Economies collide with nature

The natural resource based economy that dominated the Western Slope of Colorado for so many years is making a come back.moly mine - assoc. press pic

As Jason Blevins writes in the Sunday Denver Post, mining is coming back to a number of communities due to increasing demand and prices for precious minerals like molybdenum.

If the recent natural gas boom in Garfield County offers any crystal ball, more Western Slope communities are due increasing revenues, stressed infrastructure, a quick disappearance of affordable housing, and a shortage of workers.

The natural amenity and natural resource economy are colliding and the only thing they have in common is a reliance on nature.

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Garfield County sees explosive growth

Garfield County received front page space in the Sunday Denver Post due to the energy boom driving the county’s economy.

Jason Blevins story captures the essence of life in Garfield County since the boom began five years ago. As New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin says, “It’s just all happening so fast out here. I just dart around like a bumblebee.”

The economic growth has been a boon to a county mired in a slump cause by the overnight departure of Exxon (Black Sunday) in 1982 and the county now has more jobs than it has workers. The challenge for the public sector is to try tokeep up and pay for the infrastructure to support the increases in traffic, homes, and wastewater while competing with the gas companies for workers.

Blevins quotes Christy Hamrick, the finance director for Garfield County’s 4,500-student school district, “We pay drivers $14 an hour, and they pay $22 an hour. We have to compete with that, and we’ve seen lots of turnover. ”

States differ in health spending per capita

health spending

Robert Pear writes in the NY Times about a new federal study that shows that there is a significant range in health care spending per capita among the 50 states.

Massachusetts led the way in per capita health spending at $6,700, while Utah was less than $4,000 per capita. As he writes,

The study, published on Monday in the Web edition of the journal Health Affairs, said that Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Alaska and Connecticut had the highest per capita spending on health care in 2004.

The lowest-spending states were Utah, Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico and Nevada. Per capita spending in Utah was 59 percent of that in Massachusetts. [ . . .]

Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University, said, “The variations help explain why some states can achieve health care reform on their own, without a huge infusion of federal money, while others cannot.”

“In a low-spending state like New Mexico, you have less money in the health care system that can be recaptured and invested in coverage for the uninsured,” she said. “In a high-spending state like Massachusetts, the health care system has the resources to subsidize coverage of the uninsured.”

Read the full article . . .

Communities innovate to provide health insurance

[…] Healthy San Francisco, is the first effort by a locality to guarantee care to all of its uninsured [82,000 resident], and it represents the latest attempt by state and local governments to patch a inadequate federal system.

It is financed mostly by the city, which is gambling that it can provide universal and sensibly managed care to the uninsured for about the amount being spent on their treatment now, often in emergency rooms.

After a two-month trial at two clinics in Chinatown, the program is scheduled to expand citywide to 20 more locations on Sept. 17.

Whether such a program might be replicated elsewhere is difficult to assess. In addition to its unique political culture, San Francisco, with a population of about 750,000, has the advantages of compact geography, a unified city-county government, an extensive network of public and community clinics and a relatively small number of uninsured adults. Virtually all the city’s children are covered by private insurance or government plans.

Read the full article . . .

Counter intuitive approaches to managing traffic

Many people in the U.S. have heard the expression “changing the rules of the game.” In some European cities, however, traffic engineers are just about eliminating the rules of the road and removing all the streets signs American drivers are so familiar with.

As Matthias Schulz writes at Spiegel Online:

The plans derive inspiration and motivation from a large-scale experiment in the town of Drachten in the Netherlands, which has 45,000 inhabitants. There, cars have already been driving over red natural stone for years. Cyclists dutifully raise their arm when they want to make a turn, and drivers communicate by hand signs, nods and waving.

“More than half of our signs have already been scrapped,” says traffic planner Koop Kerkstra. “Only two out of our original 18 traffic light crossings are left, and we’ve converted them to roundabouts.” Now traffic is regulated by only two rules in Drachten: “Yield to the right” and “Get in someone’s way and you’ll be towed.”

Strange as it may seem, the number of accidents has declined dramatically. Experts from Argentina and the United States have visited Drachten. Even London has expressed an interest in this new example of automobile anarchy. And the model is being tested in the British capital’s Kensington neighborhood.

EnCana wins approval to house nearly 750 workers at well pads in GarCo

EnCana USA has won Garfield County approval to operate up to 31 temporary facilities housing nearly 750 natural gas development workers north of Parachute.

Each of the facilities, known informally as man camps, is allowed to hold up to 24 employees and contractors. None would be operated more than one year under the county permits.

Energy companies have used temporary housing facilities under the permission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, but the county learned it had authority to regulate them and instituted its permitting process last November.

Parachute Mayor Roy McClung wrote to the county that while the onsite housing will help, the town still will see traffic impacts related to EnCana’s drilling plans and is worried about overloaded intersections and the lack of funding to improve them.

He suggested in the letter that the county needs to be collecting impact fees from such developments to meet highway improvement needs.

Read Dennis Webb’s full article . . .

Garco bicyclists to find smooth sailing

To the joy (and relief) of bicyclists, Garco Commissioners decided spend extra funds to use smaller-diameter gravel on chip seal projects for six county roads that cyclists frequently use.

The Garfield County commissioners also said they will consider spending extra taxpayer dollars on some road projects this summer to accommodate cyclists.

Garfield County budgeted $1.1 million this summer for routine maintenance of some of its road network. The roads in roughest shape will receive a new chip seal surface, with the 3/4-inch gravel.

At Commissioner Tresi Houpt’s suggestion, the county got a second bid on topping the 3/4-inch gravel with a 3/8-inch mixture. The bid came in at $652,000 for all the projects.

Houpt supported spending that amount and topping all roads scheduled for work this summer with the smoother surface.

Read Scott Condon’s full article . . .