Top Local Stories of 2012
Jan 03, 2013 | 2265 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Looking back through this year’s news archives, it is clear that 2012 was eventful for Grand County. As the year draws to a close, the editorial staff at The Times-Independent offers our take on the five most interesting and important stories of 2012.
5. Lions Park Transit Hub and SR 128 bike path

Construction began this fall on a much-anticipated $9.2 million project to build a transit hub at the intersection of U.S. 191 and state Route 128 and a multi-use path along the Colorado River adjacent to SR 128. Travelers on SR 128 will see traffic delays during the next several months, and late-night closures will occur at specific points in the construction process, officials have said.

When completed in late summer or fall of 2013, the new facility will include an underpass for bicyclists to access an existing paved path into Moab along U.S. 191 without having to dodge traffic on SR 128. The underpass will connect Lions Park on the north side of SR 128 with the new transit hub on the south side. The project will also include elevated paths on the river side of the road to keep bikers and pedestrians safe along the first three miles of SR 128 to the Negro Bill Canyon trail head.

4. Big budget films pour millions into local economy

Two major studio films, “The Lone Ranger” and “After Earth,” infused millions of dollars into Grand County’s economy in 2012, local film officials say.

Disney officials estimated their big-budget action western “The Lone Ranger” spent $4.5 million locally, over a period of several weeks. That money included more than 230 local residents hired for the production along with money that was spent by the cast and production crew on lodging, food and other expenses, officials said.

“After Earth,” a big-budget science-fiction action movie starring Will Smith, added as much as $400,000 to the local economy, according to the film’s executive producer. During six weeks of filming, approximately 130 locals were hired for the production and the filming brought 485 crew and cast members to town.

3. Hospital and extended-care center funding woes

The new, state-of-the-art Moab Regional Hospital opened in February 2011, and in September 2012 hospital officials acknowledged that the facility was experiencing financial woes that CEO Roy Barraclough said were caused in large part by problems with the billing system. The hospital’s board of directors hired an outside health care consulting and hospital management firm to help develop a system to better manage finances and work through the problems, and the hospital is now back on solid financial ground, officials have said.

The Canyonlands Care Center, which is adjacent to MRH but operated by a county special service district board of directors, also experienced a budget crisis and was $15,000 to $50,000 in the red each month this fall, officials with the center said.

The Grand County Council is exploring whether the care center would qualify to receive funding through a rural health care tax, and if so, may put the tax measure on a June ballot. The county council and Moab City Council also agreed to provide “seed money” to enable MRH to collect Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) funds through Medicaid, which helps hospitals cover the cost for treatment of Medicaid, indigent and uninsured patients.

2. Battle over measure to study changing county form of government

A local group comprised mainly of members of the Grand County Republican Party, gathered petition signatures during the winter for a ballot measure that would launch the first step in possibly changing the county’s form of government. The effort ran into problems in May when another group asked 7th District Court Judge Lyle Anderson to disallow the measure on the June ballot because proper procedures were not followed. The judge ruled that the Grand County Council must first vote to put the measure on the ballot, and the council, in an emergency session, voted to place it on the November ballot.

Ultimately, voters opposed the measure in large numbers. Ballot Proposition Initiative 1, which asked voters to approve forming a study committee to consider and possibly recommend a change in Grand County’s form of government, failed by a vote of 2,119 to 1,564.

1. Winter shutdown at uranium mill

Officials with Portage Inc., the Idaho Falls-based company that took over the contract for the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action project, announced in April that cleanup work at the former Atlas Uranium mill site north of Moab would be scaled back from a year-round effort to nine months annually for the next five years. The change meant more than 100 workers at the site would be furloughed for three months.

Local elected officials quickly began lobbying the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and members of Congress, urging additional funding for the project.

This fall, as job layoffs loomed, Portage officials and the DOE announced that jobs had been found for all the affected workers who wanted to remain employed through the winter. Officials said most of the 27 laid-off employees chose to take the three-month furlough.

No tailings will be shipped this winter, but workers will continue to run well-field operations to prevent tailings contaminants from moving from the subsurface to the Colorado River while others will install permanent liners in each container used to transport material to Crescent Junction, officials said.

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