Top Stories of 2013, Nos. 6 through 10
As it happens every year, 2013 was a feast of news in the pages of The Daily Sentinel. Many important, startling and otherwise intriguing stories developed over the course of this year on the Western Slope, and today marks the first day looking back at the 2013 Top Stories of the Year.
We’ll recount the top 10, as decided by The Daily Sentinel newsroom, over three days — with this first edition revisiting stories six through 10.
School board election costly and controversial
The most expensive District 51 School Board election in at least two decades (and possibly ever) involved more than $58,000 in donations, seven candidates for three seats, two major Front Range donors and thousands of volunteers campaigning door-to-door.
Mesa County Republicans, Mesa County Republican Women and District 51 School Board members Ann Tisue and Jeff Leany endorsed candidates Pat Kanda, Mike Lowenstein and John Sluder. Local teachers union Mesa Valley Education Association, a parents group and a bipartisan group endorsed Greg Mikolai, Tom Parrish and John Williams. A seventh candidate, Lonnie White, received no public endorsements or campaign money and shied away from media interviews and candidate forums throughout the election.
MVEA donated thousands in campaign checks and in-kind donations of polling, pens and other items to support its candidates. The bulk of donations for Kanda, Lowenstein and Sluder, $21,000, came from Ralph Nagel and C. Edward McVaney. Nagel and McVaney are Front Range founders of ACE Scholarships, a scholarship fund to send low-income kids to private school, and funders of other conservative school reform candidates, including some in Douglas County. Colorado GOP Vice Chair and former Douglas County Republicans President Mark Baisley hand-delivered the checks from McVaney and, according to Kanda, suggested McVaney wanted the three to use Baisley’s campaign consulting services, which all three did.
On election night, Mikolai and Williams were re-elected to their positions (Mikolai after a four-year term, Williams after being appointed by Mikolai in August to a board seat left vacant by Harry Butler’s death) and Parrish was elected to replace term-limited board member Leslie Kiesler.
— Emily Shockley
Avalon Theatre wins support for renovation, expansion
Drama of the on-again, off-again funding for the first phase a remodeled Avalon Theatre culminated into a happy ending this year.
When costs came in higher than anticipated to restore the historic Avalon Theatre, Grand Junction city councilors were faced with the prospect of pitching in more city money from an already tight budget to ensure the show would go on.
A board of mostly past council members formerly approved sinking $3 million into repairs, but current councilors would have the last say on whether to uphold that funding amount and whether to add to it.
Ultimately, by mid-June, councilors approved a construction budget of $7.6 million, $500,000 over the $3 million mark. The Downtown Development Authority first jumped in, offering to fund $3 million and the Avalon Theatre Foundation also reached its more than $1 million in contributions, though some of those dollars are in pledges.
A late-breaking grant from the Department of Local Affairs for $1 million in mid-December secured the entire $8.2 million for the first phase. Without the extra bump, the theater would be remodeled, but it would be missing some key components.
Come June 2014, theatergoers will be treated to the sight of a gleaming, glass-enclosed lobby, new seats, new technology, a smaller room for movie viewing and events, and accessible restrooms on both floors. Future additions to the theater will expand the stage and bump out the back of the theater for more space to accommodate artists.
— Amy Hamilton
New restrictive gun laws passed in Legislature
When the Colorado Legislature passed a series of new gun laws in 2013 in response to shootings of 20 schoolchildren in Connecticut, the furor split the state politically and geographically.
The changes included a 15-round limit on the size of magazines and expanded background checks and its adoption with no Republican votes and some Democrats in both houses casting “no” votes.
Adoption of the measure set off a series of actions by opponents of the new law, including the recall of two senators who had backed the bills, the resignation of a third and threats of business losses.
Magpul Industries Corp. which designs and makes polymer firearms accessories, said it would leave immediately, but remains in business in Boulder County.
HiViz Shooting Systems of Fort Collins, however, moved about 40 miles north to Laramie, Wyo.
Outdoor film production companies such as the Outdoor Channel said they would no longer film in Colorado as a result of the new restrictive laws, but predicted boycotts of the state by hunters never took shape.
— Gary Harmon
Natural gas liquids leak in Parachute Creek
A small hole in a pressure gauge on a pipeline leaving Williams’ natural gas processing plant north of Parachute created big problems last winter once it was discovered that 10,000 gallons of natural gas liquids had seeped into the ground and groundwater.
Benzene ultimately even reached Parachute Creek, although none has been detected there since August as the company has continued efforts to remediate the spill.
The incident drew media attention beyond Colorado and, as reported in a Daily Sentinel investigative piece, adds to questions over gaps in regulations governing pipelines. The Parachute leak and problems related to September’s Front Range flooding also have been cited in calls for new rules pertaining to oil and gas infrastructure near waterways.
— Dennis Webb
Local chamber gets political
Activity in the political realm is nothing new for the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, but that type of activity came into fine focus this year when it evolved to include financially backing endorsed candidates and actively campaigning on their behalf.
The chamber’s leaders, including President and Chief Executive Officer Diane Schwenke and current board President Michael Burke, said nothing much had changed, and that getting involved in electing so-called business-friendly candidates to public office is a natural progression of the group’s core mission.
Part of that mission is to work to ensure a business-friendly climate.
In the end, the chamber-backed slate of candidates — derisively called “Chambermades” by some — were elected to the Grand Junction City Council.
— Duffy Hayes