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Conservation, economic projects introduced at Dolores board meeting

Screenshot from YouTubeDirector of Western Leaders Network Gwen Lachelt urged the Town of Dolores to commit to water and land conservation efforts during the Monday board meeting.
Conservation and economic efforts are in the works for Montezuma and Dolores Counties, Ute Mountain Utes

The town of Dolores held a board meeting Monday night, during which two special presentations were given regarding conservation efforts and diversification of the regional economy.

The meeting was available to attend in person or virtually on Zoom.

Gwen Lachelt, Executive Director of Western Leaders Network, proposed the implementation of a local 30x30 Keep America Beautiful Project resolution.

The Western Leaders Network is composed of 450 elected local and tribal officials advocating for conservation efforts in the eight interior western states, she said.

Her urging for the town to adopt a local resolution is in line with an initiative that aims to protect 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

These efforts were set in motion by President Biden’s Jan. 27 executive order: Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.

“Building support for conservation really takes everybody,” she said in the meeting. “I’ve always said that local elected officials have outsized power. It really says something to our federal delegation when the local board passes a resolution or writes a letter regarding a particular issue — it demonstrates why it spreads support.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior, in partnership with the departments of agriculture, commerce and Council on Environmental Quality, released a preliminary report this year outlining three major threats to the natural world: the disappearance of nature, climate change and inequitable access to the outdoors. It suggested guiding principles for addressing and mitigating these problems.

“I’m in support,” said Dolores Mayor Chad Wheelus in the meeting. “I think it ties in nicely to our strategic visionary for our town, which is all about protecting our surrounding area — because that is what we’re reliant on as a town.”

The board agreed to customize a resolution template provided by Western Leaders Network pledging the town’s support in land and water conservation.

The town’s adoption of a resolution would not affect any existing or ongoing projects, Lachelt said.

“It’s not tied to oil and gas production,” she said. “It’s more about protecting lands and waters for future generations. Most of the oil and gas fields are already released or pending leases so it shouldn’t affect oil and gas development.”

Wheelus said the public will be welcome to comment after the board writes the resolution.

Next on the presentation lineup was a discussion on economic development from Montezuma County Administrator Shak Powers and Rachael Marchbanks, economic development coordinator for the town of Mancos.

They notified the board that the region comprising Montezuma and Dolores Counties, alongside the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, was awarded a spot in the Colorado Rural Resiliency and Recovery Roadmap program.

In June, 16 rural regions were chosen to participate in the program, and are receiving resources to build individualized economic “roadmaps” to revitalize their communities.

The program provides for a technical assistant to facilitate the process of building a development plan.

To his understanding, completing the roadmap would open the door for future funding of development projects, Powers told The Journal.

“Our vision is to be able to have an economy that sustains the population of the county,” he said.

Morgan Ferris, Economic Recovery Grants Project Manager at Colorado Department of Local Affairs, is serving as the region’s technical assistant.

Powers said in the meeting that local economies, largely based on oil, gas and tourism “took a beating” — as well as the agricultural sector amid drought.

“Diversifying our economy to move forward is not an option at this point,” he said.

Recognized as a partner of the program, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe already received funds, but is looking to collaborate with Montezuma and Dolores Counties in the effort, Marchbanks said.

“There was a huge effort of collaboration during the pandemic and we really would like to keep going,” Marchbanks said at the meeting. “I think one thing we’ve realized is that we’re not in our own little islands as much as we like to operate that way.”

Powers said officials are identifying which local businesses may be looking to relocate or expand and where might be good places for them to go.

The results from a survey administered by Montezuma County will be used in gauging area economic needs, including which businesses may be a good addition to Montezuma County, Powers said.

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Officials met with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which said that it would be preferable for relocated building to be established in clusters, rather than spread out, Powers said.

Housing and frequent mass transportation are other area needs that could potentially be addressed by the grant.

Powers said that ideally, Montezuma County would one day provide affordable housing for median-income earners without the need for government subsidies to become homeowners. He also hopes the roadmap will bolster employment opportunities, he said.