Around the Mountains: Fingers wagged after backcountry collision
ASPEN – Fingers are being wagged in the aftermath of a mid-January collision between a snowboarder and a snowmobiler in the Richmond Ridge area, located south of the Aspen ski area. In that collision, a leg of snowboarder Dorran Laybourn was shattered and he suffered broken bones to his face. The snowmobiler, Roy Reed, suffered a concussion.The area where the accident occurred was involved in mining operations in the 19th century, and as such is a jigsaw of rectangular private lands amid the White River National Forest. The Aspen Times reports that both men are calling for changes. “Is it a free-for-all back there, or is someone or some agency going to step up to help” said Laybourn. The Forest Service insists it is managing the area, distributing maps that show what uses are allowed, and also patrolling it. That said, district ranger Bill Westrooke said “inherent risks” remain in using national forests, and heavy use of an area inevitably includes conflicts.Surging real estate sales continue in High CountryGLENWOOD SPRINGS – In Aspen, the real-estate market continued posting another huge increase. In Vail and Park City, markets slowed down, even if prices continued to rise. And elsewhere in the West, two more resort-dominated valleys joined the billion-dollar club.Aspen-dominated Pitkin County registered a 28 percent increase in sales. The average sales price of a single-family home was nearly $3.8 million, according to a report by Land Title Guarantee Co. Colorado’s Summit County gained 11 percent in total sales volume.An anomaly to this general increase was Vail-anchored Eagle County. After an increase of 100 percent in sales volume during the previous two years, volume last year declined 2 percent. Also, even if total sales volume slipped, average sale prices continued to rise briskly. Eagle County continues to lead resort counties in the Rocky Mountains with nearly $2.8 billion in sales.Meanwhile, two other real estate markets in the Colorado mountains surpassed $1 billion in sales last year. Garfield County, traditionally a bedroom community for the Aspen and Vail resort areas, saw a 22 percent surge in real estate volume. However, the surge was driven in large part by the boom in oil-and-gas production, and also the rising interest in oil shale development.That boom is centered in Rifle, about 80 miles from Aspen and Vail. Million-dollar homes are selling in the Rifle area, something unheard of five years ago, said Lynn Kirchner, managing broker for the Sotheby’s International Realty Branch in Carbondale.The Steamboat Springs-anchored Routt County market also surpassed $1 billion in sales.In Utah’s Park City-anchored Summit County, total volume of sales went down almost 10 percent. This, however, came after a year in which the market nearly doubled in sales volume, noted Matt Green, president of the Park City Board of Realtors. However, the average price of a single-family home sale in Park City increased 30 percent last year, hitting $952,088.Meanwhile, even as resort prices rise, a lot of the sales action has been found in the down-valley communities. In Carbondale, 30 miles from Aspen, the average single-family sales price jumped to nearly $500,000 last year, reported The Aspen Times. Eagle, located 30 miles from Vail, was a scene of flurried sales activity last year.Thin snow results in frozen water pipesPARK CITY, Utah – It’s not exactly a drought across the West this year, but the snowpack has tended toward thinness in many areas. The ramifications in Park City are freezing water pipes.Kathy Lundbord, the city’s water manager, recently told officials of 128 calls from people in January and early February complaining that water was not flowing. That is triple all complaints from last winter, when the snowpack was much deeper and temperatures somewhat warmer.The problem is most frequent in Park City’s older neighborhoods, where many water pipes were laid decades ago and closer to the surface. Residents were advised against too much conservation: keep faucets dripping, toilets running, and homes at least 55 degrees.Aspen getting into the nitty-gritty of warmingASPEN – Aspen city leaders aren’t backing down as they get into the nitty-gritty of how to reduce emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. They are, however, not rushing to adopt all the steps recommended to reduce Aspen’s part in what scientists are now saying with increased confidence is the human role in globally rising temperatures.In Aspen, as part of a process called the Canary Initiative, the city council continues to back the goal of reducing greenhouse gases 30 percent by the year 2020. This is compared to a baseline of emissions established in 2004.Current greenhouse gases in the world may well cause Aspen to have the climate of Salt Lake City, Utah, or Amarillo, Texas, by the end of the 21st century, say scientists who were commissioned by Aspen to do a study.But how will Aspen reduce its greenhouse gases? One very real step, says Dan Richardson, the project manager, is to run a new lane of highway through an open-space parcel at the town’s entrance, to be used exclusively by mass-transit buses. By giving preference to buses, the buses will be able to bypass the vehicles that congeal traffic every morning and night.Many in Aspen have argued that short of banning private jet planes, a power local governments do not have, this singular step will be the single easiest way to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the open space is highly valued, and the community has resisted its violation for decades, and the city council is not yet ready to buck the public sympathies.Richardson has also proposed a public-sponsored energy rating of homes, with homes to be inspected each time they change hands. The intent is to disclose to buyers the energy efficiency of homes.Meanwhile, Aspen has decided to renew its membership in the Chicago Climate Exchange. Based in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the organization allows trading of emissions but also caps the emissions.It cost $5,000 to join, and Aspen had to pay a $1,200 penalty for failure to reduce its emissions sufficient to the agreement. The primary benefit of membership in the Chicago Climate Exchange is that it forces accountability on the community, with financial penalties, said Richardson.Richardson argues that if Aspen is serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it must clean up its own act, and then use that as a model for other places. Even more than most resort towns, Aspen gets national exposure, partly through events like the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival, which draws a large number of the who’s who in American political, business, and intellectual circles.Steamboat mistakenly sends out spreadsheetSTEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. mistakenly sent out an e-mail to an unspecified number of people that contained a spreadsheet. The contents of that spreadsheet contained addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses for 399 customers, although no credit card numbers.The ski company was hard at work doing damage control, contacting each of the 399 customers, but did not immediately know what else may be done. One Steamboat Springs resident who is an expert on identity theft, told the Steamboat Pilot & Today that the ski company might consider offering a year of credit-monitoring to the individuals whose private information was inadvertently disclosed.Something new is also something old in GranbyGRANBY – Another case of forward into the past is being reported in Granby, where a drab building from the 1940s has a new face but a face modeled upon an even older time, during the 1900s.The builder, Les Watkins, studied old mining towns of Colorado, and at last decided he liked a building façade from the Old West replica of South Park City, located at Fairplay. He then obtained recycled 150-year-old wood from Nova Scotia to create the old-timey facade on the building, which is to be used for offices.Granby’s origins are more recent. The flash of mining wealth that yielded Aspen, Telluride, and Breckenridge with their gaudy Victorian cuteness missed the Granby area, which sprang to life as a railroad and ranch supply center in 1904. However, it never had the wealth that accumulated in Steamboat Springs, a similar town but about 120 miles farther along the same tracks in the more temperate Yampa Valley.Monitoring suspects power plant pollutionDURANGO – Potentially dangerous levels of mercury have been measured in predatory fish in the Pine River and Vallecito Reservoir. The river forms in the San Juan Mountains northeast of Durango and flows into the reservoir.Activists believe, but cannot say for sure, that the mercury is coming from coal-burning power plants in the Four Corners area. Josh Joswick, who looks after energy issues for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, points out that of the lakes in Colorado where state health officials have posted mercury warnings, a preponderance of them are clustered in southwestern Colorado downwind from the power plants. “That might be anecdotal, but it seems to me that there is something that needs to be watched there.”The Durango Herald says La Plata County commissioners have approved spending $25,000 to monitor the mercury and also the weather at Vallecito. Partly at issue is the potential for another coal-fired plant, called Desert Rock, located 60 miles away at Shiprock, N.M. But with a new California law sharply limiting new electricity supplies from coal-fired plants, the market for electricity from the plant is uncertain.Carbondale studying alternatives to big boxesCARBONDALE – Town trustees in Carbondale, located 30 miles downvalley from Aspen, continue to chew on alternatives to a big-box retailer. Among the ideas they’ve discussed is a cap of 60,000 square feet on stores.Still, they’re being courted by big-box retailers, among them The Home Depot. Company representatives will speak to the town board on Feb. 27, and presumably will predict a fortune in sales tax revenues.But Carbondale residents in a vote two years ago rejected one plan for a big-box retailer, fearing eventual homogenization of the town. Despite one of the prettiest settings of any resort valley in the West, it still has the feel and looks of the old potato-farming and coal-mining town that it once was.To bolster their case, those citizens have recruited Michael Shuman, an economist and attorney, who coined the phrase “small-mart revolution.” In this obvious play on words, he argues that local communities need not be reactive, but can aggressively create a more long-lasting healthy economy. To do this, he encourages they create malls anchored by local businesses, not by national retailers.In the case of Carbondale, he suggests the town buy the land in question, 25 acres, even if the price in question is well in excess of $8 million. “I’m suggesting that you just buy the land and other private entrepreneurs come in and decide how to use the land. Nobody is going to lose their shorts buying land in Carbondale,” he says.Why are local retailers better than national franchises? Schurman, an economist, argues an economic one: Only 10 to 15 percent of the revenue stream from a typical chain store goes back onto the community, compared to 30 to 40 percent for a locally owned and operated store.Jackson entertaining 46-foot-tall buildingJACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – A four-story building proposed for the town square is before town officials in Jackson. The building would be 46 feet high altogether, but with the top floor stepped back, to avoid the full effect of the height. A mix of retail and residential is planned, including a large measure of affordable housing.Jackson town officials have been embracing density in the downtown core, partly as a way to avoid sprawl. But town residents have been less welcoming of building configurations that many believe belong in cities which many have fled. Some residents equate taller buildings with the loss of community character, explains the Jackson Hole News&Guide.Director of sustainability now on Targhee payrollDRIGGS, Idaho – Grand Targhee, the small ski area nestled into the west side of the Teton Range, recently adopted a sustainability charter. The document defines sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to thrive. It has now hired a director of sustainable operations, in addition to a previously hired resort naturalist.Grand Targhee has been “greening” up in other ways as well, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Last year it offset 100 percent of its energy consumption through the purchase of renewable energy credits. It has also increased its solid waste recycling levels by 20 percent in the last four years.Exurban ranchettes have new restrictionsTAOS, N.M. – Owners of a 5,000-acre ranch on the outskirts of Taos are planning the typical high-end, low-density exurban development: lots 11 to 22 acres in size for those wanting to get intimate with nature.But The Taos News reports that the developer envisions something other than typical ranchettes. Proposed restrictions would mandate use of alternative energy systems, water catchments, and xeriscaping. No individual horse pastures and little fencing would be permitted, although a horse-boarding stable might be allowed in a common area.Canmore partially backs off higher taxCANMORE, Alberta – The Canmore council has backed off its plan to tax all second homes 30 percent more. Renters said that the tax unduly impacted them. As such, the higher property tax will be applied only to those second homes that are used primarily for vacations or weekends. Second homes used as rental properties will stay the same.The part-time population last year rose 27 percent, while the permanent population rose 1 percent. In Alberta, town governments depend upon appropriations from the provincial government, and the Alberta government does not recognize part-timers in its calculations.The Rocky Mountain Outlook praised the council for its reconsideration. “No council can be expected to provide good government when they are constantly jerking their collective knees in the face of criticism, but responding to one’s critics when they have a valid point is the right thing to do.”
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