Soap Box

To keep long-term rights, act now
07/26/2018

To the editor,

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court raises many troubling questions, but for me this question is critical: 40 years from now, will the American people have fewer rights and opportunities than we do now?

Judge Kavanaugh has consistently decided against working people’s rights, consumers’ rights, voting rights, women’s rights, the right to privacy, and science-based protections for our environment and public health. He has been outright hostile to the Affordable Care Act and the more overarching idea that all Americans need access to quality, affordable health care. He has turned a blind eye to elderly Americans and their retirement security. He consistently favors large, multinational corporations and Wall Street over Main Street and the majority of Americans. His decisions have aimed to overturn fundamental legal protections and advances gained throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, striking at the heart of our American Dream.

Many have referred to Kavanaugh as “an originalist,” a jurist committed to interpreting our Constitution “as it is written.” Since 1787, we the people have worked to expand human rights, civil rights and equal protection under the law for ALL, not just a privileged few. Kavanaugh’s jurisprudence aims to roll back these advances while – ironically – also lending legal weight to something that emphatically was NOT in our 1787 Constitution: corporate personhood.

His decisions suggest that he does not realize or does not care that the economic opportunity ladder in our country is now missing critical rungs for the middle class due in part to recent court cases that unabashedly favor large corporations over employees and consumers.

Members of the U.S. House have no direct authority on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominees, but our representatives do have the responsibility to protect our rights through Legislation. House members have the duty to check and balance the powers of the Executive and Judicial branches, but Scott Tipton has proven that he is unwilling to protect what voters in the 3rd Congressional District value. Now – more than ever – we need a congresswoman who can effectively legislate and protect the interests of all the people.

If you are as committed as I am to ensuring that in 40 years we all have fundamental legal protections and real economic opportunities, please consider funneling your concern into action. Our campaign needs as many volunteers as we can get.

– Diane Mitsch Bush, Democratic nominee for Congress

Waiting for an accidental tourist
07/19/2018

To the editor,

“It’s a good thing we have life insurance,” grumbled a tourist cautiously maneuvering his way across the street with his family. Walking and driving in downtown Durango is a harrowing experience for all. The only reasonably safe place was College and Main, where pedestrians had their own light and were left in peace. But with great forethought that, too, has been turned into an accident waiting to happen.

– Diane Dalton, Durango

Getting aboard electric train idea
07/19/2018

To the editor,

Did the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad coal-fired train cause the devastating 416 Fire? We may never know, but we do know that fires get started – and put out – by the D&SNGRR often enough that every train is followed by a tender intended to suppress flames.

Put that together with the fact that Durango is in an exceptional drought – an official classification that takes it beyond extreme – and it’s clear that Durango’s economic engine needs to find a new way to chug into the future.

Wouldn’t it be great to develop an electric train that would be used in conjunction with the original coal-fired locomotives? Let’s imagine what a trip from the past into the future would look like.

The experience would be exactly the same as it always has been at the Durango station and for the first 11 miles of the 46-mile trip. The locomotive would roll out in all of its loud, steamy, smoky majesty and the train would rum-

ble through town and chug its way up the valley, giving passengers the unique experience that only a steam train can provide. Then, before the climbing begins and the foliage becomes thicker, the coal-powered locomotive would be exchanged for a battery-powered electric engine.

The vintage cars would rock back and forth and clunk along the old track just as if a steam locomotive were haul-in them, but without the smoke and ash, periodic breakdowns and potential for starting a fire. For train enthusiasts who want to enjoy an authentic old-time train ride, there would be times when conditions would allow for the original steam locomotives to bring the train all the way to Silverton.

The electric locomotive modules – call them ELMOs – would be designed to travel at low speed and create high torque for the climb to Silverton. ELMOs would be self-contained, using the same existing technology that can be found in other electric vehicles built by a growing list of companies that includes Ford, GM, BYD, Nissan and Tesla.

Multiple ELMOs could be easily joined to one another depending on load size, similar to what is already common practice in freight trains. The return trip, almost all downhill, would offer plenty of opportunity to recharge the bat- teries using regenerative breaking.

Many train passengers would certainly prefer a cleaner, less-polluting ride that all but eliminates the risk of fire. An even greener option that dispenses with a steam engine altogether – call it The Wilderness Express – would surely appeal to anyone who wants to use the train to get into the Weminuche Wilderness.

As a bonus for everyone breathing our air, the batteries could easily be solar-charged. The large parking lot at the Durango station – a hot dusty expanse in summer and a snowfield in winter – could be covered with a roof fitted with solar panels. Another solar array could be placed at the north valley Hermosa depot, or near the wye at the south end of the Animas Valley. Enough solar energy could be produced to offset the carbon emissions emitted by burning coal.

Why haven’t trains everywhere made the change to batteries? Very few electric trains need them; they get their power from a third rail or overhead line. Other trains – diesel, for instance – are designed to cover long distances. Recharging or exchanging batteries along the way would be expensive and cumbersome.

The situation for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Rail Road is ideal – one charge could easily be sufficient to carry the train the 46 miles between Durango and Silverton.

If this transition could really happen, it would be an amazing opportunity to enhance the experience for people who love to vacation here, and for those of us who live here.

This concept is environmentally sound. It’s also a long-term solution to the problem of keeping the train running and the tourist dollars flowing through periods of extended and severe drought.

I hope others in our community will give it consideration, including Allen, Carol and John Harper, and their management team. I will continue to gather more information about how a transition to a solar train might be feasible and invite anyone interested to join me in exploring this idea.

– Spencer Compton, Durango

A new old approach to wildfires
07/19/2018

To the editor,

People sometimes tell me that the USDA Forest Service isn’t aggressive enough in fighting fires. As a wildland fire professional with more than 30 years of experience, I disagree.

Historically, wildland fire shaped the American landscape. Fires were once common, revitalizing and reinvigorating forests and grasslands. The American Indians used fire for purposes ranging from shaping habitats for desired species to reducing fuels to protect communities.

Today, our nation has over a billion acres of vegetated landscapes, most of them naturally adapted to periodic wildland fire. In a backcountry area such as a wilderness, we might decide to monitor and manage a fire, using it as a land-management tool to reduce hazardous fuels and restore fire’s natural ecological role to the landscape. Our policy is to use every tool we have to improve landscape conditions, evaluating and managing the risks in conjunction with our state and other partners. Instead of waging a losing war on wildfire, we are learning to live with fire.

Still, if a fire threatens lives, homes, property or natural resources, we put it out as fast as we can at the least possible cost. We make that decision while the fire is still small, and our rate of suppression success is phenomenal – up to 98 percent. These fires number about 7,000 per year nationwide.

Two to 3 percent of the fires we fight escape our control. Some of them become huge conflagrations driven by winds through tinder-dry fuels. Such fires are impossible to stop until weather or fuel conditions change: they are bonafide natural disasters. So we evacuate areas at risk and use special techniques to steer such fires around homes and other points of value as best we can, and we put the fires out as soon as we can.

The Forest Service once tried to put out all fires, but we wasted taxpayer dollars by attacking backcountry fires where nothing was at risk but the lives of the firefighters themselves, some of whom paid the ultimate price. Today, we will commit firefighters only under conditions where firefighters can actually succeed in protecting important values at risk. The decisions we make are based on the safety of our firefighters: with our can-do culture, we expect our responders to fight fires aggressively, but we neither expect nor allow firefighters to risk their lives attempting the improbable.

Whether a fire is in the remote backcountry or close to homes, safety is our highest priority: no home is worth a human life. Any other policy would be unconscionable, irresponsible and unacceptable to the people we serve.

– Chief Vicki Christiansen, interim U.S. Forest Service chief, via email

Pussing out on the pussy hat
07/12/2018

To the editor,

I’ve seen the light! I’m going to change my voter registration and become a progressive Democrat. This will enable me to pick and choose the laws I want to obey and ignore those that I don’t agree with. Hopefully, the Dems will prevail in the mid-terms, and my tax cuts will be rolled back and the money will be used to pay for entitlements going to undocumented aliens. My white privilege will be tested when my vote is diluted due to open borders and amnesty is the rule of law. But I’m OK with that.

One of the first things I’m going to do after switching parties is to go to the Palace for lunch and yell at former conservative friends and call them bigots and racists. One thing I will not do though, is wear one of those silly pink knit pussy hats.

Finally, I’m downloading all of Nancy Pelosi’s and Maxine Waters’ speeches to my iPad for inspiration.

Power to the people.

– Dennis Pierce, Durango