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Businessman takes steps to boost economy

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Photo by Hank Lohmeyer Businessman Mark Eckhart began his petition drive walking Main Street Delta last week. There is an online version of the petition at https://goo.gl/EHc4vK.

A Delta County businessman with strong feelings about the future of the local economy is taking steps to try and improve it.

Mark Eckhart is the owner of Long Haul Folding Kayaks. As a businessman, he sees that a turnaround in the county's economic fortunes is going to require money. He believes he knows where some of that money can come from and has launched a petition campaign to get public support for the idea.

Eckhart supports the funding proposal that is the critical centerpiece of the Economic Development Administration (EDA) plan for county economic diversity. He agrees with the EDA study that CDOT should take over ownership of the City of Delta's recently completed alternate truck route.

By doing that and paying off the some $22 million in bonds city taxpayers currently owe on the project, the $1.4 million annual payment on those bonds would become available to help fund economic diversity projects in the county. The money could be used as matching grant funds and "seed" money.

The EDA study has recommended that money be used to develop an organic produce industry here. Other recommendations presented during an unveiling last month would include building a large hotel and conference center. Another idea is to develop lifestyle amenities, concepts compared with Boulder's Pearl Street Mall, that would include housing and commercial developments and that would attract the "missing demographic" to the county. That missing demographic, also referred to as "the creative class" is defined broadly as young, educated, working-age people who would help create new economic enterprises.

Eckhart has the same reasons as many others for wanting to see the county's economy grow. "My house is here. My family is here. My business is here, too," Eckhart said. His efforts also spring from a sense of frustration about how things are going with the national and local economies.

"You look at the jobs that have been lost -- the sawmill, Meadow Gold, and the mines. There are vacancies on Main Street. We need a plan in Delta County or things are going to continue to get worse. The issues that need to be dealt with, they are huge issues."

Eckhart says he sees no sense in CDOT owning a stretch of highway that runs straight through downtown Delta carrying every kind of cargo when an alternative is available. CDOT itself should recognize its own sphere of interest lies in getting out of Main Street traffic and into the highway traffic business. The alternative to Highway 50 through downtown is the alternate truck route.

The idea of CDOT and Delta swapping ownership of the truck route and Highway 50 through downtown has been discussed since the truck route was in its planning phases. The talk has since progressed to an idea for funding projects in the county; Eckhart wants to take it a step further and is gathering public support. He has mounted a petition drive he hopes will gain enough grassroots support to pressure CDOT and the state government into accepting the idea.

Last week, Eckhart began walking Delta's Main Street asking for signatures on petitions he has prepared that will accommodate up to 5,000 names.

His petition is not intended to lead to a ballot question or election on the issue. Rather, it is a showing of public support for the concept.

"It is to put pressure on CDOT and the governor to act on this issue.," he said. "This is a grassroots effort. This is the public speaking. It is saying to CDOT, 'What are you doing about this?' "

He has included the following statement of intent attached to the petitions: "We, the undersigned, who reside in Delta County, Colorado, DEMAND that the Colorado Department of Transportation take over funding of the [alternate truck route] and that this funding takes place in the year of 2016."

Eckhart plans to make the petitions available throughout Delta County, as well online at https://goo.gl/EHc4vK.

Petitions are also available at his business, Long Haul Folding Kayaks, 16869 Ward Creek Road. He also invites people to call him at 856-3662 or email at eckhart@tds.net

Eckhart said he is also making posters available to local businesses to place in their store windows.

He said he intends to take the results of his drive "to the highest levels of CDOT that would be dealing with this issue, and to the state, including the governor."

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