Aspen housing tight as a drum this year
December 3, 2005
ASPEN – Two years ago, half of one of Aspen’s designated affordable housing projects went begging even as ski season began. That was then. This year, the story is a more familiar one, a market as tight as a drum.”There’s a pretty good scramble going on right now for housing,” Tom McCabe, director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, told The Aspen Times. “If you have a room to rent, you can make a buck. You could ask a high price right now and you could rent it out in a day.”Seasonal employees, many of them from Latin America, have been snapping up the housing – what is left of it after the construction workers who have flooded Aspen to build hotels and other high-end lodging properties.While the Aspen Skiing Co. has a large chunk of housing for employees, it also filled up quickly. “It’s insane this year,” a housing staff officer said.Grand Lake thinking of bottling its spare waterGRAND LAKE – Add Grand Lake to the list of headwater mountain towns thinking there’s money to be made from bottled water.Located at the very headwaters of the Colorado River, the resort town rarely uses even half of its allocated water. Because only Rocky Mountain National Park is located above the town, and there was never much mining in the region, the water is absent many impurities. “Most municipalities wish they had it that clear when they send it out to the public,” says Shane Hale, the town manager.The Sky Hi News reports preliminary planning that could yield an introductory stock of bottled water within a few months. The hope is that this Grand Lake water – no name was mentioned – could achieve the same success as other bottled waters in Colorado. Biota water comes from ice-climbing capital Ouray, while Aspen – despite its name – comes from the San Luis Valley. But both of those brands are dwarfed by the bottled water sold by PepsiCo and Coca Cola, called respectively Aquafina and Dasani.Shrinking government slows ski area planningCRESTED BUTTE – The goal of the Bush administration to shrink the non-military portion of the federal government is having perhaps unintended consequences at Crested Butte. There, plans for a new ski area have been delayed by the early retirement of a U.S. Forest Service geologist. The agency had offered many employees early retirement in September.Because the ski area, called Snodgrass Mountain, would be located on Forest Service land, the Forest Service must first agree that the land is suitable for a ski area. The report in question would examine how the terrain could potentially be affected by snowmaking and erection of lift towers. “For us, it’s terrible,” said John Norton, the projects consultant for Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the ski area operator. “We don’t know how far it will set us back. It already has held us up.” Norton told the Crested Butte News that the project is at a standstill.Thanks for snow, but a prayer for icy tempsGRANBY – Among the thanks given over turkey dinners in the Granby-Winter Park area during the recent holiday was for the early arrival of winter. But with the thanks came a divine appeal for cold, cold weather – a week’s worth of cold … something that hasn’t happened in many years in a valley that once proclaimed itself the icebox of the nation, with recorded temperatures that vouchsafed that claim.Extreme and extended cold weather is the only thing that is guaranteed to stop the spread of bark beetles, which have been advancing rapidly across the forests of the Fraser Valley, where the resort towns are located. A new estimate from the Forest Service finds the number of trees infested by the beetles has increased geometrically during the last year. “They’re in the peak of the epidemic this year,” the agency’s Rick Caissie told the Winter Park Manifest. “It’s five to 10 times worse than it was there last year, which is pretty significant.”The most immediate effect of the beetle infestation is a new color mosaic. Instead of green trees and blue skies dominating the landscape, the skies are now crowded by rust-colored forests as trees die. This aesthetic concern is, in turn, producing an even greater concern about the potential for forest fires. This potential is, in turn, causing stepped up logging of forests.While the Fraser Valley for decades had a great deal of logging, logging trucks have been increasingly absent in the last 20 years. As in other gentrifying valleys of the West, homeowners who have purchased vacation or retirement homes with a certain “view” in mind have rejected tree-plantation management of the national forest. But the Winter Park Manifest welcomes a new Forest Service initiative that proposes more than 10,000 acres of logging in order to provide a buffer against forests that have been decimated or worse. “It’s for our good,” says the newspaper.Canyonlands uranium boom slows – for nowTELLURIDE – The uranium boom that had the canyonland country between Telluride and Moab hopping with miners has subsided once again.The uranium ore was being trucked to a processing mill in Cañon City, on the eastern slope of the Rockies, near Colorado Springs. But while that aging mill is being updated, only a skeletal force of miners remains in the field, reports the Telluride Watch.Meanwhile, the debate continues about whether nuclear power is a wise option. Telluride Watch columnist Peter Shelton joined many others who label themselves as “environmentalists” in urging that Americans give nuclear a second look. While nuclear power has its problems, particularly the issue of what to do with spent but still volatile uranium wastes, they argue nuclear power beats the alternatives – continued burning of fossil fuels that are pushing climate change.Proponents point out that 80 percent of electricity in France comes from nuclear generators.But college professor Rhonda Claridge, also writing in the Watch, argues that more efficient use of existing energy sources and other, alternative energy sources both are more viable than the nuclear route.Steamboat master plan calls for small increaseSTEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The five-year master plan for the Steamboat ski area calls for smaller, incremental enlargements that could yield an 8 percent increase in what the Forest Service calls the “comfortable carrying capacity.” The current capacity is 12,340 skiers a day.The plan submitted to Forest Service officials calls for consolidation of lifts, allowing the space devoted to the displaced lift towers to instead be used for beginner terrain. As well, the plan envisions expanded on-mountain eating opportunities, reports the Steamboat Pilot, and summertime mountain biking and hiking trails.Fewer plane seats, more passengers to SteamboatSTEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The number of airline seats for Steamboat this winter has declined 4 percent, owing largely to fewer shuttles from Denver. But, as of late October, reservations for the winter were up nearly 10 percent. According to a report in the Steamboat Pilot, ski company vice president Andy Wirth told a chamber gathering that American Airlines beefed up its Christmas week bookings with expanded flights from Dallas.Growing frets about the potential for flu pandemicTELLURIDE – In 1918, isolated though they were from the rest of the world, the little mining towns of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains were hard hit by the flu epidemic. More people lost their lives to the flu than had been killed in the world war that had just ended.In Telluride, local Greg Craig has been drumming on local officials and agencies for the past four years to better prepare for a major public health emergency such as a flu pandemic. Now, with fears mounting of another flu pandemic, reports the Telluride Watch, he’s badgering local officials once again.At least some public officials think his proposed response is over the top. “We’re not going to go through a 500-page plan when disaster hits,” said San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters. “We have to keep it simple. If a plan’s simple, it’s more likely to be used.”But Craig’s points are being heard. Among other what-ifs, San Miguel County officials are pondering what if the economy halts – how can 7,000 people (plus visitors) be fed and watered?Holy Cross finally sells all of its wind electricityGLENWOOD SPRINGS – After more than seven years of trying to sell wind power to its customers, Holy Cross Electric has succeeded. The utility had contracted in 1996 to purchase five megawatts of wind power produced at a wind farm in northeast Colorado. Holy Cross customers are in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys, where Aspen and Vail are located.The first purchasers snatched up the wind power, despite its higher cost than electricity generated by burning coal and natural gas. Sales remained strong until the last year. Altogether, 2,711 customers have purchased into the program – and, ironically, are now reaping a benefit. Wind power has become less expensive than electricity produced by coal. Whether it will remain less expensive is uncertain, utility spokesman tells The Aspen Times.Support building for 2 wildlife overpassesVAIL PASS – Support is building for construction of a wildlife overpass across Interstate 70 near Vail Pass. The overpass being envisioned would be similar to the wildlife crossing structures in Alberta’s Banff National Park.Congress is allocating $500,000 to begin the environmental studies, although the full cost of construction is estimated variously at $4.5 million and $8 million.While two Canada lynx have been killed on I-70 in that particular area, as well as deer, elk, and other animals, proponents also portray it partly as a matter of improving safety for drivers. Eleven people have been injured during the last decade in collisions with wildlife between the pass and Vail, located eight miles away.If built, the overpasses will be the first such structures in the United States. I-70 is being chosen partly because of its visibility. Conservation groups and wildlife biologists are lobbying for expanded use of such overpasses, in Colorado but also other states.”We hope this will be the pilot project that will get everybody excited,” explained Dave Reed, development and outreach director for the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, one of the conservation groups.Biologists and wildlife activists want the overpasses for several reasons. First, in some cases, particularly the lynx, an endangered species, even a few deaths by roadkill are denting an already small population. Since being reintroduced in 1999, three lynx have been killed on I-70, two of them near Vail Pass. Roadkill is less of an issue with deer and elk.The greater issue, says biologists, is one of connectivity among wildlife populations. I-70 has become like a Berlin Wall to wildlife in Colorado, a barrier to movement to species that have traditionally moved in broad areas. Such movement is necessary to retain a healthy gene pool, they say. Something called island theory of wildlife species holds that the smaller the area for a species, the greater the likelihood of extinction.The precedent for the Vail Pass structures is found in Banff National Park. There, several wildlife crossing structures – both overpasses and underpasses have been constructed. Studies by Tony Clevenger of the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University show that deer, elk wolves and grizzly bears prefer to use larger wildlife crossing structures, because they give a greater sense of openness. However, mountain lions and black bears prefer underpasses.While other highway segments in Colorado are more important from an ecological perspective, many are bordered by private land. The Vail Pass crossing has the virtue of being on U.S. Forest Service land, meaning the land is likely to remain suitable for wildlife. The Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, one of the groups lobbying for the overpasses, has designated eight other crossing areas in Colorado, including sites near Ridgway, Durango, and Salida. As well, activists and biologists in Wyoming are talking about the need for overpasses and underpasses in Jackson Hole.