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Activist turns to energy work

DOVE CREEK, Colo. – In the late 1990s Jeff Berman quit his job as an engineer with IBM in Boulder and took up the life of an activist.

His first chapter was nipping at the heels of ski area operators. He was instrumental in creating the Ski Area Report Card, which is issued at the start of every ski season. It’s similar to the ski area rankings done by ski magazines, but is filtered through the lens of environmental impacts. He also helped start an organization called Colorado Wild and was the first director.

Several years ago he took up more quiet work in energy activism. He got elected to the board of directors of his local Durango-based electrical co-operative, La Plata Electric. He also started a company, San Juan BioEnergy.

The project is ambitious. Since 2004, he has been out in the desert country around Dove Creek, located near the Colorado-Utah line, halfway between Durango and Moab, urging farmers to begin producing sunflowers, which can be harvested and turned into biodiesel.

“Jeff, he pushed and pushed to make it happen, like a dog with a bone,” a local farmer named Matt Carhart tells the Durango Telegraph.

Dove Creek is a struggling community, with school enrolment about half what it was 30 years ago. There are no problems with a burgeoning second-home community, no enormous gaps between rich and poor. Everything is on the thin side.

What the farmers like about the idea is that sunflowers are basically drought tolerant, and drought is a too-common feature of Southwest Colorado — with the worst yet to come, according to global warming climatologists. Last year pinto beans yielded 75 pounds per acre, compared to 800 pounds per acre for sunflower.

All this does not quite yet amount to a success story. Capital must still be raised, and there are also unexpected problems with the crops. It seems that sunflowers are tasty to critters. Carhart lost close to 25 per cent of his 400 acres of sunflowers to wildlife this season. “That’s my profit margin,” he said.


Foreign workers needed

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – The ski area at Crested Butte is expecting an ouch this winter as the result of a national surge in requests for foreign seasonal workers under the H-2B visa program.

The resort company last year had 105 workers under the program, but this year applied for 225 — but not until late September, by which time the national cap for the winter months had been reached. While bills now being debated in Congress would lift that cap, there is no certainty they will be passed, reports the Gunnison Country Times.

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