Dear Friends

 

It's not easy

It's not easy to move a pile of radioactive rock that sprawls across the equivalent of 118 football fields in the floodplain of the Colorado River (HCN, 5/26/97). Not easy, but possible, as Bill Hedden of Castle Valley, Utah, has just shown (see page 4).

Hedden, who is Utah Conservation Director for the Grand Canyon Trust, has spent six years attempting to convince various levels of government that the pile, which contaminates the drinking water of 20 million people, has to go.

Already gone is Atlas Corp., which created the pile by mining and milling uranium. Now Bill, a former Grand County Commissioner and a former board member of High Country News, appears to have put together a political coalition of local, state and federal officials that is more powerful than the physical inertia represented by the tailings and the bureaucratic inertia represented by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

For his efforts, the Project on Government Oversight, aka POGO, will honor Bill in Washington, D.C., with its "Beyond the Headlines Award."

Hedden says he is both "abashed" by the high praise and honored by it. The awards ceremony Feb. 1 will see Reps. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, and George Miller, D-Calif., among others, officiating. And as long as he's going to be inside the Beltway anyway, Hedden says, he might as well do some lobbying.

For information, call POGO's Beth Daley at 202/466-5539.

Just like a Soviet republic

All experience is useful. Before arriving at High Country News, Janet Kauffman was a consultant in some of the nations that made up the former Soviet Union, where she tried to teach businesspeople modern accounting methods.

There was a hitch, recalls Janet. "They'd always operated on a cash basis, and they just couldn't understand accrual."

Now as the business manager at HCN, she is experiencing déja vu. The difference is that while the HCN staff understands accrual, we don't like it. Under our present cash system, when a reader sends us $32 for a one-year subscription, that money shows right up in the checking account as "ready to spend." Under accrual, that money is a liability on our books until we earn it, $1.33 at a time, by mailing 24 issues to the reader. It's the same with foundation grants. Those checks are liabilities, to be earned a chunk at a time by doing stories, putting out special issues, paying interns a salary, producing a radio show, and so on.

Now and then this perverse system has a bright side. When we buy a truckload of recycled newsprint, under a cash system we're out $20,000 or so. With the miracle of accrual accounting, we haven't spent a dime until we start using the newsprint, and then we only spend that asset 1.5 tons at a time.

Accrual is a looking-glass world and we sympathize with Armenia and the Czech Republic and other nations forced out of their cash-only Garden of Eden into the trackless desert of accrual accounting. But Janet will hear none of it. She grudgingly admits that "cash is king," but with her next breath insists that if High Country News is to function properly, it must accrue - it must treat money as a liability and some expenses as an asset. And because she is a CPA and has an MBA, and because the rest of us wouldn't recognize a deferred debit if it fell on us, we're giving way.

But not with good grace. There is a fear here that as High Country News grows in size and sophistication, it will become "corporate." For example, staff has just drafted a revised personnel manual and sent it to the board of directors for approval. Because it is meant for the times when things go wrong - no one looks at a personnel manual unless there's trouble - it has a lawyerly tone to it. One section reserves to "management" the right to examine staff's "personal e-mails' and other correspondence. It's standard procedure in most organizations, but not here, where our culture resists the idea of management, to say nothing of a management that would riffle through one's files.

Visitors

Pete, Marie and Brad Smith of Dillon, Mont., came to Paonia to buy a subscription for son Brad, who attends Western Montana State University, where he is helping to start a radio station. Pete works for the U.S. Forest Service.

Staffer Marion Stewart was overjoyed to see Rick Hatten and Caroline Barnes of Bainbridge Island, Wash. It was Dec. 29, the office was nearly empty, and editing the annual index is not an exciting job. It was much more fun to show the visitors and their border collies, Kip and Kiwi, through the office. Rick, a remodeler-builder, and Caroline, an environmental engineer, were on the way to Fort Collins to see family.

Diane Gansauer and Carolyn Greene of the Colorado Wildlife Federation in Lakewood, Colo., were in western Colorado to talk off-highway vehicles with the Western Slope Environmental Resource Council board.

Subscribers Rhys Roberts and Kari Quandt stopped in after doing some ice-climbing and job-hunting in Ouray, Colo. They didn't mention how the job hunt went, but Ouray, they said, was "50 degrees and dripping."

"I told you so"

Ever since the new year rang in with a minimum of problems, our local county commissioner, Jim Ventrello, has had to restrain himself. "I wanted so badly to call somebody and say, 'I told you so,' " according to the Delta County Independent.

Those who have been worrying about the dangers of the New West's rich-poor divide may also want to say "I told you so." Storms around Jackson, Wyo., dumped 50 inches of snow that kept teachers, snowplow operators, nurses and reporters from getting out of their Idaho towns and over Teton Pass to work. Jackson residents had to struggle to keep vital services going.

"Without a concerted effort to establish more affordable housing here," the Jackson Hole News warned, "the day will come when Jackson Hole will become a dependent community, no longer able to care for itself."

Condolences

We were saddened to hear of the passing of Don "Shorty" Wood, who was our first rural Postmaster when we moved to Paonia in 1974. In 1975, when Betsy and I started our weekly North Fork Times, Shorty walked us through the arduous matter of applying for a Second Class Postal Permit. Although we were running what many locals thought of as a hippie newspaper. Shorty always dealt with us as if we were entitled to the same service as everyone else.

We remember him best when Paonia was going nuts over the construction of the area's first modern coal mine by Colorado Westmoreland, Inc. Shorty was immune to the hysteria. "Right now," he predicted, "these guys have lots of money to spend. But some day someone back East is going to want to know where all that money went, and then these guys will be gone."

And they were.

We send our condolences to his family.

Adopt a library

Because we think High Country News is a valuable resource, we'd like to help public libraries and schools across the West make the paper available. To achieve that goal, we came up with a novel approach. Subscribers can "adopt" a public library or a classroom. For the price of a one-year subscription ($32), we will send two copies of each issue of High Country News.

Our circulation staff realizes that libraries lose a large number of copies during the course of the year; if we send a copy for circulation and one for archiving, we should keep everyone happy. This project is made possible by the Sally Gordon Fund, a memorial fund created in her honor. She was a High Country Foundation board member from Buffalo, Wyoming, who had a special interest in local libraries.

*Ed Marston for the staff

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