Welcome to the Third World

Since the Re-2 school board voted to close schools one day a week, I’ve been talking to people. Everyone is still in shock. Reality is slowly sinking in. We won’t fully realize the impact until the 2012-13 school year begins with the new 4-day week. Each person has a unique perspective. From old-timers who believe kids belong in school five days a week and then some, to single moms who don’t know what they’re going to do. Everyone is angry. And everyone asks the same question:  “Are we being punished because the mill levy override was defeated last fall?”

Admittedly, I’m an ignorant little fear muffin but I’m not stupid. I know funding for school districts comes from property taxes. I voted for the mill levy override last November because I have two grandkids in the Re-2 school district. Unfortunately it was defeated.

I voted for the mill levy override even though I knew Garfield County was sitting on more than $120 million in cash reserves from oil & gas severance taxes. I voted to increase our property taxes even though we have to buy bottled water because we can’t drink Silt’s water anymore, which is like a $400/year water tax for safe drinking water.

I believed then what I believe now. Garfield County has the money to fund all three school districts with grants, well into the future. But I voted for the mill levy because I also believed the BOCC would not provide grant funding to the school districts. In the past we’ve been told they were saving those oil & gas severance tax revenues for a “rainy day”. I guess they meant that literally. It doesn’t rain much in Garfield County. Evidently our school districts going broke isn’t enough of an emergency for the BOCC.

To quote George W. Bush, who saddled us with the No Child Left Behind Act, “Is our children learning?” The Re-2 school board has devised their own plan to leave all children behind. I have no doubt GarCo’s school districts have their problems, including Re-2. I read The Paper. But whatever the internal problems, or administrative problems, they don’t matter when it comes to funding. Kids are all that matter. Education is all that matters.

If we are being punished, well, we’re used to it. Re-2 school district is in western Garfield County – Rifle-Silt-New Castle. Some call it “ground zero” for oil & gas drilling. Some call it the “national sacrifice zone”. I call it “little Iraq” because this has been and continues to be one long, full-scale invasion since 2003.

The cumulative impacts of oil & gas drilling are upon us. Our water isn’t safe to drink. Creeks, watersheds, wells, municipal water supplies, and the Colorado River are contaminated with methane, benzene, toluene, arsenic, etc. – at EPA-approved acceptable levels, of course. Our air stinks. It’s polluted with a chemical soup of poisons ending in “ene” and “ane”, plus nasty hydrogen sulfide. And some radioactive particles thrown into the mix, too. On more humid, low ceiling, cloudy days the pollution materializes into an ugly brown cloud hanging over the valley as far as the eye can see from the Flattops. It makes me cry because I remember when the brown cloud didn’t exist.

We put up with constant truck traffic in an endless stream 24/7. The roads and streets are in terrible shape. Potholes-r-us.  The worst roads are those we locals use to get away from the dirty air and water and head to the Flattops. The Buford Road is a damn mess. Some sections are like a Jeep trail.

When we moved to Silt in 1996, Battlement Mesa was named among the top 20 best retirement communities. We were far from retirement but we took it as a sign this area was a good investment for our family’s future. Now Battlement Mesa has become another gas patch, just like Silt.

Why do we stay? Declining property values. We own a home that isn’t worth what it once was. Like everyone else, if we sell now, we’d be lucky to break even. And go where? Our friends Bill and Birdie bought some land down in Paonia where they plan to retire. They’ve been bugging us for years to check it out and get away from the gas patch. Now the oil & gas dragon is breathing down Paonia’s neck.

We stay because we fell in love with the land – before the invasion. The sunsets. The Colorado River. Mamm Mountain. The Roan. The Gaps. The Flattops. The people. The horses. The wildlife. The skiing. The biking. There’s a lot to love. Until 5 years ago, Kay Larson’s horse ranch was one block away from my house. Before the natural gas boom, Garfield County boasted clean air, endless natural beauty, a healthy and growing economy, and good schools. Oops – there goes the school district.

Sadly, we have watched the quality of life in western Garfield County decline steadily as oil & gas drilling has increased. So yeah. We know all about punishment.

Welcome to the Third World.

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