"He has a biting problem."

On Monday, Sept. 18, the Garfield County Commissioners met for a series of presentations, notably from the local Board of Human Services and the Board of Health, as well as from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) which provided a thorough update on all the changes coming to Cottonwood Pass over the next few years.

The meeting opened with a presentation by Karen Peppers, executive director of local homeless shelter Feed my Sheep, who discussed expenditures for this year. According to Peppers, rising food costs are becoming a major issue. Ordinarily, the organization budgets $4,500 for food, but this year costs have reached $17,000 ascribed to a recent loss of actively donating volunteers.

Next up, Sharon Longhurst-Pritt and Lori Goodwin, director and deputy director of the Department of Human Services respectively, acted as the Board of Human Services to present government programming in the county. Longhurst-Pritt noted that disbursements and client caseloads “appear high” and still remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Additionally, applications for programs this month have risen 24.4% from last month, and 50.5% from August of last year. Currently, a majority of cases managed by Human Services are Medicaid, with 16,710 individuals in the county currently on the program — approximately a quarter of the population of Garfield County.

After that, Sara Brainard and Joshua Williams, deputy and executive directors of Garfield County Public Health respectively, acted as Board of Health Commissioners to provide updates for this year’s immunizations and communicable disease programs.

Both noted short-staffing issues this year. Currently, out of six nursing positions, two nurses are out on medical leave and one position is vacant coming into the year’s flu season — the busiest time of the year for the Health Department. Brainard said that the lack of help will require a change in immunization tactics. “We are sort of duplicating the initiatives we started during COVID, which is having clinic days and having the public come to us.”

The board also noted rabid bat cases springing up around the Valley and advised any individuals who have been bitten to collect said bat and bring it in with them for testing and control. They took a moment to emphasize the particular unpleasantness of rabies shots.

The Board of Health also asked for approval to employ temporary part-time nursing, beginning at the end of the third quarter through the 2023 calendar year. Brainard is working with staff who were previously employed by Garfield County as well as various community partners to see who could potentially help, especially at these immunization clinics. Labor costs will be covered by both vacancy savings as well as grants, and if there are immunization operations related to COVID this year, the county is eligible for federal reimbursement.

The Board took a few actions prior to a break, both to provide grant funding; $250,000 was provided for the Parachute Area Transit System (the same as last year) and $50,000 was provided to the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and Frontier Museum to match a grant from the State Historic Fund for the preservation of the historic Cardiff Coke Ovens.

Following the break, CDOT arrived with a lengthy presentation detailing both a high-level overview of changes coming to Cottonwood Pass, the rationale behind these changes and a site-by-site, nuts-and-bolts review for every twist and turn to be modified. CDOT Region 3 Representative Jason Smith and Program Engineer Karen Berdoulay presented, noting that of 14 individual future construction sites along the corridor, eight will take place in Garfield County over the course of four years.

According to Smith, the goal of this project is simply to improve safety and reliability on the pass, primarily through the increased definition of right-of-way, improving visibility and widening sections with a history of sideswipes. However, each change will be made according to four criteria — safety, respect for the rural character/private property, natural resource preservation and collaboration with stakeholders.

Karen Moculeski also presented with CDOT representing Keep Missouri Heights Rural, an organization dedicated to protecting private property rights in the area. Moculeski communicated public concerns to the board, primarily that if the road is improved, speeding may simply increase, the road will become louder and collisions won’t go away. Moculeski also noted that the lack of law enforcement on the road is a contributing factor in this issue.

Due to some absences, the BOCC adjourned early, its next regular meeting scheduled for Oct. 2.