Jim Webster: What were we thinking?

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Fast forward to March 2017 and the news being reported at that time:

The Sleeping Giant Casino, next to Yampa Valley Regional Airport, now has been open nine months. (Note: Gov. John Hickenlooper decided not to run for re-election and was replaced by a pro-casino governor.) Local residents are anxious to know if the casino is profitable. Casino management is not divulging any information not required by law. It is a competitive world, after all.

Traffic between the airport and Steamboat Springs has increased by 30 percent since the casino opened. This surge is caused by local residents traveling to and from the casino. The traffic on U.S. Highway 40 has been accompanied by an increase in DUI infractions cited by the Colorado State Patrol. Five fatal accidents have been reported — five more than this time last year.

Steamboat Springs City Council has heard from concerned residents who vow to prevent similar tragedies happening to other families. One proposal is to widen U.S. 40 for 15 miles. Stagecoach residents are concerned (incorrectly) that funds designated to upgrade Routt County Road 14 will be diverted toward improvements on U.S. 40.

Go Alpine reported that it is increasing shuttle trips to the casino, but the City Council is considering implementing free bus service. Routt County Riders has suggested a new bike path between the casino and Twentymile Road because U.S. 40 is considered unsafe for bikers because of the increased traffic.

An undisclosed group is seeking support for damming the Yampa River near Hayden and putting in a tour boat to go from Steamboat’s Multi-modal Transit Center to a point near the casino. The dam would provide “green,” “clean” hydroelectric power to Hayden residents (who now are part of Moffat County) and potentially reduce utility costs. This proposal has some support from local tubers and fishermen, but existing owners of Yampa River water rights will have the final say. In an unrelated issue, the Yampa Valley Electric Association stated that it is not realistic to curb the Hayden Station power plant’s cloud emissions during cold winter days, as desired by some visitors to the casino.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. has been making quiet noises that the casino should contribute more to the airline travel subsidy (which is supported by a local sales tax and Ski Corp.). Airlines are complaining that fuel costs are too high to support service to Steamboat. Skiers had trouble making ski reservations on Presidents Day weekend because of increased visitor traffic to the casino. Without a doubt, Ski Corp. finds itself in stiff competition with Aspen and Vail for skiers. Those resorts are appealing to families who want a “wholesome” and “organic” winter ski experience.

The City Council once again is grappling with a budget deficit and is reconsidering its decision to allocate the lodging tax revenue to a new hang-gliding facility. And, while no one on council is taking credit, the “white elephant” — otherwise known as the Iron Horse Inn — is gone. The inn has been replaced by a new police station. However, it has been noted in the daily police report that an increasing number of police interventions are occurring on the west side of town. This has prompted the new police chief to speculate on the reasons for this and possibly the need for more police presence there.

Finally, Colorado Mountain College reported that it now is offering classes in casino management and will phase out its ski boot-fitting program. The Routt County Board of Commissioners has been successful in overseeing local energy exploration with no reported contamination problems. The commissioners said they have no say in regulating the local casino. No local institution does.

Jim Webster

Steamboat Springs

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