More top stories from 2005 |

More top stories from 2005

Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk

State highway planners and engineers are still a few years away from starting any significant Interstate 70 improvements. But the planning process hit a major milestone in 2005, as the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) released a draft programmatic environmental impact statement for addressing safety and congestion issues between Golden and Glenwood Springs.More significant for residents and businesses in Summit County and rest of the High Country was the formation of the I-70 mountain corridor coalition, a collection of about 30 entities along the corridor that developed a regionally preferred alternative. The coalition called on state highway planners to address critical choke points as soon as possible, but to also look beyond highway widening at alternative transit options. Debate stirs over Fishhook Ranch propertyThe town of Dillon kicked up dust in April when it began reviewing its Three Mile Plan and listed a 35-acre parcel of land near Summit Cove as suitable for annexation.Dubbed the Fishhook Ranch, the property is situated at the intersection of Swan Mountain Road and Highway 6.The plan stated that if the ranch were ever annexed, the land should be considered for residential and commercial use. Dillon’s vision for the land contradicted the county’s, which had preserved the land’s agriculture zoning in its Snake River Master Plan update only a month before.Many homeowners in and around the area also objected to Dillon’s idea of commercial development on the land, which many said would destroy a natural buffer between Dillon and Keystone.After two months of listening to public comments and holding discussions about the property, the Dillon Town Council adopted the Three Mile Plan, including the Fishhook Ranch land.The issue sat dormant for several months, although it stirred to life again in November when a Wisconsin company expressed interest in building a hotel, an indoor water park and a restaurant on the land. An official petition for annexation has not been filed with the town, although an attorney for the company, River Ridge LLC, sent letters to the East Dillon Water District and the Snake River Sanitation Plan inquiring about inclusion into those districts for services.

Court battle over cyanide banSummit County’s potentially precedent-setting ban on cyanide heap leach mining was rejected by a local judge and could be headed for a Colorado Supreme Court showdown. The regulations adopted by Summit County would essentially have prohibited the practice of spraying low-grade ore with a diluted cyanide solution to extract gold. The process is used profitably in several places, but environmentalists say the chances of a toxic spill are high, based on the established records of similar operations.The Colorado Mining Association challenged the ban and a District Court judge threw it out, saying that state law takes precedent over local regulations. Summit County has appealed that decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals.Biomass plant project wheels set in motionThis past year was certainly another one where the pine beetle continued to wipe out trees in forests across Summit County. But in 2005, at least one practical solution to deal with all of the wood waste left behind by the pests began to bubble.Funding a new wood-fired biomass plant at the County Commons was an idea first hatched by Summit County Commissioner Bill Wallace, and it’s pretty clear that Wallace intends to really set the project wheels in motion in 2006.He proposes the county fund a $2 million two-stack biomass plant at the County Commons, which would generate enough energy by burning wood chips and waste to heat seven county buildings at the Commons. In September, the full Board of County Commissioners heard a commissioned report about the feasibility of the project, which seemed to confirm that the proposed plant could do what it said it would do, and do it with minimal impact to local air and water quality.More research into those environmental impacts is expected in the coming year. But with forest health an ever-growing issue as beetle-kill trees continue to litter local forests, Wallace’s biomass plan looks to be headed for the fast track in 2006.Silverthorne police chief dies of a heart attackThe town of Silverthorne was dealt an emotional blow in late May when the community’s police chief died of a sudden heart attack.

Chief Kent Donahue was 49 when he passed away on May 29.At the memorial service shortly after his death, Donahue’s friends and family remembered him as big man with an even bigger heart, who always put others first.Though he led the police department for less than one year, Donahue left his mark as an outstanding leader, manager and community member. During his tenure, he swore in six officers, promoted a sergeant and a detective and updated the department’s mission, vision and values statement.In late August, the town hired Joe Russell, a commander with the Vail Police Department, to take over the police department.Dillon Valley woman mysteriously disappears while delivering auto parts The strange and still unsolved disappearance of Dillon Valley resident Patricia McCormick made statewide headlines in late November.McCormick, 62, vanished on Monday, Nov. 28, while completing routine deliveries for her job as a NAPA Auto Parts driver.She was last seen at the Keystone Vehicle Maintenance Shop and hasn’t been heard from since.The Frisco Police Department and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office launched a full-scale search of the county after her disappearance, scouring the county by foot, snowmobiles and even lowering cameras underneath the ice on Dillon Reservoir to look for clues, but finding nothing. Three days after McCormick’s disappearance, police called off the search in Summit County, saying they were confident the NAPA truck was not inside the county.The truck still has not been located. Frisco detective Julie Polly continues to make McCormick’s case a priority, and McCormick’s daughter Kathy remains hopeful that her mother is alive.Local ski areas eye expansion

Local ski resorts set their sights on expanding over the past year, with all four Summit County mountains opening new terrain, or announcing plans to grow. Arapahoe Basin began the formal process in November of expanding lift service into Montezuma Bowl on the backside of the ski area’s existing terrain. If the Forest Service awards approval, The Legend will add 325 acres to its operation, nearly doubling its current skiable acreage.Keystone announced plans in December to expand its successful snowcat skiing operation into Bear and Independence mountains, adding 278 acres of new terrain for cat skiing and hike-to access. The resort already offers cat skiing in Bergman, Erickson, North and South bowls. The Forest Service could make a decision this winter season on the expansion.Also in December, Breckenridge Resort added a new bragging right to its list: home of the highest lift in North America. The Imperial Express SuperChair opened five weeks early serving expert level terrain that previously required a 45-minute hike from the T-Bar. The high-speed quad whisks skiers and riders to 12,840 feet in two-and-a-half minutes.Copper Mountain took some of the footwork out of reaching Tucker Mountain by expanding its snow cat service. This season, cats will carry skiers and riders to the top of the 12,337-foot Tucker, eliminating a 15 to 20 minute hike.Drought easing?As the last few months of 2005 brought above-average moisture, water watchers around the state said Colorado’s multi-year drought could be winding down, with a gradual recovery from 2002, which marked the driest year ever recorded in the state.Dillon Reservoir “filled and spilled” in early June, the first time in several years that the impoundment couldn’t capture all the runoff from the Blue River Basin. Resulting flows in the Lower Blue topped out at more than 800 cfs for several weeks into the early summer, giving boaters a rare chance to run the scenic stretch of river north of Silverthorne.Pay to play battle at Green Mountain ReservoirA national controversy over the concept of recreation fees on public lands played out locally in 2005, as the U.S. Forest Service sought to develop a new management plan for camping and recreation areas at Green Mountain Reservoir, at the far north end of Summit County.

Agency leaders say fees are needed to provide funding for basic on-the-ground management and maintenance activities. Critics say the fees are an onerous form of double taxation. A proposed new management plan for Green Mountain Reservoir drew fire from some users and from some nearby businesses, who feared that the fees, along with restrictions on camping, could impact profits. According to the Forest Service, the management plan will address some fundamental public health and safety issues at the popular recreation venue.Breck breaks skier number recordBreckenridge Ski Resort reached an all-time high in skier visits during the 2004-2005 season, posting 1.471 million visits – a 4.9 percent increase over the previous year.Front Range Destination Resorts, including Copper Mountain, Keystone and Breckenridge in Summit County, posted the largest year-over-year growth with an increase of more than 350,000 visits. Great early season snowfall started off the 2005-2006 season with a bang, and resorts report being set up to break records in skier visits this season.Summit School District focuses on constructionThe Summit School Board approved a plan in April for kindergartners at Dillon Valley Elementary to participate in a pilot project for dual-language immersion.The school district broke ground on Frisco Elementary’s $3.6 million addition in June, and as the school year kicked off in August, it was announced that the district scored above state averages nearly across-the-board on the year’s Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) tests.Also, International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program was offered for the first time at Summit High School. County voters elected to stick with experience in the Nov. 1 school board election, choosing Christine Scanlan and Erin Major to retain their seats while picking Sheila Groneman to join the board.

The Summit School District finalized revised design plans for the renovated middle school, after construction costs escalated from the rebuilding aftermath of the hurricane season.Voters fund early childhood educationKids obviously couldn’t vote in November’s regular election, but they sure had a stake in the outcome of county Measure 1A.By voting “Yes” on the special measure by a slim margin, Summit County voters passed a property tax increase to fund local preschool programs, increases to teachers’ salaries, projects to expand local facilities, and tuition help for low-income parents of preschool-age children.A Board of Early Childhood Options was formed to make specific recommendations to county commissioners about where the money should be spent; those decisions are expected in the early part of 2006. The bump in property taxes is expected to bring in an additional $6 million for the program.Lindstrom announces run for governorBreckenridge resident Gary Lindstrom put his hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination for state’s top political spot in early December.The state representative and former county commissioner will vie for the governor’s seat in 2006. Lindstrom, 63, who stands on a 45-year career in government, said he will run for governor as a politician who isn’t afraid to speak the truth.That truth, from his perspective, is that the state of Colorado does not have a vision: its politicians merely are “reactive” to the main problem facing the state – growth.

Gas prices debatedIn November, State Rep. Gary Lindstrom (D-Breckenridge) went public with his displeasure about gas prices by writing a formal letter asking Colorado Attorney General John Suthers to initiate an official investigation of price gouging at mountain gas stations.Lindstrom struck a nerve with High Country folks, who felt a decided pinch in their pocketbooks as gas prices broke records over the summer, reaching more than $3 per gallon.Our Future Summit also took the issue head-on at a December meeting that drew more than 70 people. While the press’ attention may have been piqued by Lindstrom’s crusade, concrete action as a result of his squeaky-wheel campaign didn’t materialized. Suthers declined to initiate the investigation Lindstrom requested, and prices still remain about 40 cents higher in the High Country than on the Front Range.Frisco Funground rebuiltA popular playground at Frisco Elementary was razed in June and rebuilt with the help of hundreds of volunteers over a five-day period in August.The communitywide Frisco Funground project marked the biggest volunteer effort of the summer as about 600 volunteers of all ages helped pour cement, bang nails and paint the pieces to the county’s largest playground. Designed by students of the elementary school, the new playground includes a music area, dragon slide, climbing walls and a shark sandbox.Making the project happen wasn’t without its share of controversy. Some of the volunteers who brought the first Frisco Funground to life were resistant to the idea of building a new playground, despite concerns that maintenance costs for restaining and sealing were rising and the wood on the old structure was splintering and rotting. As the PTSO moved to replace the old structure, complaints began to swell.”There are some people who don’t feel we did the right thing,” said organizer Sam Meister. “We know there are some hurt people out there. But the lifecycle for these wooden structures is 15 to 20 years. Could we have gotten another five years out of it? Possibly, but it would have cost a lot of money. Could we have gotten another 20 years out of it? No way.”The playground reopened in August for the first day of school.

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