Around the Mountains: Jury remains out on expansion of ski area |

Around the Mountains: Jury remains out on expansion of ski area

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CRESTED BUTTE ” Usually, when the U.S. Forest Service agrees to take on a project for environmental review, the verdict is already in. All the rest is more or less a formality.

That was the case in Vail’s Category III ski area expansion of the 1990s, and probably any number of ski expansions. Before the Forest Service accepts a project, it seeks evidence that the proponent has broad community acceptance. Without it, the project is unlikely to move forward. But rarely does the environmental review yield grounds for a veto.

But history is no prelude, Forest Service officials assure Crested Butte town officials, who remain opposed to a major ski-area expansion at Crested Butte onto neighboring Snodgrass Mountain.

A project in Santa Fe, N.M., was denied after a review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

In the Crested Butte case, the Forest Service is still awaiting evidence that the ski area owners, Tim and Diane Mueller, have gained the critical community acceptance. A letter from Charlie Richmond, the supervisor of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest, says as much.

Steve Glaser, of the High Country Citizens Alliance, said the NEPA environmental evaluation does not kill process. “If you want to kill a project, you have to find a violation of a law, not the NEPA process,” he says.

Often, the Forest Service has been sued for violating NEPA process. When it does, the Forest Service revisits the process, goes through the process differently, but the ultimate decision is not changed.

CANMORE, Alberta ” It’s counterintuitive: Zambonis use extremely hot water of between 160 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit in order to create and smooth ice on skating rinks.

Because it has less oxygen, hot water bonds to the surface better, smoothes uneven surfaces, and makes “harder” ice.

And at a heavily used ice arena, such as the one at the Rec Centre in Canmore, Zambonis can flood the two ice surfaces up to 32 times a day, in the process using up to 11,840 liters (3,127 gallons) of hot water.

Because of that high consumption, solar-thermal collecting panels were mounted on the building. The collectors are expected to supply one-fifth of the hot water needed.

Although in this case, the collectors were paid for by provincial grants, normally the saved energy would pay for the project in 13 years, officials tell the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Solar thermal in most cases achieves a greater bang for the buck than photovoltaic solar collectors, which produce electricity.

FARMINGTON, N.M. ” Barack Obama takes office, and a week later the Environmental Protection Agency orders a review of all scientific and legal issues raised about the proposed Desert Rock power plant. Is there any connection?

An attorney for Desert Rock said the new review was not unexpected. But opponents indicated said there is now an opportunity to rethink the wisdom of approving coal-fired power plants when, in fact, effort should instead be devoted to renewable-energy sources.

At 1,500 megawatts, the coal-fired power plant would be among the largest in the nation, capable of delivering electricity to 1.5 million customers in the West. The new plant is promised to be among the cleanest coal-fired plants yet. The EPA approved the plan last summer over the objections of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and environmental activists, including a local Navajo group called Dine Care.

This new review, notes the Durango Telegraph, will include a hard look at whether emissions from the plant will elevate the ozone in the San Juan Basin, where Durango is located.

Several monitoring sites in the basin, although not in Durango itself, have indicated levels of lung-scarring ozone that have recently exceeded federal limits. The basin already has two major coal-fired power plants plus thousands of diesel generators used at oil and gas wells, all of which contribute exhausts that contribute to the ozone.

There is also suspicion that mercury from existing power plants is being deposited in snowpacks in the San Juan Mountains, near Silverton and perhaps Telluride and Ouray.

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