCatcher technology, also proposed for a ranch site southeast of Saguache.

K Road Power, the buyer of the fully-permitted 850-megawatt Calico Solar Power Project proposed near Barstow, Calif., announced it would redesign the project to produce 750 megawatts from photo-voltaic panels with only 100 megawatts from SunCatchers.

AES Solar, which announced purchase of Tessera’s not-yet approved 709-megawatt Imperial Valley Project on Feb. 16, did

Crestone Quiet

not spell out its plans, but the company web site implies commitment to photo-voltaic panels.

SunCatchers are reflective dishes that concentrate heat from the sun as fuel for generation of electricity by four-cylinder Stirling engines, which operate on a principle of  rapid expansion and contraction of hydrogen gas. Tessera and its parent Stirling Energy Systems has built a demonstration project at a Phoenix industrial park.

Vince Palermo, one of the Crestone opponents of the project proposed for 1,500 acres southeast of the town of Saguache, has made a case against Tessera on the basis of noise. The Phoenix SunCatchers make a loud, screetching sound that he argues would exceed the limits under the Colorado noise statues. Photo-voltaic panels have no moving parts and are, therefore, silent except for small tracking motors.

Palermo is now prepared to argue further that SunCatchers cost twice as much as PV panels to install, not counting maintenance. He says the cost is roughly $3 per watt for PV versus $6 per watt for SunCatchers.

Whether he will have the opportunity to add this argument to the record is uncertain. The commission, after a long delay, scheduled resumption of the hearing for March 10, giving Tessera until Feb. 25 to withdraw all together. Both sales came after the Saguache hearing.

The buyers in each case are limited liability corporations, apparently well capitalized. AES says on its web site that with the costs continuing to decline and considering subsidies, PV panels on an industrial scale could become competitive with fossil-fuel generation plants. K Road Power owns about 1,500 megawatts of PV generation capacity.

GETTING AROUND FAIRPOINT: If you read news a lot on the internet and find you are losing about 30 minutes a day waiting for Fairpoint to load pages from the various newspaper web sites or major blogs, here’s a desperate alternative:

Buy an Amazon Kindle ($139), subscribe to your favorite news source via the Kindle (from $1.99 to $9.99 a month). The full text of, say, the NY Times downloads automatically in minutes anywhere there is wi-fi. No ads, just black and white text and photos. And there you have it — carry it around, read it at will, save it as you wish. When Crestone gets that  3G tower you won’t even need a wi-fi connection. Kindle automatically connects with 3G first.

The same goes for Kindle’s broad selection of e-books. They download automatically in minutes.

To complain about lack of broadband, you can go to a survey site sponsored by the governor: office:

WEIRDNESS PATROL: The AP feature story on open air cremations in Crestone is getting good “play” in newspapers and on web sites worldwide because it is quirky and fun and colorfully written. The Denver AP staff writer got permission from the End of Life Project folks to take pictures and interview amiable mourners at the cremation of Belinda Ellis, 48.  The story describes friends and family adding aromatic branches and logs and even a sack of marijuana to the funeral pyre. “Someone joked that perhaps they also should have poured in some Pabst Blue Ribbon,” it says.

There are other ways to write the story of this wonderful community experiment, this alternative to consumerist funeral rituals, but not in the mass media.

Alexis de Toucqueville  offered some observations of American journalism as corollaries to his theory of the tyranny of the majority. “A newspaper can only exist on condition that it reproduce a doctrine or a sentiment common to many men.” That was about 180 years ago, but the observation still rings true.

I suppose, the majority of readers  — and the American news media think of nothing else —  will come away with the impression that out here  in the strange Sangres we smoke a lot of dope, drink a lot of cheap beer, live in groups  and burn our dead at sunrise.

That about nails it.

DEPT. OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: The deregulation of California power companies, supported by enthused environmentalists, accidentally brought us Enron, which made a fortune by cornering power contracts. And now the green-power quota laws in Colorado and other states have brought us Tessera Solar-Stirling Energy Systems.

The Sixties hope that you can get rich by saving the planet is still operative.

No doubt the rush to solarize the agrarian San Luis Valley of Colorado is because of the 2015 target date for utilities to provide 20 per cent of their power from “sustainable” sources. The solar frenzy includes proposals for a 600-foot power tower near Center, more PV like the Sun Edison plant at Mosca, the high-voltage La Veta Pass power line and, Tessera’s SunCatcher plant near Saguache. Thus, the SunCatcher promotion on the web site of Stirling Engine Systems includes among its virtues sustainable power “while addressing renewable energy portfolio targets.”

QUOTE: “This innovative and collaborative model is designed to ensure dynamic mode visibility that supports on-time responsiveness. Our supplier-partner candidate selection mechanisms continually filter, profile and segment supplier Value Chains for highest product quality and performance standards, and cost efficiencies. Redundancies are eliminated to increase time to market and reduce overall investment risk. Supplier-commercial relationships are structured to scale cost effectively and produce the greatest cost-value advantage. All SES supplier technology roadmaps are monitored to ensure high volume production of SunCatchers™ are optimized for sustainable delivered value and technological competitive advantage.”

Whaaat? Sounds like an old Enron prospectus.

PERMISSION TO THINK? The restraint of free expression is the most contentious section of the personnel handbook proposed by the Baca Property Owners Association board  for fire and ambulance employees, including volunteers. They would be prohibited from (in the words of the proposed document):

“1. Conducting activities related to public expressions of opinion during working hours or at any time using the Association’s communications systems;

2. Representing any opinion or statement as the policy or view of the Association, or its Directors, officers and personnel;

3. Making disparaging or defamatory comments about the Association, or its Directors, officers, personnel, vendors, customers, or services; or,

4. Criticizing the Association, or its Directors, officers or personnel instead of using the dispute resolution procedures contained in this Handbook.”

A  group of dissenters including former fire chief Mark Jacobi have refused to sign their assent to the new rules. Consequently, they have been barred from responding to emergencies, at least officially.

Jacobi in an email to volunteers said that the “Public Expression” article violates constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly, particularly since emergency responders are expected to be on call “24/7.”  Using the board’s equivocation for itself (“Association”) in the new rules, he commented, “We should probably ask the ‘Association’ if it’s all right for us to think.”

The Association (board), anticipating the civil rights objection, added  a lawyerly disclaimer: ‘Nothing in this section is intended to restrict or limit in any manner whatsoever your constitutional or common law rights, to the extent protected by, and consistent with, Applicable Law.”  Which, in the opposition view, negates the entire section (if the disclaimer does not actually negate itself!)

On prohibition No. 3 (you can get fired for comments dissing  board members) Jacobi  commented, “Ah, but what if the comments are true?”

His email concluded: “Perhaps you all will pardon my abject cynicism, but I have not forgotten how easily the Association now punishes those who are candid and outspoken. Just a bit of history:  outspokenness is a lot of why there even is a Fire Department. If your predecessors had not fought and sacrificed for funding, training programs, mitigation projects and State and Federal interaction leading to your sponsorship to away fires, we would not have today, anything remotely resembling what you seem to be taking for granted. The Board appears conciliatory, but remember that they can afford to be now that they have gotten rid of our Chief.”

See next item. . .

PERSONNELITY IN THE NEWS: The December Crestone Eagle’s Kimberly Bryant story (“POA Board refuses to reinstate Baca Fire Chief despite members’ urging”) does not say why she was fired. It remains an official secret. But the writer inserted this intriguing sentence, “Some (at the board meeting) wondered if Bryant was fired for speaking freely.”

There are several reasons to believe this is the case, one of which is that she did  indeed speak freely. An example was her colorful remark about the National Park Service, spoken out of obvious frustration with the Dunes folks, at an earlier board meeting. The remark was reported in this blog (and nowhere else) and is still posted — see below*.

The board’s three-man majority asserts that the case cannot be discussed in public because it is a personnel matter, thus coloring their widely unpopular action as a legal  inevitability. But hold on there: is this coloring really camouflage? Is the majority protecting Bryant or . . . itself?

Yes, personnel hearings are indeed exempt from open meetings laws everywhere, for the protection of the personnel. The resulting actions, however, must be taken in public, and it is weird to fire somebody without stating a cause, at least in general terms like insubordination, malfeasance, misfeasance or any other feasance. The silence of the holdover members of the board created a mystery which “some” have solved through their own sources, concluding that Bryant said something so entirely over the top as to be actionable.

Nobody I know suggests that the fire chief of some seven years failed at her job in any substantive way. It’s a shame to put a cloud over the career of a good and respected chief. Bryant, of course, could clear up the mystery. She could force the secretive board out into the light because the accused in a “personnel matter” has a legal right to demand a public hearing. Her silence so far suggests intimidation or inducement. If it’s the former, she ought to sue. If it’s the latter, the members (property owners in this government by property owners association) have a lawful and essential interest, just as we do in the legal settlement of the Terrell Tucker  vs. POA case. . . but that’s another story.

*(from Baca Blog):

FLAMING PING-PONG BALLS? Fire administrator (chief) Kimberly Bryant of the Baca Grande subdivision expressed frustration to the Property Owners Association (POA) board about her dealings with Sand Dunes National Park. The National Park Service is planning a week of controlled fires along the Baca southern boundary beginning, as far as she can tell, on Sept. 13.   She  requested a copy of the updated burn plan but has received no response and the time is approaching and she is going on vacation. Further, she said, the Park Service has not bothered to notify Baca residents of the burn, and it is not hiring any local people for safety monitoring on the other side of the border.

“They’re hiring a helicopter that shoots flaming ping-pong balls,” she said, yet they can’t seem to afford to communicate or hire locals.

Update: The Park Service mass mailed a brochure on fire management with hints of the project but not details. . . or dates.


POA ELECTION: Property owners  put  two new faces on the five-member Baca Grande subdivision board.  Joy Hill is a Boston native with a management background. Treat Suomi is an environmental consultant with degrees in agricultural economics. In her candidate statement Hill was critical of the board’s contract with Hammersmith Management, calling it an “impractical alternative to local management.” In his statement, Suomi emphasized his service with the volunteer fire department.

So the two new board members are equipped to bring a fresh perspective on two issues: outsourcing of management and the board’s attempts to reorganize the fire department. The old board was in a hurry in September to renew the Hammersmith contract, which otherwise would have expired at the end of this year. The old board also caused a furor among some of the fire volunteers with its adoption of a personnel handbook without (they said) due consultation and with the sudden dismissal of fire chief Kimberly Bryant.

Hill and Suomi finished far ahead of the other three candidates, including board member Diane Dunlap.

ELECTION RESULTS: Saguache County Commissioner Linda Joseph was ahead of Republican challenger Steven Carlson by nine votes with provisional ballots not yet counted, according to the Valley Courier. On election night, with all votes counted except about 25 per cent of the mail-in ballots, the tally was Carlson 666, Joseph 591.  County Clerk Melinda Myers was ahead of Republican challenger Carla Gomez by only 19 votes. Sheriff Mike Norris easily won re-election. The Moffat school support ballot question and the library district question both passed. State Sen. Gail Schwartz won re-election, overcoming Republican Bob Rankin in a tight seesaw count that was not resoved until noon Wednesday. Saguache County gave her a 300-vote margin. A clear Democratic majority in the county supported Democrats in state-level races: John Hickenlooper for governor, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. John Salazar, who lost to Scott Tipton (see my blog).

DELINQUENT: Two substantial corporate investors in Baca Grande real estate failed to pay 2009 property taxes on time for over 60 lots, according to the annual Saguache County list of delinquencies, just published.  Late payment entails extra charges for the publication and interest.  The county treasurer is offering tax liens on these and some 750 other parcels in the county at a public sale on Nov. 12, subject to prior redemption by the delinquent taxpayers. Western Colorado Properties Corp. is the owner of 33 Baca Grande lots on the list, and 28 more belong to  Phoenix Real Estate Investment Group, a limited liability corporation. The Western properties comprise 20 lots in the Chalets, 12 in the Grants and 1 mobile home lot. All the  Phoenix lots are in the Chalets. The lots are, for the most part, unconsolidated  and distributed throughout the subdivision. Under Colorado law, tax liens are offered for sale in the amount of  taxes due. Payment of taxes for three years in a row entitles the lien holder to apply for a tax deed. The owner, however, can redeem at any time by paying the lien holder off at 10 per cent interest.

THE  INDUSTRIALIZATION of the San Luis Valley, Colorado’s 5,000-square-mile island of hispanic culture and Old West scenery, is beginning to roll. Political approval of the first two heavy  solar  projects, Tessera and Solar Reserve, is being monitored by the makers of this web site . It’s not just the noise from Stirling engines in the first and the noise and visual obstruction of the 650-foot towers in the second that  threatens this last frontier. It’s the massive infrastructure including high-voltage transmission lines that will accompany them, inviting  even more solar industrialization.

SOLAR POLLUTION: Ceal Smith sent this photo to her substantial email list.

Tower of power

Project proponent: SolarReserve  (see: Technology: 200 MW, PowerTower, 24 X 28 x 25′ high tracking mirrors with 656-foot tower in the center of each circle. Two circles eventually installed.  Heat storage from liquid molten salt solution kept in above ground tanks. Location: 6,200-acres on (or near?) Highway 112, about 8-10 miles northeast of Center, CO .  Water: 1,000 Acre Feet per circle

FATALITIES: The summer climbing season in the Crestone conglomerate peaks was deadly. In the last month, a freak storm washed a couple off a technical route on the Crestone Needle and a man who took a fatal shortcut died on the flanks of Kit Carson. These mountains are awesome, but as a backpacker friend puts it in a marvelous Christian essay,  awe is often part fear ( or ought to be).


CLASS ACT: “Save Sheldon,” the solo performance by actor-writer Kristina Haddad of Los Angeles, was a gift to the Crestone-Baca community from the San Luis Valley Eco System Council.  Haddad is an artist whose message comes from the heart. She created it, and it seemed the actor was not acting. It was not a political message or a philosophical discourse, but a line of poetry, simple and true: save a tree.  In the same spirit, Chris Canaly’s remarks after the show also were a class act. She never asked for money. Hey, when you receive a gift you don’t have to be asked to give back.

Money will become more critical as negotiations to stop Lexam from wildcatting in the national wildlife refuge proceed. Canaly has disclosed that the Canadian company has become, in her words, “a willing seller of the mineral rights.”

SETTLEMENT: The POA board at its August meeting approved, without comment on its terms, a negotiated settlement of a lawsuit by Terrell Tucker. He is one of the neighbors of the lot owner-developer who built an earth levy with a makeshift culvert across Cottonwood Creek. The settlement agreement, board members said, is “available” to use the board’s official word, meaning apparently that it is not a secret agreement.

Right. The document was still NOT available at the POA office on Monday following the Thursday meeting. Maybe next week?  Meantime when  anyone gets a copy, it would be interesting to notice whether the lot developer (or developers) are named because although Tucker is named in the official POA explanation of the case, they are not.  It has been reported in the Crestone Eagle and elsewhere that they are close relatives of a former board member, or the member himself.

The August meeting evoked  heated reparte between board members and  some members of the audience, one of whom accused the board of holding secret meetings in order to hide unspecified “criminal activities” by board members. Another blurted that the board was elitist and “unamerican” and would eventually fail and be  replaced by the county or Crestone governments. To which, board member Diane Dunlap responded, “If you want to mobilize people to dissolve the POA, go for it.”

Judie Rose, a B&B owner, commented from the audience that it has been two years since the board replaced the old board in a recall election and promises of openness and transparency have not been realized. She complained that she could not get an advance copy of the proposed new contract with Hammersmith, the outsourced management company,  among other things. Chair William Folk responded that the contract had to remain confidential so that competitors would not have an unfair advantage in bidding.

“Who’s the competition?” Rose shot back. There was no answer (and there are no competitors).

At one point Folk said to Rose, “I don’t share your opinions.” She responded, “You don’t have to. You just have to listen.”

Anyone wanting to run for election to either of the two positions open on this board has until Sept. 9 to file and  application of candidacy, which ought to be available at the POA office, sometime.

NO MORE YOGA BEAR: The POA board is proceeding with its  campaign to make the Baca Grande Volunteer Fire Department more businesslike. An employees handbook went into effect Aug. 15, the  personnel rules affecting not only employees but also volunteers (some of whom don’t like the way they were left out of the adoption process). And, the Kundalini Bear is being taken down, stripped off, chased into the woods, to be replaced by. . . well, the new (businesslike) logo has not yet been adopted.  At the August meeting, the new logo had not yet been approved.  What will go next? The “Village Witch” directional sign?

PRIMARY ELECTION:  Saguache County Commissioner Linda Joseph narrowly defeated challenger Tim Lovato in the Democratic primary, 403-388. County Clerk Melinda Myers brushed aside challenger Christine Wilson, 505-256. The Democratic primary usually is decisive, although Joseph faces Republican Steven Carlson in the general election.

In the Democratic U.S. Senate race: Sen. Michael Bennett (the statewide winner) 315, Andrew Romanoff 455. Romanoff, the former House speaker, campaigned in Crestone.

Saguache Republicans voted with the statewide majority in the Senate race: Ken Buck (the Tea Party-backed candidate) 240, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton 132. But for governor, Republicans in the county favored the loser, Scott McInnis, over Dan Maes, 225-136. Maes faces Democrat John Hickenlooper in November. (Hickenlooper, unopposed in the Democratic primary, campaigned at the Crestone Music Festival.)

(Results from the Valley Courier and the Denver Post)

HIROSHIMA-NAGASAKI: Maybe it was the most poignant song sung during the Crestone Music Festival weekend. A spontaneous group of Americans and Japanese visitors at lunch during the Shumei monthly sampai sang “Song of the Hibokaska,” in Japanese. There were tears. I was one of the singers.

Hibokaska is a word for survivors of the atomic bombs. Sunday fell between the 65th anniversary dates of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The brief outpouring was the synchronistic inspiration of Matthew Crowley of the Shumei International staff.

The synchronicity was this:  just after finding the song on a page in the papers of his late mother,  a nuclear protester in her time, Matthew read my re- posting here on the 60th anniversary. He gathered a few of us, we rehearsed briefly, went to lunch, then stood and sang. The 50 people at lunch stared  in deep silence .

The refrain: “Yu ru zu ma chi. Gem ba ku o.” Meaning, it must not happen again.

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