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Letter to the Editor

No identity

Dear Editor::

Does Pagosa need a big box store? Would the town really retain all those sales tax revenues? Can small businesses survive if a Walmart comes to town? These are questions that are challenging the community — again — and topics that are sure to jump start a dead dinner party.

Problem is, they’re the wrong questions. Pagosa Springs, as economically vulnerable as it is right now, can withstand the substantial impacts of a big box (if accompanied by an economic development plan designed to support all businesses in the community).

Big box isn’t the issue. The absence of community vision is. Pagosa Springs doesn’t know what it wants to be, and just like a moody teenager trying on different personas, this lack of identity is painful, disorienting, and unpredictable. Ordinances and regulations change as often as the weather. Capital projects lurch forward haltingly. The Comprehensive Plan, the town’s “constitution,” seems to be regarded more as an inconvenient suggestion than a guide for consistent policy creation.

The hope is that loosened regulations and economic incentives will say to the development community: “Hey, look at us, we’re open for business!” The sad truth is that what it really says is: ”“We don’t know who we are.” Any successful developer will tell you that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. They will see the erratic and confused policy-making, shake their heads, and take their money elsewhere.

The big box issue is a symptom of a systemic problem — lack of an enduring vision, created by the people, and adhered to in public policy and action. Short-term fixes will ensure one thing ­— that the community remains stuck and reactive to volatile externalities.

Creating this vision is the responsibility of the people, not consultants or even elected officials. Councilors and commissioners can, and should, come and go. However, a community’s hopes and dreams should abide with the people, and it’s the process itself that results in community. I am reading Terry Tempest William’s “The Open Space of Democracy,” where she talks about her own community’s (Castle Valley, Utah) struggle with finding its voice. She says that “it is through the process of defining what we want as a town that we are becoming a real community. It is through the act of participation that we change … Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions?”

I hope there can be a different dialog, one where people can hold different perspectives — instead of “either/or,” it becomes “both/and.” Economic development and environmental sustainability. The construction industry and the arts. Big box and small independent businesses. It has to start with a vision — one that is based on the truth of what the community is, and a dream for what it wants to be. These are conversations held around the dinner table, on the street corner, in the church basement. A lasting, true vision comes from grass roots — it has to. Without it, Pagosa will continue to be buffeted by the winds of change without knowing where home is.

(Full disclosure: I am a former big box task force member who worked on the original ordinance, town councilor, and resident of Pagosa Springs.)


Angela Atkinson


Dear Editor:

After reading about the marijuana bust/sting operation in the newspaper I was quite shocked to discover that my individual private property rights as a free citizen are not as secure as I thought they were. I was shocked to learn how cavalier the law is in interpreting probable cause doctrine as it applies to the protections of private property for free citizens in the state of Colorado. After reading and then re-reading the story I could not help but wonder how police preselect their targets for these kinds of sting operations. Surely police must present a body of preliminary evidence to judges to establish probable cause which authorizes them to conduct such costly and intensive paramilitary operations on private property. After reading the article I couldn’t help but wonder how our laws justify a military helicopter hovering outside an individual’s living room window providing authorities an opportunity to view inside the residence who then presume that the houseplants behind the window are marijuana and who then proceed to mount a ground search of private property which initially ignores the (legal) houseplants but instead searches for evidence of illegal activity until finding some and then uses this evidence to obtain a search warrant!

Evidently I am not well versed in civil law and I am quite surprised to learn from the article that police, as officers of the peace are authorized to go out of their way to enter private property without a warrant in an owner’s absence and walk around searching for evidence of illegal activities.

Surely an individual must have a prior record of serious criminal activities in order to be targeted for this kind of investigation. Perhaps this information was simply not reported in the article. Do authorities have the privilege to sting anyone anytime they wish? Or does the law care? Does the discovery of evidence of illegal activity justify the search means employed? As a citizen of what I understood to be a state guaranteeing my private property rights I find much of this story surprising. It leaves me considering my civil liberties and wondering how judges constrain how far police can go beyond my front door without a warrant as they peruse my private property while I’m not home.

Barr Bentley

Health rationing

Dear Editor:

Between reading letters to the editor and attending town hall meetings, it seems Americans are at war with each other over how we should provide health care to our citizens. The name calling and yelling seem to be over details and myths about details (socialized medicine, death panels, etc.).

Perhaps we should lower the rhetoric and first debate what type of nation we are seeking to preserve or create. Do we believe, as a country, that every citizen has an entitlement or right to some basic level of healthcare? If that is the case, then the debate about “universal health care” and “single payer health plans” would be appropriate to address questions such as the levels of care, reimbursement rates to physicians, and limits on care to be provided (rationing).

If, on the other hand, we believe that health care is the province of our free market system we could spend time discussing a different set of questions. What degree of government regulation — state or federal — should insurance companies have to comply? Should we repeal, or at least scale back, government insurance programs including Medicare, Medicaid, VA Heath, TRICARE and CHIP?

My father was a physician before the government programs, and back then health care was rationed. It was rationed based on an individual’s ability to negotiate a payment with physicians like Dad. Health care was delivered if Dad would either accept the fee offered or decide to donate his services.

Later we, as a nation, instituted governmental responses to address matters of national health such as influenza, polio and cancer. We diverted limited tax dollars to support research and monitor public health dangers such as H1N1.

Later we decided certain groups — seniors, poor children, veterans, military personnel — deserved special attention. We developed government health systems (VA) and reimbursement plans (government insurance) to fund physician and hospital care to those particular groups. Even with these plans, health care continues to be rationed based on individual need and public funding.

During our period of prosperity after World War II many companies adopted health benefits for employees thus funding health care for actively employed people. Today we see an erosion of those benefits as companies seek to compete in a down economy and world competition. For those still covered under those plans, health care is rationed by the terms of the employer’s chosen health plan.

To me, the question of rationing is the second question to be debated. The first question is, “What kind of entitlement to health care do we provide for our citizens?” That question, however, will not be answered by shouting and impugning each other’s motives.

Let’s debate our goals, not our motives. Then we can work on solutions.

Jay Davison


Dear Editor:

In the second step of the tax appeal process,the County Board of Equalization, I would like to submit the following:

1) In James Robinson’s 6/10/09 article “Valuations outrage taxpayers” Keren Prior states that the “mass appraisal method” is dictated by state statue.

2) My question is: What is the “mass appraisal method” and what are its guidelines (Mass Appraisal for Property Taxation)?

Per my research, it is my understanding that one guideline/requirement is that the property be inspected by a state accredited appraiser. The man, Ken Smith, who was sent out twice by the county assessor’s office to inspect my property is not an appraiser, by his own admission.

It takes a considerable amount of education to get your first license—registered appraiser; then you have to work for two years under a licensed or certified appraiser, get more education and testing to get your licensed appraiser license so that you can sign your own appraisals; after more education, years of experience and state testing, you can apply for your certified residental license. Many years, education and experience to have these licenses.

3) In this tax appeal process, our commissioners should have had a county Board of Equalization in place prior to 8/1/09 when the Notice of Determination was sent out.

4)If you are concerned about your tax assessments and have questions about the mass appraisal method as conducted by our county assessor’s Office, possibly we can unite to share our research and work with this problem. There are many guidelines within this mass appraisal method to be considered, and just because it may be a computer generated model, does mean it is representing values accurately.

Anyone interested in working to unite around this problem, please call me, Helena Gunther, at 731-5529.

Helena Gunther

Not heard

Dear Editor:

Well, the wife and I drove for over an hour over to Durango Thursday, Aug. 27, to go to the Mark Udall Town Hall meeting on energy at the La Plata County Courthouse. What a fiasco! We couldn’t get in, as they only allowed 140 people in, and we were four bodies shy of making it into the “chosen few.” They did say we could hear the whole thing (and we did want to hear the whole thing), as speakers were set up outside on the lawn. Naturally, the speakers either didn’t work at all, or were cutting in and out to the point of extreme irritation. Now, the man is a Senator of these United States, and he couldn’t even get a speaker working for his constituents (about 300 of us) who had to sit out on the front lawn of the courthouse, and he had a month to get it done. I know this because I got his postcard announcing the meeting at least a month ago.

It seems to me that an aspiring politician wants to be heard (unless he is trying to do something sneaky), and Mark Udall was not heard. We left that courthouse lawn, angry and with that same old feeling that, once again, we are being governed by the gang that can’t shoot straight! or, in other words, The party that can’t get it right!

Senator Udall wants our trust and support for himself, his fellow Senator Bennet, his Democratic partner majorities in the Senate, the House, and his president and his administration, because they know what is best for us and this whole country, and they know how to get things done and get things done right! Well, the whole group of them couldn’t even get a loudspeaker to work, given a month of time to get it done. Now, Senator Udall will probably blame his staff or his Democratic affiliates in Durango for the SNAFU, but a good commander has to remember that he can delegate the authority, be he can never delegate the responsibility for getting things done. Senator Udall is responsible for what is done or isn’t done, not only for the speaker problem, but also for the legislation he supports and passes in Washington.

Maybe this speaker problem is just a “small” thing, but the senator had better remember that when you take care of the small things, the big things will take care of themselves. If he is to gain our trust and support, he had better convince us that he has the knowledge of and can take care of the smallest thing and get it done right! in all this grandiose legislation being touted by his party. If the loudspeaker problem is any indication, we are not convinced that the Democratic Party can get anything done right. Just call this letter “food for thought” for the elections of 2010.

Jerry Hines

Search and Rescue

Dear Editor:

This is written in recognition of and appreciation for the Archuleta County Search and Rescue unit. On Aug. 22, three of our family members were overdue from a hike above Williams Creek Reservoir. We contacted dispatch about 11 p.m. and quickly were talking with search and rescue. They responded immediately, sending people to trailheads and mobilizing “hasty” teams to run the trail looking for our relatives. Everyone we had contact with was completely professional and helpful. They took our situation seriously, and were going out into the dark and cold when our relatives made it back to camp, unharmed but exhausted. Mike Legarski (not sure of his name), our main contact with search and rescue, seemed as glad to see them as we were.

We are very grateful for the assistance and support of the Archuleta County Search and Rescue team.


Dan and Martha Johnson and the Johnson family

Tragic mistake

Dear Editor:

Judging from the article in the Aug. 27 SUN about “big box regs,” the town is making a tragic mistake. The decision to abandon elements of the regulations limiting store size in order to accommodate a new large format retailer will have drastic consequences as outlined in the 2005 study by Economic Planning Systems commissioned by the town and the county. This study concluded that while a big box retailer “would help curb leakage, it would come at too high a price.”

Having been a part-time resident of Frisco, Colo., in the 1980s and beyond, I have seen these drastic consequences. When Wal-Mart came to town, the character of the community changed. Local retailers were displaced. The sporting goods store on Main Street closed. The hardware store tried to survive by renting out part of its space and taking on a line of flooring, but it eventually failed. A ski shop which tried to survive summers with fishing tackle also closed. And these are only specific examples.

Pagosa area residents can think of local retail operations which would follow this same path in the wake of a big box store. Maybe the town council (except Shari Pierce) believes this would be a good move for the local economy, but their decision is a reckless action which ignores the 2005 study and the overwhelming opposition voiced by the attendees of the recent council meeting. The decision is just plain wrong.

Jim Lincoln

Bring in cheap

Dear Editor:

To our friends, acquaintances and those we have not met yet in Pagosa Springs. About 15 years ago, my husband and I decided we would like to retire in the mountains. We found the perfect place, Pagosa Springs, and bought a lot and plan to build a home there. Why Pagosa? Because of the charm and hometown atmosphere, the absolute beauty, the quality of life, the wonderful people and it just felt right. And, because there is no Wal-Mart! So, Wendell’s (letter of August 6), not all of us want to see big box competition in our community.

Let me tell you what has happened in towns in California when Wal-Mart opened. In Tuolumne County, Wal-Mart petitioned that they would bring good jobs to the community and get folks off of welfare. Well, my social worker friend who works in that county tells me Wal-Mart DID come into the community. And they brought very few full time jobs with benefits — everyone else works part time for lower wages. Guess what? The people on welfare are still on welfare because they still qualify even though “employed.” In Lompoc, Calif., the Wal-Mart came to town. One by one, some of the small business owners closed their doors. Within a year K-Mart closed, too. Kresge is a huge corporation and their prices are competitive with Wal-Mart, but people stopped shopping at K-Mart anyway. In Porterville, Calif., the once thriving downtown full of family owned businesses became a ghost town after Wal-Mart opened.

Many years ago I heard the expression “you can’t afford to buy cheap furniture.” At the time I didn’t understand what that meant. For those of you who still don’t get it, it means that if you buy cheap (anything) you will be replacing it again and again (costing much more in the long run). Therefore, if you buy quality, it will last. I have purchased quality items from local shops in Pagosa. That is preferable to buying cheap at Wal-Mart. I patronize my local (in Arroyo Grande) family owned coffee house, not Starbucks, to support family owned businesses.

I agree we need commerce, so here’s a solution for economic development, Mr. Wendell, and the young woman in the “whaddaya think?” column. Find some friends, make a business plan and open your own (shoe) store — but sell quality, not junk. Bring your own vision of commerce to the town. Find out what else the town needs, then act on it. If you think a variety store is the hot ticket, then open a variety store. But be sure that the town can support your venture.

I totally agree with the Bendure and Birt families of Mesa, Ariz. (letter of Aug. 6) that the town needs to use caution in these lifestyle altering decisions. I, for one, do not want to drive into town and see an eyesore Wal-Mart superstore blocking the beautiful mountain views! I don’t want to see our town become cheap, and if you bring in Wal-Mart, you bring in cheap. Pagosa is a quality community now, let’s keep it that way. Small business should be encouraged and patronized. If you bring in Wal-Mart, then Mr. Goodman will not have to sell his store — Wal-Mart will force him out of business!

Debra May

Arroyo Grande, Calif.

Good for all of us

Dear Editor:

In a few months I will become a member of the most efficient health insurance organization in America — Medicare. At an overhead rate of 3 percent it far outperforms private insurance plans whose overhead (cost of doing business plus profit) runs anywhere from 20-28 percent and up. In 2008 revenues for private insurers ran to $500 billion — at Medicare’s rate of efficiency that would have been at least another $100 billion devoted to patient care. And I won’t have to worry about pre-existing conditions or rescissions (dropping of coverage because I become ill). And I will retain my preferred physician; together we will make the health care decisions that are best for me. This is a great “public option” for my healthcare.? And for a “public option” for everyone we should stick with what we know and what works.? I think anyone who wants to should be able to enroll in Medicare or the health care plan our elected representatives and federal employees have (Federal Employees Health Benefits Program).

Why make a public option available to anyone? Because good sound health insurance benefits us all, not only the presently 43,000,000+ Americans who are uninsured. And lack of insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year, according to a 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences ( That’s one death every 30 minutes.? In addition catastrophic illness can literally drive you to the poorhouse. Research reported in the American Journal of Medicine ( indicated that in 2007 62 percent of American bankruptcies are linked to medical bills. These “medical bankruptcies” have increased 50 percent in just six years; and 78 percent of these people had health insurance, but gaps and inadequacies left them unprotected when hit with devastating bills.? And if you don’t have insurance you tend to wait until it is much more expensive to access health care — more expensive that providing good, preventive care from the in the first place. That’s a cost we can easily avoid.? Even for those with insurance the average cost of premiums have gone up 120 percent since 2000; out-of-pocket costs have risen 115 percent in that same period. At this rate family coverage will cost over $25,000 by 2025. And the US cannot be fully competitive in the world if it spends twice as much on health care as other industrialized nations.

And, as AARP has pointed out time again, we should be making these decisions based on facts. As AARP points out: 1) Health care reform isn’t socialized medicine and will not lead to rationed care. You’ll still be able to choose your own doctor and health insurance plan. 2) Under health care reform, any decisions regarding your health will continue to be made by you, your doctor and your family — not by the government. 3) We can’t afford not to fix health care. If we do nothing now, the cost of health care premiums will double in the next seven years. 4) Health care reform will strengthen, not hurt, Medicare.

So join with me in supporting superior, world-class public health care. Write your Congressional representatives today. It’s good for all of us.

Terry Pickett

Speak out

Dear Editor:

Recently, I read at least three articles in The Pagosa SUN supporting the controversial health care reform Congressional Democrats (read Obama) wishes to impose on the citizens of our country. While I have no direct experience with Canadian nor English health care, I have had personal experience with Asian, Latin American, German and U.S.A. health care. I have never had a bad experience with doctors nor hospital stays abroad, but when compared to the great doctors and superior treatment and facilities in the U.S.A., there is no doubt we are a blessed nation.

It was interesting to read the article in The Pagosa SUN by two doctors with 60 years combined experience who touted Cuban health care over U.S.A. health care. I recently read the exact verbiage in an article attributed to Obama’s health care reform plan extracted from a publication by the American Medical Association.

Having spent many years in third world countries, I am very well aware of the Cuban medical teams sent to underdeveloped countries. Most Americans are aware of the poverty in Cuba and Castro’s efforts to create a superior medical system and to export communism under the guise of good will. I cannot dispute the skill of the Cuban doctors and nurses because I was never personally treated by these teams. It is recognized, however, that many EMTs in the U.S.A. are as highly trained as Cuban doctors, especially those sent abroad to expand Cuban influence. According to what I’ve heard and read, they are, for the most part, woefully supplied and function with minimal equipment and less than sanitary conditions. The exception is when Cuba wants to impress visitors. Visitors are given access to the best-equipped and staffed hospitals.

It is disturbing when I hear an American say that the USA medical system is not as good as that of Cuba, Canada or Europe. I find myself in disbelief that any American can say we are inferior. We definitely need to improve many things — tort reform, billing system abuse and insurance reimbursements are a few that come to mind. In no way should Americans be pressured to accept socialized medicine and we must speak out against the control Congressional Democrats and the current administration is trying to impose on our freedoms.

Judi Stansbury

Urgent concerns

Dear Editor:

I am writing with what I consider are urgent concerns about conditions at the animal shelter and unfair behavioral evaluations that are being conducted on the dogs which are resulting in excessive and unwarranted numbers of euthanizations. At least 22 dog euthanizations have been reported up to June 2009, and there have been more since that time. Previous years’ dog euthanizations are as follows: 2005 — 46 including 3 puppies; 2006 — 43, including 14 puppies; 2007 — 24 (no puppies); 2008 — 13 (no puppies). Although the euthanizations for 2007 and 2008 decreased, the shelter has euthanized over 22 dogs in just six months in 2009, and they are well on their way to matching, if not exceeding, 2005 and 2006 statistics. This, to me, is alarming.

Many of these dogs were euthanized specifically for aggressive temperaments. In my opinion, the Humane Society of Pagosa Springs conducts temperament testing on the dogs that is fear-based and designed to provoke aggression that sets the dogs up for failure. It is highly judgmental and made with no input from shelter staff. In fact, only one person determines whether an otherwise potentially adoptable dog lives or dies. Testing is done until a negative reaction is seen, despite a dog’s initial non-aggression. Food aggression tests are unfair; second and third evaluations are rarely allowed, and I know that in one particular case, when a reevaluation was permitted after behavioral modification by a shelter employee, and the dog passed, the dog was nevertheless euthanized just to teach the shelter employee a lesson.

Sometimes a frightened animal will bite an employee upon being brought into the shelter. Dogs sometimes bite a veterinarian upon examination. Does that mean the dog is aggressive? The Humane Society of Pagosa Springs’ policy is that such dogs are immediately euthanized after the 10 day mandatory rabies hold rather than be allowed a second evaluation. Evaluations at two other shelters that I researched are always conducted on dogs after the mandatory rabies hold for biting to determine if it was an isolated incident. Most of these animals are rehabilitated, pass the evaluation and are considered adoptable. Pagosa Springs’ dogs are not given a chance to be fairly assessed and rehabilitated, when appropriate testing will weed out those dogs that are truly dangerous.

The shelters that I researched conduct their behavioral evaluations in a gentle manner, are designed to take into account the stressful situation that the dog is in, and conduct second and sometimes third evaluations. Food aggression tests are done two or three times, allowing the dog to “free feed” (giving them as much food as they can eat) to ensure fair testing. These shelters make euthanasia decisions with input from shelter employees to ensure no dog is put down needlessly or without consideration of all factors. They engage in behavioral modification to correct deficiencies in a dog’s behavior.

For persons who are as concerned as I am about these matters, go to a board meeting and demand fair temperament testing, rehabilitation and behavioral modification, and that euthansia of an animal be a team decision. Demand that the bylaws be amended to allow evaluations on rabies holds, ask why puppies are being euthanized and why they are putting two dogs to a kennel that does not meet minimum space requirements instead of purchasing more kennels or allowing exercise of the dogs. Hold them accountable to the Department of Agriculture’s rules and regulations pertaining to the administration and enforcement of the Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act, (PACFA), found in the Colorado Code of Regulations at 8 CCR 1201-11. (See If you have a complaint, call the Department of Agriculture at (303) 239-4100. If you are a member, ask for the financial records to which you are entitled. Financial records are open to any member of the Humane Society and the statutes relating to this can be found at C.R.S. § 7-136-101 et seq.

Lisa Toy

Skate park

Dear Editor:

I am writing this letter in response to David and Carol Brown’s letter to The SUN printed on Aug. 27.

I would like to first address the matter of the skatepark interrupting “ the peace and tranquility of others enjoying the beauty of the river …” I have spent countless hours at the 8th Street park, as well as many concrete parks in various states, as I have five sons who skate. I have never seen any skaters anywhere who play their music out loud. They prefer to use personal devices with ear buds. They also don’t yell when they skate as it is a sport that takes much focus and concentration. If a skater lands a trick successfully, the others will cheer, just like at any other team sporting event. This sound would not carry from the proposed location (next to the former Power House) all the way to the river and picnic area.

If sound was a major issue with skateparks, I doubt that the large, concrete Alamosa park in Albuquerque would have been built right next to a public library and family clinic.

In reference to the issue that the park would “… severely limit the various other civic organizations use of Town Park as their venue,” I would like to add a point made by Jon King at the Aug. 20 Town Council meeting: The entire area there is approximately 85,000 square feet of open space. The proposed design of the skate park, which has been in the planning stages for well over a year, is only about 8,500-9,000 square feet. That would leave plenty of space left for all of the other uses, such as the carnival, the ColorFest balloon glow and team sport practices.

The town needs to provide a location for this park so that Parks and Recreation can apply for the Colorado Great Outdoors grant. We have missed another application deadline and the next one is March 2010.

The skaters and their families have been keeping up their end of the deal, raising money and awareness of this growing sport, over the course of the last four years or so. There was a great turnout of volunteers on Sunday, Aug. 30, at Reservoir Hill, for the cleanup of dead trees and debris, as promised.

I know that skateboarding is not considered a “team sport” but I have to say, the teamwork involved with these kids and their families, all supporting each other purely for the love of the sport, is truly inspiring. I am proud to be a part of this vital part of the community of Pagosa Springs.

Jackie Weber