Booms, Busts, and B.S.


I'd have to look at 60+ years of calendars, but suffice it to say this Grand Junction native has lived through his share of hometown booms and busts.  Off the top of my head, there've been a couple of uranium booms and the oil shale boom that infamously ended with a Black Sunday in May just over a quarter century ago, and now natural gas.  I'm likely skipping over at least a couple more.

It'd take more than a century's worth of calendars to track my family's journey through those same cycles.   My forefathers on both sides of the family immigrated to Crested Butte in the 1880s, leaving Eastern Europe's poverty to better themselves in a mining economy.  They ended up chasing coal and precious metals to a host of other Colorado communities between Glenwood Springs and Trinidad. Extended family members toiled everywhere from the copper mines of Butte to the steel mills of Pueblo and the oil industry in Houston.  Some of my own professional work followed that same path for a half-dozen years.

There's no doubt the economy of Mesa County and all of northwest Colorado has been hurt by the loss of energy-related jobs as we experience yet again the peaks and valleys cycles of extractive industries.  

It's also certain that the economic ups and downs experienced here in Colorado and elsewhere in the West by five generations of the Spehar and Kapushion families will be repeated.  We all like to be warm in the winter, cool in the summer.  We enjoy and benefit from the products produced from wood and metals via processes using energy from oil and natural gas, water and coal, less occasionally from uranium, and increasingly from the sun and wind and other alternative sources.

There's one product being produced to excess while the energy industry suffers…one more commonly associated with the ranching industry my family has been part of for most of its time in Colorado.   It's a smelly product, whether distributed over pastures and corrals or through political discourse.

Most recently it's been generously distributed by a local county commissioner, our state senator, and our former congressman who wants to be governor.  All seem more interested in assigning blame and generating political spin, in trying to recreate yesterday than in working cooperatively toward a realistic tomorrow.

 Never mind increasing supplies and declining demand, ergo (in the free market economy they supposedly revere) depressed prices.  Forget about restricted pipeline capacity and long delivery distances combining to make our natural gas more difficult and more costly to market.  Ignore new fields close to major population centers and pipelines that offer lower costs and more immediate access.  Gloss over Colorado currently out-producing neighboring states where drillers and producers supposedly enjoy less regulation.  Ignore the fact that the state still issues more permits annually than can possibly be drilled, even in the best of times.

No, it's those damned legislators who unanimously approved taking a fresh look at Colorado's drilling rules who are responsible.  Government should stay out of the way, except it should force Xcel to keep the old, inefficient Cameo power plant open.  All it'll take is a change in governors to make it all better, market forces and the economy be damned.

My well-worn Webster's Seventh defines two words that describe statements and actions like those.

Falsehood:  (a) an untrue statement; LIE  (b) 1 something contrary to truth  2 absence of truth or accuracy

Myth: (a) a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence (b)  an ill-founded belief held uncritically, especially by an interested group.

I thought about all this as I headed up to Crested Butte on a recent weekend to help sort through the house my grandfather moved his family into more than 80 years ago after returning from his own odyssey through Colorado's mining camps.   The piano in the living room of the historic home was carried over Schofield Pass in a wagon after Marble withered in the wake of another quarry shut down early in the last century and my grandmother said to her storekeeper husband, "George, I'll move anywhere you want…one more time."

Much has been carried into the old two story structure originally built as an apartment-hotel by Crested Butte's town founders.  Little has been carried out over the years.  As we rustle through closets and storage rooms, cabinets and other cubbyholes, we'll probably stumble across old newspapers, letters, pictures and other documents tracing the local booms and busts.

As we continue to sort through several generations of memorabilia, I doubt we'll encounter any bluster and b.s. of the type that now emanates from some of our elected officials and wannabes attempting to spin yet another boom and bust cycle for their own advantage.

Former Grand Junction Mayor and Mesa County Commissioner Jim Spehar writes weekly for the Grand Junction Free Press.  Rarely is he able to get all his favorite topics…politics, energy, family and community… into one column.