JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald file photo
JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald file photo
President Barack Obama will use his executive authority to declare a national monument at Chimney Rock Archaeological Area, sources confirmed to the Herald.
The decision bypasses Congress, which has not been able to pass a bill for Chimney Rock despite bipartisan support.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, both sponsored bills to establish a national monument.
“Coloradans have made a great case for national monument status, which will be an extraordinary boost for the region and the state. For the last three years, we’ve been making that case to Congress and more recently to the Administration to use its authority under the Antiquities Act,” Bennet said in an email. “Making Chimney Rock a national monument will preserve and protect the site and drive tourism, drawing more visitors to the region and the state and bringing more dollars into the local economy.”
Tipton’s spokesman, Josh Green, said the Cortez congressman is happy to hear the monument will move forward.
“Congressman Tipton above all else believes that Chimney Rock National Monument would be better for the local community than the current designation, and that’s what he’s been pushing for all along here. It’s going to be a benefit to tourism and to preservation efforts around the Chimney Rock area,” Green said.
The U.S. Forest Service manages Chimney Rock, with help from the volunteers of the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association.
Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, presidents have the power to establish national monuments, which have similar protections as national parks.
The time frame for Obama’s impending action was unclear, although it could happen in a matter of a few weeks. Obama will be in Colorado next Wednesday and Thursday for campaign stops in Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Grand Junction.
One source said Obama’s team was trying to schedule a stop in Durango, but they have not been able to make it happen. Additionally, Ron Dent, director of aviation at Durango-La Plata County Airport, said he had heard rumors that the president might be coming, but no one from the White House has contacted him about an Air Force One arrival.
The airport’s runways are large enough to handle a 747, although the heat and altitude might affect aircraft performance, he said.
“You can do it. It’s a little tight,” Dent said. “We’d have to take down our runway lights before they took off.”
The designation for Chimney Rock has been years in the making.
Former Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, sponsored a bill in 2009 to turn Chimney Rock into a national monument.
Bennet took up the issue in March 2011, and Tipton introduced a bill in the House in July 2011.
Tipton’s bill passed the House in May, but it has stalled in the Senate, along with most other public-land bills, amid squabbling by the senior Democrat and Republican on the Natural Resources Committee.
Frustrated with the congressional delays, Bennet, Tipton and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., sent a letter to Obama urging him to consider designating a monument.
“We feel the future economic benefits of a National Monument designation are significant for the region, and those benefits shouldn’t be forestalled because Congress can’t act in a timely manner,” the trio said in their letter.
Business groups and officials in the area also lined up solidly in support of a designation by Obama. Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon, Archuleta County commissioners and chambers of commerce in Pagosa Springs and Durango all sent letters to the White House, urging Obama to act.
Chimney Rock’s 4,700 acres contain the ruins of about 200 ancestral Puebloan structures, some of which are 1,000 years old. They include a great house that archaeologists believe could be the most remote outpost of the powerful Chacoan culture of New Mexico.
Every 18.6 years, the moon rises between the two spires that give Chimney Rock its name.
A study prepared for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has lobbied for Chimney Rock, predicted that within five years, monument status would bring an additional $1.2 million a year into the area’s economy.