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Off Limits

No-tell hotel
To keep up with its trendy downtown neighbors, the posh but dated Warwick Hotel is undergoing a major renovation. By next spring, the Warwick, at 1776 Grant Street, is increasing the number of its guest rooms to more than 200; it's also adding meeting space, a fitness center, Internet connections and an executive lounge, and creating a French and American restaurant called the Margaux Brasserie and Bar of Denver -- all at a cost of about $14 million.

Make that $14.1 million.

On August 10, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the Warwick $103,500 because it hadn't followed the proper procedures for handling asbestos and hadn't told its employees or the renovation subcontractors' employees that they were being exposed to asbestos. Herb Gibson, the compliance program manager for OSHA's Denver-area office, says his agency showed up at the hotel unannounced -- and without a reservation -- on February 10 after someone complained. OSHA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, found ten "serious" and one "willful" violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

"We believe workers were potentially exposed to asbestos, but as far as a health hazard...we didn't issue a medical surveillance because none of the workers were exposed for more than thirty days," Gibson says.

In addition to the Warwick, six of the hotel's subcontractors were fined a total of $54,375: Talisman Renovation, Restoration and Design was nailed for $30,000; Grinnel Fire Protection Systems Company was burned for $12,500; two electric companies, Sturgeon Electric and Priority Electric, were shocked with $10,000 and $750, respectively; T's Plumbing and Heating was soaked for $750; and Synergy Mechanical Services was drilled for $375.

The majority of the employees who were exposed to the asbestos worked for one of the subcontractors, Gibson says. "Most of the issues have now been corrected. We can't really comment on the other specifics until the case is fully closed."

So far, none of the companies has formally filed an appeal, Gibson says, possibly because OSHA may settle with them so they don't have to pay the fines in their entirety, a course of action that Gibson defends. "Not every case can be taken to court," he says.

According to Warwick general manager, Rene Balin, the snafu was a misunderstanding about OSHA regulations. "We are in the process of resolving everything," he says, "and we are continuing our extensive renovations to follow the federal guidelines of OSHA. It was a matter of interpretation of the regulations. It was a minor situation. As far as the safety of employees and guests, everything is in perfect order."

That's a good thing, since it will take 896 of the hotel's $115-per-night "Summer Sizzler" packages to pay off this minor problem.


Suburban legend
We've heard lots of complaints that this has been one of Denver's muggiest summers ever -- some Denverites have even presented their frizzy hair as evidence. For example, the Convention and Visitors Bureau's Rich Grant testifies that he's always been able to tell when it's especially humid: "When it's dry, you can see my balding spot, but when it's humid, the hair bushes up and covers it. Normally when I go back to New York in the summer, my hair bushes up because it's more humid there, but this summer it was reversed."

Contrary to all the fuming we've overheard, however, this has not been an extra humid summer, and the supposedly increasing humidity has not been caused by new suburbanites watering their sprawl-induced bluegrass lawns. No, Denver is not fast on its way to becoming another Phoenix, where immigrants have supposedly altered the climate with their fountains, sprinklers and golf courses.

"We've had more rainfall; I think we were ranked number eight in terms of most rainfall for a month during July," says Frank Cooper, a meteorologist with Denver's office of the National Weather Service. But that, Cooper says, has nothing to do with human behavior: "All of this stuff is coming from the subtropical systems, not the local population."

Summertime humidities have been higher in the last few years than they were between 1950 and 1980, says Nolan Doesken, assistant state climatologist at Colorado State University's Colorado Climate Center. "But," he adds, "higher was like 1 or 2 percent higher" -- not exactly a number that would leave us gasping for some nice, dry oxygen. Doesken's efforts to get definitive readings have been foiled by human behavior in one regard, though: "The official humidity measuring station moved from Stapleton to DIA when DIA opened in '95, so we have what climatologists would call a discontinuity in the climate record, which makes it very difficult to analyze the data."

But Dr. Robert Balling has found a way to analyze it. As director of the office of climatology at Arizona State University, Balling says he's "made a fortune, in a way," out of studying growth in Phoenix and its impact on climate.

"I came here in 1984, and as I was driving here from Nebraska, I heard Paul Harvey talking about Phoenix and how it was growing, and one of the complaints was that humidity was going up," Balling says. "If you know urban climatology, the universal axiom is that cities grow and become drier. I thought I needed to leave a splash, so I started to look at urban-climate questions in Phoenix. Not to my surprise, but to the surprise of many people, Phoenix was getting drier.

"Cities like Denver and Phoenix present a surface that is impervious to rain," Balling adds. "When rain falls on streets and runs into the storm sewer, it's gone. You don't have moistened soil, and when the sun comes out, water has escaped the city so you don't have that water evaporating back into the atmosphere. My guess is if you look at Denver records, you'd be amazed to find out Denver is getting less humid."

So why all the complaining? Balling's theory about Phoenix is that "a lot of sissies moved in."


Casting call
As Boulder DA Alex Hunter's very slow grand jury heads into its second season investigating the murder of JonBenét Ramsey, it's time to update the cast of characters for the TV movie that will inevitably be made -- probably before any arrests are. Unless, of course, you count the thirteen scofflaws already popped for their petty, peripheral connections to the crime.

At the moment, Boulder fixtures Evan Ravitz, better known as the tight-rope-walking "Evan From Heaven," and Bob MacFarland, a Rocky Flats-fighting, teepee-dwelling former physician, are off the hook on contempt-of-court charges stemming from their attempt to send copies of local author Steven Singular's Presumed Guilty to members of the grand jury. For these buffoonish second bananas, we see perennial supporting players Anson Williams (Happy Days's Potsy) and Jerry Van Dyke. We need another bit player for former lawyer Tom Miller, tagged last month by a Jefferson County grand jury for allegedly trying to broker a deal on the Ramsey ransom note; the grand jury is now rumored to be going after the note's would-be purchaser, the Globe. As Miller, we'll take Robert Walden, the fellow who played Joe Rossi in Lou Grant and Donald Segretti in All the President's Men. That leaves Jason Robards available to play assorted tabloid execs.

Since JonBenét's murder was discovered on December 26, 1996, New York attorney Darney Hoffman has made numerous cameo appearances -- calling for a grand jury long before Hunter did, positing his own theories of the crime, and now announcing that he actually intends to run for Hunter's seat. (Hey, if Hillary Clinton can run for Senate in New York, what's to stop Hoffman from heading to Boulder?) Al Pacino should be able to chew the scenery -- and chew up a few laid-back Boulder attorneys -- in the Hoffman role. Just imagine him uttering these words from Hoffman's announcement of his candidacy: "Boulder will have the best homicide clearance rates in America when I'm finished and will once again be a respected name in the law-enforcement community and not a judicial laughingstock." And filling the small but juicy part of Hoffman's wife, former Mayflower Madam Sydney Biddle Barrows, is a snap: Candice Bergen already played her in a 1987 movie.

Such casting is bound to take the cost of Homicide: Life Off the Streets past the $1.37 million that the City of Boulder estimates it has incurred in actual "Ramsey homicide expenses" through early August. Making movies can be murder.

Off Limits is compiled by Jonathan Shikes. If you have a tip, call him at 303-293-3555, send a fax to 303-296-5416, or e-mail denver-editorial@westword.com.


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