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Commissioners Oppose Housing Guantanamo Prisoners in Fremont County

The Administrative Maximum Security federal prison south of Florence, also known as SuperMax, was one of the prisons visited recently by a team from the Pentagon. The Pentagon team is reviewing facilities for possibly housing military combatant detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners has made their position known regarding the possibility of Guantanamo Bay terror suspects being housed in prisons in Fremont County; they oppose the idea.   When the Commissioners met on October 12th for a quarterly luncheon with the Florence and Cañon City Councils, Florence City Manager Mike Patterson urged local officials to join the opposition to such a proposal by the Obama Administration.

With Pentagon Officials visiting the Federal Prison Complex south of Florence and the empty CSP II state penitentiary on the East Canon Correctional Complex last week the Board of Commissioners reacted quickly signing a letter of opposition at their October 13th regular board meeting.   The letter was sent to the President and Colorado’s entire congressional delegation.   In the letter penned by District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell the Commissioners acknowledge that the Bureau of Prisons staff can handle the additional 114 prisoners behind the walls of the SuperMax prison.  But the letter warns, "These individuals intensify the threat level to an unacceptable point because of the inherent dangers posed by their associates on the outside. Just imagine all of the creative ways these terrorists could wreck chaos and destruction on our homeland."

Commission Chairman Ed Norden noted that Fremont County Sheriff Jim Beicker previously expressed concerns about terrorists already housed at the Federal Prison Complex and noted that based on intelligence from the FBI, Beicker has been told that terrorist groups already have accumulated a lot of information about Fremont County.   Norden expressed appreciation for the opposition already being voiced against such a move by Colorado Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennett.

The Commissioners approved a Special Review Use Permit for Acord Trucking at their October 13th meeting.   Acord plans to set up a truck terminal on a four acre lot along Skyland Drive in the Fremont County Airport Industrial Park where a maximum of 20 trucks would be parked overnight and on weekends.   Dr. Angela Bellantoni explained the site will mainly be a dispatching center for trucks to haul propane between wholesale and retail facilities.  The site will provide the opportunity for truckers to park their rigs between loads.   She said the propane tanks will be empty when parked.

Addressing a concern at the public hearing regarding the risk of hazardous materials on site, Acord Site Manager Matt Hobby said propane is the only material the trucks would be hauling and if any residual propane would leak from the tanks it would turn to gas and vaporize.   He said there is very minimal potential for any explosion because there would be no source for a fire.

A requirement to address impacts to traffic on Highways 50 and 67 from the truck traffic was dropped from the permit conditions.     Traffic counts conducted for both incoming and departing traffic indicated that existing businesses that generate traffic onto the state highways have a far greater impact than the additional truck traffic that would be created by the truck terminal.

The Board of Commissioners approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) with the Cañon City Recreation and Park District that will lead to reconstruction of a flood levee where the Arkansas Riverwalk trail was washed out during high river flows last May and June.   The Recreation District was making preparations to rebuild a flood retaining wall on the levee when a review of historical documents revealed that the now defunct Fremont Flood Control Conservancy District turned over all ownership and responsibilities of its flood control levees to the County of Fremont.

The MOA calls for Fremont County to apply for emergency assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in efforts to secure 75 percent of the funding necessary for the river bank stabilization project at an estimated cost of $200,000.   The county will have to pay the 25 percent local share.   The MOA also states that the Recreation District’s contribution will be the $11,170 they have already spent on engineering the river bank repairs.    Work on the river bank stabilization will not be able to start until mid or late November.

The Board of Commissioners approved a resolution modifying the service fee schedule for solid waste disposal charges paid by the two commercial trash haulers in Fremont County; Twin Landfill and Howard Disposal.    The fee schedule change will now charge on the basis of $1.67 per ton of solid waste instead of a previous rate of 50 cents per cubic yard.   The State of Colorado has already switched to tracking solid waste disposal by tonnage instead of cubic yards.

During a third public hearing at their September 13th meeting the Commissioners approved an 8th Amendment to the Fremont County Zoning Resolution.   The amendment made three changes to the zoning resolution.   The amendment expands the size of a recreational cabin footprint to 600 square feet.   Echo Canyon Campground owner Andy Neinas requested the change to 600 square feet saying that is an industry standard in order to allow space for steps into a loft for the cabins.   The other two changes adds “rafting” to allowed uses in the county’s Business Zone District and places an Airport Overlay Zone District into its own zoning section in the resolution.

In other business the Board of Commissioners:

  • Reappointed John Marietta and newly appointed Bruce Claremont to the Fremont County Airport Advisory Committee;
  • Approved a Special Events Liquor License for the Fremont Community Foundation’s Halloween event;
  • Approved an intergovernmental agreement for the Colorado Coroners’ and Medical Examiners’ Association in event of a need to respond to mass casualty incidents in neighboring counties;
  • Scheduled two public hearings.   One at 10 a.m. on October 27th will deal with a Special Review Use Permit for the Deer Mountain Fire Protection District to allow an expansion of facilities at the Deer Mountain Fire Station.   The other public hearing was set for 10 a.m. November 10th on a request by Gary McWilliams to vacate a street and alley that was platted back in 1900 but were never developed for public use.

BLM plans prescribed burn in Trail Gulch

The Bureau of Land Management is preparing to conduct a prescribed burn in the Trail Gulch area, approximately 15 miles northwest of Cañon City between Shelf Road and High Park Road in northern Fremont County.

Depending on weather and fuel moisture conditions, the prescribed burn could begin any day extending into mid-October.  Approximately 385 acres of BLM land will be subject to burning in order to reduce accumulated hazardous fuel and improve wildlife habitat.  Targeted fuels include ponderosa pine, Gambel oak, juniper and residual slash from previous thinning treatments.

The project will create a mosaic of burned and unburned areas intended to reduce conifer encroachment in grass parks while improving forage for wildlife and domestic livestock.  Prescribed fire also helps to create various stages of plant succession, which is critical to the health of fire-adapted ecosystems.

Smoke from the prescribed burn will be visible throughout the day of the burn, mostly during the warmest part of the day.  With cooler temperatures in the evening, smoke may linger and accumulate in low lying areas.

Commissioners OK Extension for Ark River Ambulance Station

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners has authorized one more extension to Ark River EMS to complete requirements for their ambulance station near Texas Creek while warning the Ark River Board Chairman that their patience is growing thin.   Ark River was granted a Special Review Use Permit in September, 2013, to build an ambulance station along US Highway 50 west of Texas Creek.  Since then the ambulance company that serves western Fremont County sought and secured a 12 month extension and another six month extension as they deal with complying with state electrical and plumbing as well as county building code requirements.

At the Commissioners’ meeting on September 22nd, Ark River Board President Jay DeMay said the Board of Directors had been waiting for two years for the District Court to rule on a lawsuit brought by members of the Howard Volunteer Fire Department over changes in the organizations by-laws and election of board directors.   DeMay said while fundraising efforts were accomplished, they did not want to spend money on the building until a court decision was made on what he called “the frivolous lawsuit”.

Commission Chairman Ed Norden expressed concern to DeMay that Ark River went ahead and staffed the facility allowing ambulance personnel to live in the building despite the fact that a certificate of occupancy still has not been issued.   The Commissioners voted 2 to 1 to approve another six month extension to allow Ark River to come into compliance with the SRU permit and building regulations.   Commissioner Norden voted ‘No’.   District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell added her own reservations saying she would not be interested in granting another extension beyond the six months just approved.

The Board of Commissioners also approved the transfer of a Special Review Use permit issued in 2007 to Northwest Fremont EMS for an ambulance garage located along County Road 2 (Tallahassee Road).   The permit was transferred to the Tallahassee Volunteer Fire Department which eventually hopes to take over emergency EMS ambulance service in that area.  Greg Cook of the Tallahassee Volunteers said the former Northwest EMS garage will be used to house a first responder first aid truck, a fire brush truck, and a water tanker.    Cook said the department has also brought the building into compliance with building codes.

In the only other business at the September 22nd meeting the Board of Commissioners approved the 2016 calendars for holiday observances for county buildings.   The action involved adoption of two holiday calendars, one for the buildings with eight hour work days and one for the County Administration and Garden Park buildings with ten hour work days.

Fremont Assessor Secures Clean Property Assessment Audit

The Fremont County Assessor’s Office has once again successfully met state standards for property assessments under an audit of real property, natural resources, and personal property in Fremont County.    The audit was completed by Wildrose Appraisal of Lakewood as part of the 2015 Colorado Property Assessment Study.   The audit included both a procedural audit and a statistical audit.

The procedural audit examined all classes of property and looked at how the assessor develops economic areas, qualifies sales, and performs periodic property inspections.   The statistical audit looked at vacant land, residential property, commercial and industrial properties, and agricultural land.

In ten categories reviewed by the auditing firm they found substantial compliance with standards in the work performed by Fremont County Assessor Stacy Seifert and her staff.   In the section of the audit that examined real estate sales verifications the auditor said “Fremont County appears to be doing a good job of verifying their sales.   There are no recommendations”.

Fremont County Commission Chairman Ed Norden said the annual audit that again had no recommended changes for property assessment procedures and values in the Fremont County Assessor’s Office has become the standard since Stacey Seifert took office in 2007.   He said that Seifert and her staff have produced a clean audit report on property assessments every year she has been in office.

Record Crowd Enjoyed Weekend Airshow

The Rocky Mountain Renegades do a fly over during the opening performance at Saturday's annual Fremont County Airshow. Several individual Renegade members later performed solo routines for the enthusiastic crowd.

A crowd estimated at just under 4,000 packed the ramp at the Fremont County Airport to enjoy the annual airshow on Saturday.    From toddlers to senior citizens, there was a variety of entertainment available especially when the aerobatic performers took to the sky above the airport.   The Penrose Volunteer Fire Department sold out of their pancakes and sausage after serving a crowd of 600 for breakfast.

Aerobatic performers included the Rocky Mountain Renegades, Gary Rowler’s Super Stearman Aerobatics, Don Nelson in his Sukhoi 26, and a pair of drag races featuring Lanier Henry’s 2000 HP 1955 Chevy dragster.

Fremont County Commission Chairman Ed Norden took note of the superb organizational effort for the airshow by Airport Manager Richard Baker and the Airport Advisory Committee.   Norden said special praise was in order for committee members Jim Woolworth and Chairman John Marietta who committed untold hours of work in organizing the airshow.   Norden also said such an event is not possible without the commitment of a large contingent of volunteers who gave up their personal time to make the show possible.

Also integral to the show were the contributions by the airshow sponsors including Platinum Level sponsors Mark Greksa of the Royal Gorge Route Railroad and Armstrong Consultants of Grand Junction, Fremont County’s airport consultant.

Gold level sponsors included Canon National Bank, Canon Rental, the Daily Record, and Master Printers.   Silver level sponsors were City Service Valcon, Holcim U.S., Mr. Rooter Plumbing, Rocky Mountain Materials, and True Value Hardware.

Part of the crowd of 3,800 people are shown enjoying the Rocky Mountain Renegades' performance Saturday. The show started at 12 noon Saturday following the Pioneer Day Parade earlier that morning in Florence.

Fremont 9-1-1 Center Open House

FreCom 9-1-1 Employees are seated at work in the new state of the art dispatch center on the 4th floor of the Fremont County Judicial Building. The photo was taken during the September 10th open house when several hundred citizens stopped by to tour the new center.

Citizens of Fremont County were afforded their one and only chance on September 10th to get a first-hand look at the new combined regional dispatch center on the 4th floor of the Fremont County Judicial Building.  The new communications center, now known at FreCom 9-1-1, formally began operations on August 1st with the transition of Florence and Cañon City dispatchers into the new center taking place over several weeks during July.   The new center is operated under joint authority of the Cañon City Area Fire Protection District, the City of Florence, the City of Cañon City, the Fremont E 9-1-1 Board, and Fremont County.

The open house in the new dispatch center was followed by a brief ceremony dedicating the center’s training and conference room to the memory of Priscilla Jenkins, a long time Cañon City Police dispatcher who died tragically in June of 2014.   Jenkins’ family members were on hand for the dedication.

Also attending the open house was Christy Culp, the South Central Regional Representative for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA).   Culp was instrumental in helping Fremont County secure an $830,000 Energy and Mineral Impact grant for project.   The grant represented half of the cost to renovate the space in the Judicial Building and equip it with radio consoles, furniture, and the most current technology available for 9-1-1 center communications.   The local governing partners contributed the other fifty percent of the cost.

Colorado Department of Local Affairs South Central Region representative Christy Culp is pictured (center) presenting a certificate of congratulations to the Fremont County Commissioners and other local officials marking the successful completion of the dispatch center. DOLA provided an $830,000 Mineral Impact Grant representing half the cost of opening the center.

Commissioners Approve Meeting Rooms Policy

An increased use and demand for the large conference room in Fremont County’s new Garden Park Building has prompted the Board of Commissioners to adopt an amended building use policy for both the Garden Park facility as well as the Fremont County Administration Building.    The need for an amended policy was recognized after several groups outside of county government requested use of the room.

The amended policy states that any group wanting to use meeting rooms for anything other than official government business must make application through the county manager’s office and must be a non-profit group associated with educational or local civic activities.   Private social events, political or religious functions, commercial business, fundraising activities, or any activity that would disrupt county business would not be permitted.

The facilities would be available only during regular operating hours from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and would not be available on Fridays, Saturday, Sundays, or holidays.   Restrictions on hours and days of use would not apply to Fremont County government uses of the buildings.

Any group using county rooms that want to bring in food and beverages and are not associated with any county business would have to pay a $150 cleaning-damage deposit.    The deposit would be returned if no additional costs were incurred by the county.   If any group sought an exception to the policy they would have to appeal directly to the Board of County Commissioners.

The Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved another three year agreement with John Cutler and Associates to provide county audit services for 2015, 2016, & 2017.   County Finance Director Sunny Bryant recommended the continuation of auditing services with the Cutler firm saying both the county and Cutler’s staff have now become familiar with each other's procedures on financial and auditing practices.    Bryant said Cutler’s agreement also calls for the $18,000 annual auditing fee to remain the same for each of the additional three years.

The Commissioners set a pair of public hearings for 10 a.m. on October 13th.   One hearing will be for a Special Review Use permit for Acord Land Company which wants to operate a truck terminal on a 3.8 acre lot at the Fremont County Airport Industrial Park.  The other hearing involves recommended changes to the county’s Zoning Resolution as referred to the Commissioners by the County Planning Commission.   Those changes include a proposal to add whitewater rafting operations to the allowed uses in the Business Zone District, changing the building footprint for recreational cabins to sizes not to exceed 550 square feet, and moving the AP-O Airport Overlay Zone District into its’ own section under the Zoning Resolution.

In other business the Board of Commissioners:

  • Adopted a resolution recognizing the work and contributions of emergency first responders throughout Fremont County;
  • Approved a six month extension for submittal of contingency items on a Commercial Development Plan for The Outpost at Texas Creek.   The site is located along the south side of US Highway 50 just east of McCoy Gulch Road in the Texas Creek area.

Voters to Consider Removing Sunset on Lodging Tax

With Fremont County’s two percent lodging tax facing a December, 2016 sunset, the Board of Commissioners Tuesday voted to place a question on the November ballot asking voters to permanently approve the tax on lodging.   The lodging tax was originally approved by voters in 2001 with a five year sunset and was then renewed in 2006 with a ten year sunset.   After 14 years of proven experience and reliance on the lodging tax to promote the Royal Gorge region the Board of Commissioners decided it is time to ask the voters to make the tax permanent.

District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell said it’s important to remember that it’s not Fremont County residents who pay the tax.  She said “It’s the people who stay in hotels, motels, campgrounds, vacation rental properties, and anyplace where people pay money to spend the night.”   Commission Chairman Ed Norden said if Fremont County did not have the revenues for marketing promotion from the lodging tax in the aftermath of the Royal Gorge wildfire two years ago the recovery of Fremont County’s tourism industry would have looked markedly different.

The Royal Gorge Park is pictured undergoing reconstruction following the June, 2013 wildfire. Lodging Tax revenues along with tourism grants were vital in marketing the tourism message that Fremont County was still open for business

The ballot question that Fremont County voters will consider in November reads:  "Without raising additional taxes, shall the existing 2 percent County Lodging Tax, which is imposed only on hotel, motel, guest ranch, campground and other similar overnight accommodations, be extended from its current expiration of Dec. 31, 2016, for an indefinite term, which constitutes no other changes to the voter-approved lodging tax; the proceeds from which are used solely for tourism promotion, marketing and related activities in Fremont County, Colorado?"   Yes or No.

There was other good news regarding the county lodging tax that was shared with the Board of Commissioners Tuesday.   Budget and Finance Officer Sunny Bryant reported that the county collected $51,021 in lodging tax revenues for the second quarter of 2015.   She said that is one of the highest second quarter collections registered in Fremont County for lodging tax.   Those lodging tax revenues seem to run parallel with tourism visits to the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.  Park Manager Mike Bandera reports that it was one of the all time best months of July for visitors ever recorded at the Royal Gorge.

The Board of Commissioners Tuesday also approved revisions to Fremont County’s precinct election maps.   Fremont County Clerk’s Office Elections Clerk Jami Goff said in order to maintain balance for the number of voters in each precinct the changes will move over 500 voters from precinct 19 in northwest Cañon City to precinct 18.   About 700 voters in precinct 11 will be moved into precinct 12.   Goff said voters affected by the changes will receive notices in the mail   But the changes will mean little to voters.   Goff says voters no longer go to vote at specific precinct locations but either vote by mail or at joint precinct voting centers.

The commissioners adopted a proclamation designating September as Kinship Care Month in Fremont County.   Carrie Porter of the Department of Human Services reported that 79 families were involved in kinship care in Fremont County last year.   She said in most cases kids are placed with either grandparents or other relatives.

Council of Governments Director Honored by Boys & Girls Club

Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments Executive Director Judy Lohnes (pictured far right) accepts the Boys and Girls Club Distinguished Service Award last Saturday. Making the presentation is Board Chairman Terry Hamilton. Also pictured are Jason Messer and Gail McDermott.

The Fremont County Board of Commissioners joins in congratulating Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments Executive Director Judy Lohnes for being honored with the Gail McDermott Distinguished Service Award by the Boys and Girls Club of Fremont County.    The award was presented at last Saturday’s 5th annual Bids & BBQ Fundraiser at the Harrison School in Cañon City.

Lohnes was among the original organizers of the Boys and Girls Club in Cañon City and continues to serve on the Board of Directors.

Fremont County Hosts State Weed Tour

Fremont County Weed Coordinator Jana Rapetti (left center) explains this summer's efforts to control elongated mustard weed in this area near Wellsville in western Fremont County. A state weed crew along with crews from Fremont and Chaffee Counties backpacked weed spray onto the steep cliffs to reach the noxious weed which has now infested approximately 2,000 acres in the area.

Fremont County hosted this summer’s annual weed tour by the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Noxious Weed Advisory Committee on Thursday, August 21st.   Fremont County Commission Chairman Ed Norden is a member of the Committee and offered the invitation to give members of the statewide group an opportunity to see first-hand the noxious weed control efforts underway locally.

Fremont County Weed Coordinator Jana Rapetti aided in putting together much of the tour which began with a power point presentation that included video of aerial spraying in July by helicopter of an infestation of elongated mustard in the Wellsville area of western Fremont County.   The tour group then caravanned to the site near Wellsville where Rapetti and Chaffee County Weed Coordinator Larry Walker detailed efforts to control the spread of the mustard weed across an approximate 2,000 acre area.

The site in Fremont and Chaffee Counties is the only area in Colorado where elongated mustard has spread.    Walker said it’s believed the weed arrived years ago from Nevada as trucks and heavy equipment working on power lines carried the seeds into Colorado.    There were efforts again in June to spray the mustard plants by backpacking into the area of rocky, steep cliffs.   A state grant was secured to use the helicopter to spot spray the elongated mustard in areas that could not be accessed on foot.

The tour continued into Thursday afternoon at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park where District Conservationist Rick Romano of the Natural Resource Conservation District Office in Cañon City explained the work that went into the reclamation and seeding efforts in the aftermath of the June, 2013 wildfire at the Royal Gorge.  Tour participants viewed a vibrant ecosystem of grasses and wildflowers from seed specifically chosen for that area and now is exhibiting strong growth following the rains this spring and summer.

The group also traveled over Skyline Drive to view how the release of insects in Fremont County has led to effective biological control of tamarisk (salt cedar trees).   Tour participants eyed a long stretch of dead and dying tamarisk in the creek bottom below that parallels US Highway 50.

Members of the Colorado Noxious Weed Advisory Committee then gathered on Friday at Fremont County’s Garden Park Conference Room to conduct their quarterly meeting.