TOWAOC - During an economic development tour at the Ute Mountain Ute reservation on Sunday, Gov. John Hickenlooper said he was impressed by the tribe's new state-of-the-art mill and packaging facility.
"This is one of the most modern facilities I've seen in the state," he said after sampling a variety of corn muffins.
"Thank you," replied Paul Evans, manager of the tribe's 7,700-acre farm and ranch operation.
Owned by the Southwest Colorado tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch opened the 7,200-square-foot, $4 million mill and packaging facility for its award-winning white, yellow, blue and Indian corn varieties last fall. The mill can process more than 200 bushels per hour.
"The vision to take these various types of corn and create a custom marketing plan . it's the right time and the right place," said Hickenlooper.
The Bow and Arrow corn mill brand was named after the branding iron used by the tribe since the early 1960s. In addition to raising non-GMO corn, the irrigated ranch also grows alfalfa hay and wheat and runs about 700 head of Angus cattle. The operation provides nearly 50 jobs.
Ernest House, Jr., a Ute Mountain Ute tribe member and executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, said it was valuable for the tribe to maintain a strong and productive relationship with the state of Colorado.
"Usually, the tribes go up to Denver to meet, so we hope this starts an annual tradition for the governor to come here," said House.
House said tribal issues shared with Hickenlooper included natural resources, health care, education and the recent Gold King Mine spill on the Animas River.
Hickenlooper: 'Dodged a bullet' with river
The Aug. 5 Gold King Mine fiasco, originating in Silverton, released about 3 million gallons of toxic sludge and turned the Animas River orange. Seven days later, Hickenlooper drank from the river, stating, "If that shows that Durango is open for business, I'm happy to help."
"Are you still healthy?" the Journal asked him on Sunday.
"Yeah," Hickenlooper replied, joking that Ute Mountain Ute chairman Manuel Heart asked if he started glowing after drinking from the Animas.
"I think we might have dodged a bullet," he said about the spill.
Saying that the state would continue to monitor the situation, Hickenlooper predicted no long-term environmental problems as a result of the spill. He also praised the Environmental Protection Agency administrator for offering a public apology after causing the spill.
"They have said the people with losses would be made whole," said Hickenlooper. "That's the way the federal government is supposed to work."
What's on tap at the mansion?
On a lighter note, Hickenlooper offered congratulations to Durango's Ska Brewing Co. and its 20-year anniversary on Sept. 12. Before being elected governor, Hickenlooper opened up one of Colorado's first brewpubs, Wynkoop Brewing Co., in Denver.
"Ska's first brewing casks came from Wynkoop," said Hickenlooper. "We supplied their first tanks."
Currently, there are more than 300 breweries in Colorado, employing more than 10,000 people.
"It's a constructive industry, one that's great for the state," said Hickenlooper.
Hickenlooper also said that the Colorado governor's mansion was the first in America to install three rotating beer taps.
"The beers are donated from all over the state," he said.