Boulder County News Round-up – Boulder Weekly

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City of Boulder forges ahead with Xcel agreement

Details of an agreement between the City of Boulder and Xcel Energy were made public on Aug. 6, outlining how the City might continue to contract with the energy giant in lieu of pursuing municipalization.

Reaching an agreement would settle back-and-forth litigation spurred out of the City’s pursuit of assuming Xcel’s energy infrastructure in Boulder in order to run its own power system, which City voters have supported since 2011.

In publishing the details of the agreement, the City noted Council will pursue three courses of action at an Aug. 20 meeting: refer the agreement to voters, push discussion to a later Council meeting, or reject the agreement.

If ultimately approved, the agreement would halt the City’s pursuit of municipalization and instead it will sign a 20-year agreement with Xcel (with off-ramps in 2022, 2024 and 2028 if Xcel fails to meet carbon emission-reduction benchmarks). The agreement requires Xcel to reduce emissions by 80% based on 2005 standards. 

That’s not quite the 100% renewable energy goal the City of Boulder has set for 2030. But the City claims the agreement allows it to pursue paths that were previously off the table and would amount to 100% renewables (if you subscribe to its math). Those paths include updating Boulder’s electric grid, changing regulations that “limit innovation and local renewable development,” developing a new tariff to rapidly convert bus fleets to electric busses and facilitating microgrids in specific areas.

You can review the agreement at bouldercolorado.gov/local-power/potential-settlement-xcel-energy and submit comments ahead of the Aug. 20 Council meeting to council@bouldercolorado.gov. You can also sign up to speak at the virtual meeting at bouldercolorado.gov/city-council/participate-in-city-council-meetings.    

BLM headquarters move to Colorado amid controversy

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced on Aug. 10 it will complete the relocation of its headquarters from Washington, D.C. to Grand Junction this month, despite criticism from environmental groups and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees BLM, planned to move the headquarters out west to “better enable its managers and workforce in the field to make decisions by, in part, shifting the workforce closer to field locations at a number of its bureaus,” according to the GAO.

But in analyzing the move, the GAO found that the Interior Department did not adequately establish performance metrics, nor did it produce an accurate cost-benefit analysis.

The department “has not demonstrated how the proposed reorganization would affect the workforce, including staff retention,” the GAO found.

The GAO recommended that “BLM should establish outcome-oriented performance measures; develop an implementation plan with milestones and deliverables; and complete a strategic workforce plan. The Western Values Project (WVP), an environmental advocacy group, says the shortcomings are part and parcel of the Trump administration’s flawed environmental policy.

“The relocation effort is nothing more than a boldfaced effort to gut the public lands bureau so it will better serve the Trump administration’s special interest allies. Ultimately, moving the BLM is a reckless, purposeless and cynical attempt to dismantle the bureau by excluding career expertise from the public lands decision-making process,” said Western Values Project (WVP) Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill in a statement.

WVP claims the millions spent to reorganize the department and move BLM headquarters to Grand Junction will only make the relationship between regulators and the industry cozier, as several oil and gas companies operate in the same building as BLM’s new space.

WVP also noted the cost to relocate BLM employees could exceed $9 million, adding to a price tag for past and future costs that exceeds $40 million.  

County health officials warn of contact tracing scam

Boulder County Public Health announced on Aug. 11 that it has received reports of scams wherein people claim to be conducting contact tracing and ask for a credit card number to purchase a COVID-19 test.

“We are disheartened to hear that this health crisis is being used to take advantage of people,” said Carol Helwig, Boulder County Public Health communicable disease program coordinator, in a statement. “The purpose of contact tracing calls is to understand how COVID-19 is impacting the community and to try to find out how people have been exposed so that we can prevent the spread to others.”

You shouldn’t give your credit card number to anyone you don’t trust over the phone, but certainly not to anyone conducting (or claiming to conduct) contact tracing. Boulder County Public Health says real disease investigators will contact residents who have tested positive to learn about who they’ve come in contact with, what their symptoms have been, demographic details and to ask if they need support.

Health officials will also reach out to people who have not tested positive but may have come in close contact with someone who has, and will provide information about quarantining and testing.

To be clear, Boulder County Public Health will never ask for payment, proof of residency, Social Security numbers or require testing without discussing with people first.

Residents are encouraged to contact the Boulder County District Attorney’s Community Protection Division at 303-441-3700 if they come across this scam.    

CU: Agriculture, not fossil fuels, is largest human source of sulfur

Coal-fired power plants have historically been the largest emitters of sulfur into the environment, but University of Colorado researchers, in a new study published in Nature Geoscience, now say agriculture is the leading culprit.

Elevated levels of sulfur in the environment can cause asthma in nearby communities, create acid rain, raise the level of mercury in wetlands and degrade soil.

Regulations such as the Clean Air Act helped rein in atmospheric sulfur levels, but sulfur levels continued to grow on agricultural land.

“This is a very different problem than the acid rain days,” said Eve-Lyn Hinckley, lead author of the study and assistant professor of environmental studies at CU’s  Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), in a statement. “We’ve gone from widespread atmospheric deposition over remote forests to targeted additions of reactive sulfur to regional croplands. These amounts are much higher than what we saw at the peak of acid rain.”

Sulfur is a naturally occurring element and an important nutrient for plants, thus its use in agriculture. But sulfur is also highly reactive, according to the researchers, meaning it will transform in time and pose a risk to wildlife and people.

Researchers estimate that sulfur use will increase worldwide in agricultural applications. The solution? Enhanced monitoring and research to spur collective action on the issue. Read more at nature.com/articles/s41561-020-0620-3.    

El Comité De Longmont founders to be honored statewide on Aug. 14

Four decades ago, Longmont police officers shot and killed two unarmed, young Latino men, sparking outrage and community protest over community-police relations. The events led to the creation of El Comité De Longmont, a grassroots organization that demanded, and achieved, sweeping reforms and systemic change within the Longmont Police. 

The effort was led by Victor L. Vela and Marta “La Burris” Moreno, community members whose commitment to non-violent resistance and calls for justice led to reforms that included expanded training for incoming police officers, the adoption of a new use-of-force policy, and the implementation of a Latino Advisory Council within the department.

In recognition of their work, Gov. Jared Polis declared Aug. 14 Victor L. Vela and Marta “La Burris” Moreno Day. Vela is still a staunch Latino advocate, and Moreno retired just this year as El Comité’s executive director.

According to a press release, Moreno responded to the declaration by saying, “Si quieres paz, lucha por la justicia. If you want peace, work for justice.”    

Boulder Reservoir will be drained Sept. 1

The City of Boulder and Northern Water will drain Boulder Reservoir starting Sept. 1 to conduct maintenance work that will run until March 2021.

The work includes removing sediment from the area around the reservoir outlet, which accumulates over time; repairing dam outlet structures; and performing maintenance on land between the north and south dams, also known as Fisherman’s Point. The City said in a statement this maintenance is routine and takes place every 5-10 years. 

The idea is that fall and winter are low-visitation months for the area already. The work is also being done in consultation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to “mitigate environmental impacts,” and the reservoir will be filled before migration and nesting seasons.

Access to the reservoir will be limited as work gets underway. All water-based activities will be prohibited beginning Sept. 1, while walking, running and cycling will still be allowed. Access to the shoreline will be limited. A map of the project is available at bouldercolorado.gov/water/boulder-reservoir-maintenance#.    



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