Our View: Hayden prepares for life after coal | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Hayden prepares for life after coal

Coal mining has been taking place in Routt County since the 1880s, and coal-fired power plants have been part of the economic landscape since the mid-1970s. Now, local communities are working to imagine their futures without coal, and some are navigating that process more proactively than others.

The town of Hayden is ground zero for that discussion, and we are very encouraged to see how that community has taken strategic steps to position itself to survive, and even thrive, when the Hayden Station power plant closes in 2036. Rather than just waiting for the closure to occur and reacting, Hayden is proactively seeking ways to strengthen and diversify the local economy, and we believe the small community is poised for growth.

First, the town hired a forward-thinking town manager in Mathew Mendisco — a proven collaborator who knows how to get things done. In particular, under Mendisco’s leadership, the town was successful in getting a property tax passed in 2017 to improve roads and the water system, and that work is improving Hayden’s infrastructure to support increased development.

At the same time, the Hayden School District was able to pass a $22.9 million bond issue and secure a $41 million BEST grant to build a brand new school, which has the potential to entice more families to move to Hayden when it opens in 2020.

And last week, we learned that Hayden has hired Mary Alice Page-Allen as its first economic development director. During Page-Allen’s seven-year tenure as town clerk in Oak Creek, the community successfully navigated the new world of retail marijuana, completed a main street beautification project and expanded its local parks system.

We expect Page-Allen to have the same kind of success in West Routt, and Hayden’s willingness to invest in an economic development position underscores town leaders’ commitment to growth and a diversified economy. And later this year, Hayden will launch a comprehensive planning effort, which will include an economic development master plan to evaluate how much property tax revenue would be generated by build out of available lots within town.

The Town Council also recently approved Hayden’s first retail marijuana shop near the Yampa Valley Regional Airport. The decision to allow the dispensary there was not without controversy, but in our opinion, it seems like a smart move. The shop is not located in the downtown area near schools and neighborhoods but instead isolated out by the airport, and we know the city stands to benefit from the tax revenue that retail marijuana shops provide local governments.

Hayden also has invested in a “move here” marketing campaign to leverage the town’s lower housing costs. The program, which has targeted Steamboat Springs and the Front Range, promotes the town as a Steamboat alternative — close to the ski resort, but not too close, with small town charm, more affordable homes and a brand new school.

At a glance

At issue: Leaders in Hayden and Routt County are eying economic development opportunities in light of the planned closure of Hayden Station in 2036.

Our view: Hayden is leading the way when it comes to communities weaning themselves off reliance on the coal industry.

Editorial Board

  • Logan Molen, publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Michael Marchand, community representative
  • Jim Beers, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com.

But Hayden is not the only community planning for life after coal. Routt County government leaders have been attending coal-reliant community meetings and the towns of Steamboat, Oak Creek and Hayden have been working together on economic development initiatives like Rural Jump Start to spur business growth.

The Economic Development Council, led by the Steamboat Springs Chamber’s economic development director John Bristol, another dynamic leader, has also been busy working to develop and support regional strategies for diversified economic growth.

We’re proud of the economic development efforts that are underway in Routt County, and we’re particularly impressed with Hayden. It’s good to see leaders in our area communities working collaboratively toward a regional economy that is less reliant on the tax revenue and high-dollar jobs provided by the coal industry.

No one community can prepare for this change alone, and as County Commissioner Beth Melton said in a recent Steamboat Pilot & Today article, “It’s really important for all of us to recognize that we all need to be in this together.”

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