The Home Front: 2017 drug deaths in Colorado ‘almost certainly were the worst in the state’s history’

“Colorado drug deaths almost certainly were the worst in the state’s history last year, as the opioid epidemic morphed into a broader overdose crisis. Deaths from methamphetamine exploded,” reports The Denver Post. “What had been seen as a hopeful downturn in deaths from opioid painkillers reversed. Deaths from heroin and cocaine remained well above where they were just two years ago. All together, drug overdoses probably killed more people last year than car crashes, according to preliminary numbers. And those numbers are more likely to increase than decrease as the state collects the remaining figures and finalizes the data in the coming weeks. “Yes, it’s getting worse, and it continues to grow,” said Rob Valuck, the director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Prevention. ‘It’s a long problem. I’m of the mind that it’s going to be anywhere from five to 10 years until we see this thing turn.'”

“Elizabeth Relford needs only one thing to confirm her belief that drivers are avoiding Interstate 25 and U.S. 85 since Weld County Road 49 and its four, smooth concrete lanes were completed in November,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “‘If you Google a route from Greeley to the airport, it’s going to take you down our road,’ said Relford, Weld County deputy public works director. Now Relford readily admits the county doesn’t have data yet. They do know about 6,000-7,000 vehicles per day traveled Weld 49 before, when it was one lane in either direction, when it was known as the deadliest road in the county.”

“A person has claimed responsibility for the Monday night fire in the Rosevale area on the west side of the Colorado River, authorities said Wednesday,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “The Mesa County District Attorney’s Office is now considering what charges to pursue in the case, which stems from the burning of about 10 acres, the destruction of a double-wide mobile home that housed several families, multiple buildings and vehicles, and the evacuation of 363 houses in Rosevale and the surrounding area.”

“Longmont is challenging the city’s residential solid waste collection customers to pledge to compost or recycle more of their trash and send less to the landfill,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “City officials are inviting residents to participate in what’s being called a “21-Day Challenge” for them to commit to recycling and composting more of their household, yard and garden waste items. That name, according to a city news release, is “hinged on the notion that it takes 21 days to instill a habit and make significant and lasting change.'”

“Drawn in black marker on a piece of broken tile outside a ramshackle, empty wig-wam, the message was as heartfelt as it was heartbreaking,” reports The Pueblo Chieftain. “‘Hefe: Hope you are OK. Been looking for you for months now. I’m worried about you. I have always been there for you and always will be. Call me. Your sister loves you. Snickers.’ In the hidden and often dangerous world that is the homeless encampments along the Fountain Creek river bottom, tragic remnants of broken lives are as plentiful as the mountains of trash that mar the landscape. In the brisk chill of an early Wednesday morning, a multi-agency contingent led by Pueblo Police Sgt. Franklyn Ortega ventured down into the heavily wooded area on the west side of Fountain Creek on what was termed a “homeless outreach operation.” With representation from the Beulah and Pueblo fire departments, Pueblo Parks and Recreation and support from the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office, Ortega and several other police officers used all-terrain vehicles to navigate the nearly impassable, heavily wooded and litter-lined area at the northern end of the city limits.”

“More than 30 businesses want to take on Platte River Power Authority’s latest solar power project,” reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “That’s about triple the offers received for the similar Rawhide Flats Solar project back in 2015. Leaders of the electricity provider for Fort Collins, Loveland, Estes Park and Longmont say the avalanche of offers was no surprise — even as the solar industry deals with the fallout of a recently imposed tariff on imported solar panels. “The solar industry has been growing by leaps and bounds,” said Brad Decker, Platte River’s strategic planning manager. “The technology is advancing and costs are declining. There’s a clear change that’s taking place, and it’s moving pretty quickly.” Paired with a 150-megawatt wind farm in the works, Platte River’s new solar project is expected to bring the electricity provider to about 50 percent renewable energy. The solar project will go online sometime in 2020.”

“The Yampa Valley Housing Authority Executive Director Jason Peasley said Wednesday that the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill approved by both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate on March 22 had good news in it for organizations like his,” reports The Steamboat Pilot. “The local housing authority is intent on seeking federal funds in the form of income tax credits in order to develop more affordable community housing like the 48-unit The Reserves at Steamboat completed last year. This time, the authority has its sights set on doubling the size of a new project.”

“Members of the Thompson school board anticipate voting to hire one of four finalists for superintendent at a special meeting on Thursday, and an assistant superintendent for Boulder Valley School District seems to be their top choice,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “Though the board members could not vote at their regular Wednesday meeting, per state law, they did discuss the four finalists, and Marc Schaffer received the most endorsements from the board. Another finalist, Daniel Snowberger, who is superintendent in Durango, was at least one board member’s top choice but, after hearing concerns about possible school reform ties from teachers within the district, the majority of school board members said they did not support Snowberger.”

“More than a year before the latest round of school shootings, Eagle County taxpayers voted to spend more than $6.3 million on new school security systems,” reports Vail Daily. “Most of that security gear is installed, making it much more difficult for people to get into schools who aren’t supposed to be there. And sure, it’s also a little more inconvenient for visitors, but in the trade-off between security and convenience, security wins, say Eagle County Schools officials. ‘This kind of technology is pretty groundbreaking for school districts. For a district our size to have a system this sophisticated is great. We can be proud of what it is and what it does for us,’ said Todd Shahan, Eagle County Schools’ chief technology officer. ‘We get a lot more control over the building.'”

“There was no clear mapping error at the 311 Mapleton Ave. site, the Boulder City Council ruled late Tuesday night, bringing to an end a very obscure but very heated controversy over the land-use designation of one quarter of a development site,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “All council members but Jill Adler Grano and Bob Yates voted together, bucking the recommendation of city staff, who advised that there was “clearly” a mapping error. ‘I don’t think there’s anything clear about this at all,’ Councilwoman Mirabai Nagle said. Said Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Brockett, ‘This is probably, but not clearly, a mapping error.’ The vote was a major win for the hundreds of neighborhood activists who organized against a proposed land-use redesignation, and it gave the developers a potential roadblock moving forward.”

“City council members for the first time met face to face Wednesday with officials from Black Hills Energy to talk about the city’s potential franchise renewal agreement and to share concerns and complaints that they’ve heard from a number of constituents,” reports The Cañon City Daily Record. “Vance Crocker, the vice president of operations for Black Hills Energy, who started in September, said he has been transitioning from listening and learning to now making changes and working to improve partnerships.”

“It’s been more than a year since the Colorado Springs Police Department cut some of its proactive units amid a ‘critical’ staffing shortage that left officers feeling unprotected and citizens waiting more than 14 minutes for help, but officials say the time has come to rebuild,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “The department will reinstate one Impact Unit and one Fugitive Unit in May. “It’s just a good start to move forward,” spokesman Lt. Howard Black said. Though the focus of the units will be to remove prolific offenders responsible for the lion’s share of city crime, the underlying goal is largely the same as it was in September: to drive down response times, which this year dropped to 11 minutes and 27 seconds – still more than three minutes above the target goal of 8 minutes.”

The Colorado Independent is a statewide online news source operating in a time when spin is plentiful, but factual, fair and unflinching news in the public interest is all too rare. Our award-winning team of veteran investigative and explanatory reporters and news columnists aims to amplify the voices of Coloradans whose stories are unheard, shine light on the relationships between people, power and policy, and hold public officials to account. We strive to report the news with context, social conscience, and soul, and to give Coloradans the insight they need to promote conversation, understanding and progress in this square, swing state we call home.