Jackson Hole on edge about rape and race
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. A teenaged girl in November told police she had been raped by two Latino men at knifepoint in downtown Jackson. This came on the heels of several other rapes and lesser sexual assaults by Latinos in Jackson, as well as charges against Latino men for prostituting a teenager from Mexico in Jackson Hole.Police think the girl lied. But the report brewed great anxiety, leading to a run on pepper spray at a local pawn shop and also, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide, a volatile letter. The newspaper chose not to print the letter, but reported that the writer called for vigilante justice.What is the truth here? Ed Munoz, a professor at the University of Wyoming, said someone making up a story would be more likely to choose a minority attacker because it would be met with less skepticism. “That’s what I think,” he said, “and in your community what are the odds that people would believe a black man did it? It depends on the circumstances, but also on a deep-seated stereotypes and beliefs.”But a police prosecutor, Steve Weichman, believes the truth is that, at least at the moment, Hispanic males are being charged with a disproportionate number of sexual assaults. Of the six sexual assaults charges since January, three involved males with Latino surnames. The newspaper did not report any theories to explain this disproportion.Growth of ski valleys is basically suburbanizationSTEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. Many ski valleys have been mightily resisting vestiges of suburbanization. Regulations have been enacted to restrict national franchisers, particularly big boxes, which are the symbols of suburban sprawl.But Steamboat Springs is increasingly a suburb and many other ski towns are, too, says Jonathan Schechter. “These are the new suburbs, but they are virtual suburbs,” he told a group in Steamboat Springs recently. People choose to live where they want to live, in part because of rapid growth in technology that allows them to do so, but also because of rising incomes, he said.These changes caused Steamboat and places like it to add as many people in the 1990s as had lived there in 1960, before the arrival of tourism. But even now, it is not a purely tourism-driven economy, he said.What could change this trend? Schechter, a long-time Jackson Hole resident, sees nothing to stop the masses unless their arrival fouls the nest. “The boom is not going to bust … unless we screw up the reason people want to move here,” he said.To that end, Schechter was the architect of an idea recently implemented called One Percent for the Tetons. In the program, businesses give 1 percent of revenues to a fund, which is dispersed in grants to projects intended to help retain the environmental integrity of Jackson Hole. Some 50 businesses are participating, and $25 million has been raised.Council steers clear of proposed alcohol lawSTEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Steamboat Springs’ councilors considered adding a new arrow to the quiver of police charged with trimming illegal drinking by people under 21 years of age. The proposed law would have held parents and other adults responsible for allowing under-age drinkers to consume alcohol in private homesBut the Steamboat City Council said the proposed law was invasive, confusing, and unclear, reports the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Steve Ivanice, a council member, said he believed the better tactic was to change the “social culture” than to adopt a law that isn’t easily enforced. “I see this as the overreaching of government, which government tends to do,” he said. “The real question is, ‘How do we change the cultural norms here? How do we teach our kids to be responsible?'”Telluride appears ready to ban store-front officesTELLURIDE – The Telluride Town Council appears poised to adopt regulations limiting the amount of office space allowed in the ground floor of buildings in the town’s historic commercial district.Telluride has been concerned for several years about losing vigor in its retail sector, and at one point even talked about instituting affordable retail space, similar to the concept of deed-restricted affordable housing. Vail decades ago and Aspen and Steamboat Springs in recent years banned offices on the ground- floor locations of their main commercial districts. Existing uses were grandfathered into continued use. Crested Butte last summer also adopted such regulations, but scrapped them after a strong community response. Park City has twice considered, but rejected, such regulations.Aspen joins legal fray about global warmingASPEN – The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments filed by Massachusetts and 11 other states in a lawsuit that seeks to force the federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency to take action to stem the emission of greenhouse gases.Also involved in the suit are 3 cities and 13 environmental groups. The lone representation from the ski industry came in the form of a friend-of-the-court brief filed last summer on behalf of the Aspen Skiing Co. The company argues that it has business interests that are being harmed by the absence of a federal policy to check climate change.Just how much the changing climate is likely to impact the ski resorts is highly speculative. Some precise projections have been issued, but with a thin foundation. Still, the broader story is inexorable: Warmer temperatures mean less snow and shorter winters.Fundamentally at issue is whether the United States adopts a climate change policy. The Bush Administration declares that its hands are tied. That, notes The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert, is at odds with the administration’s general stance toward executive power. The EPA, it argues, lacks the authority to limit greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, because when the act was drafted in 1970, global warming wasn’t yet (broadly) recognized as a problem. “Just about anyone familiar with the Clean Air Act can see the White House’s narrow reading of the law for what it is: a deliberate misreading,” writes Kolbert in the magazine’s Dec. 11 issue. “The act was expressly constructed to allow the EPA to regulate substances known to be dangerous and also substances that might in the future be revealed to be so.”Danger was defined as broadly as possible, including “effects on soils, waters … and climate.” Massachusetts has testimony from four former EPA administrators, including those under two Republican presidents, that Congress clearly directed the EPA to regulate air pollution based on new and changing scientific information.But even if Massachusetts wins the case, it may not make much difference in the short term, says Kolbert. The EPA would be responsible for writing those regulations to govern carbon emissions. “Imagine entrusting campus alcohol policy to the guys at Delta Tau Chi,” she states in an aside.Beyond Aspen, this argument is being noticed in various quarters of the resort world. “The EPA’s do-nothing position is an outrage and tantamount to criminal malfeasance,” railed Ketchum’s Idaho Mountain Express. “With a budget of $7.3 billion and 17,500 employees, EPA was mandated to be guardian of the environment, not its sworn enemy.”But how good is the link between carbon and global warming. The Christian Science Monitor reports that while skeptics may be few, their numbers even now dwindling, they are not entirely dismissed as cranks. “To imply that any scientist who has questions about global warming is somehow part of an orchestrated campaign” by industry or interest groups greatly oversimplifies the spectrum of motivations among those outside the consensus view, says Annie Petsonk, a lawyer with Environmental Defense. Some of the skeptics, notes the newspaper, hold that the climate is too complex to reliably forecast its future trends.Few green energy buyers despite the sustained talkTAOS, N.M. – The connection between local electrical use and the construction of new coal-burning power plants is also being nailed down in Taos. There, the chief executive director of the local rural coop, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, points out that less than 3 percent of the electricity consumed by the cooperative’s members comes from alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar.Luis Reyes, the CEO, suggests that Taoseños aren’t really walking their talk. They think of themselves as supporting and promoting green energy. Taos has homes with straw-bale construction and other cutting-edge innovations that conserve energy. But the masses of people have been unwilling to pay a small incremental cost to help fuel the demand for alternative energy, he said at a recent gathering. He pointed to several Colorado resort areas as leaders.In New Mexico, as in many other places, about 85 percent of the electricity is generated by burning coal, resulting in emissions of gases that most scientists have fingered as a prime cause of global warming. Another large percentage of electricity comes from burning of natural gas. Only a small percentage comes from alternative sources.Asked to help pay for new coal-burning plants, local rural cooperatives across the West have been probing that same connection between local demand and regional outcomes. In California, Truckee has been engaged in that debate, as have the communities of Gunnison/Crested Butte in Colorado and, in somewhat different fashion, Steamboat Springs, Durango and Telluride.The average American uses 300 to 350 kilowatts of energy in home electrical use each month, or the equivalent of burning 6 to 7 gallons of gasoline.Electricity demand could double in Steamboat areaSTEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Demand for electricity continues to grow across most parts of Colorado. In the Yampa Valley, electrical officials warn of potentially doubled demand in the next few years.One major cause of expanding demand is the booming oil-and-gas exploration in areas west of Steamboat Springs. But real-estate expansion could also cause major growth in demand. One proposed building at the base of the ski area envisions 440,000 square feet. A task force, notes the Steamboat Pilot & Today, identifies a major problem is inadequate transmission lines.Climate change could shift mountain resort economiesWHISTLER, B.C. – Eyes in Whistler continue to focus on the Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to begin in only 36 months. Housing for athletes and other projects are yet to be done, and marketing plans to be drawn up.But looking beyond 2010, Pique editor Bob Barnett suggests other changes may be coming. Among those longer-term changes may be a shifted economy. “Climate change may gradually force Whistler to put more emphasis on summer business than winter visits,” he writes. “It’s not something we like to think about or discuss publicly, but then again our focus is on 2010.”I-70 forests described as ‘Katrina of the West’FRISCO – Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar last week showed why has gone from a farm without electricity as a boy to now becoming one of the nation’s more powerful politicians. He can turn a phrase, galvanizing an audience, even at long distance.Speaking by telephone last week to 200 people assembled at a forum in Frisco, he likened the forests of north-central Colorado to a potential “Katrina of the West.” The aging, beetle-weakened forests could yield massive fires similar to those of 2002, he went on to say. The phrase found its way into the front page Denver’s Rocky Mountain News.The forum had been organized by Salazar’s office and others as a way to highlight potential answers to the fact that trees from Vail to Dillon to Winter Park and Grand Lake are dying in large numbers. The turnout at the forum caught organizers by surprise. People spilled out into the street, and even at the end of a six-hour session it was standing-room alone.However, the answers are not overly obvious, nor is there even agreement about the problem. The most immediate blame is assigned to bark beetles, which exists in all forests at all times, but brewing to epidemic portions periodically as conditions ripen. They made a major foray into this same region in the early 1980s, but then began waxing in numbers about 1996. Unchecked by sustained cold temperatures, they continue to spread in forests of lodgepole pine trees that are now about 110 years old, their maturation threshold, and hence naturally more vulnerable to forests pests. Other beetles are also making some inroads into spruce and fir forests, which have longer, sometimes 350-year lifecycles.With rust-colored trees now bordering condominiums and homes, mountain towns and valleys are becoming worried so worried that they have shed traditional mistrust of loggers. Even a half-dozen years ago, few people could be rounded up to defend timber sales near ski communities. But last winter, the ski towns dispatched a delegation to Washington D.C. to see if federal rules could be revised, to better accommodate below-cost timber sales.But the federal government, with tax cuts aplenty while engaging in a foreign war, has little money for administering timber sales. Too, there are few sawmills left in Colorado, causing exorbitant transportation costs. Loggers complain they got shut out of the woods during the Clinton years, although the truth is far more muddled and complicated by international economies (the flattened Earth). One idea being explored increasingly is that of biomass burners. At last week’s session in Frisco, people heard about several such burners now in operation or planned to convert wood into electricity or heat. One such burner is being planned near Frisco; others are being investigated along the I-70 corridor.But no one thing will be the answer, many observers say. And many scientists warn that more logging along won’t be the answer. Speaking at a session in Frisco, Tania Schoennagel pointed out that intensive, long-term and widespread logging of in parts of British Columbia have not had any effect on spread of pine beetles in large areas.”Those findings,” notes the Summit Daily News, “may call into question the assumption that Colorado can log its way back to healthy forests.”Scientists and researchers during the last several years have trying to stress that it’s an over-simplification to simply say that beetle-killed trees equal the potential for catastrophic danger. This point was stressed in a report from Colorado State University that suggested that bark beetles will actually be good for the forests.Rick Cables, the regional administrator for the U.S. Forest Service, bridled at that suggestion. But he did concede that humans could do only so much to blunt the effect of beetles and the potential for fire. “The beetle epidemic is cause by major forces beyond our control. We can no more stop it than we can stop a hurricane.”The challenge is to protect critical values like home, roads, and power lines, he added.Cold snap not nearly enough to nip beetlesCANMORE, Alberta – It got plenty nippy in Canada during late November, but it didn’t stay cold nearly long enough to freeze out the bark beetles that are afflicting trees in the Bow River Valley. A cold snap of at least 40 degrees below zero (both Celsius and Fahrenheit) sustained for 10 days would be necessary, officials tell the Rocky Mountain Outlook. Although the bark beetle epidemic in British Columbia rivals that of Colorado’s I-70 corridor, the epidemic in Alberta is milder. The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports only 3,5000 to 4,000 infested trees in the Bow Valley of Banff and Canmore. However, an extraordinary flight of beetles of 400 kilometers (250 miles) has yielded as many as 1.5 million infested trees in the Jasper and Peace River region.Vail looking at ban on new wooden shinglesVAIL – The horrors of the 1994 Storm King Fire, in which 14 firefighters died near Glenwood Springs, illustrated not only the dangers to firefighters, but the true cost of insulating mountain homes to the threat of fire dangers. Then, in 2002, a second fire raced across land adjacent to Glenwood Springs, this time gutting houses but taking no lives, although the story could easily have taken another and hugely different tack.Still, mountain towns and valleys have been generally slow to guard themselves against the potential and likelihood of fire. A case in point is Vail, located 60 miles east. There, after investigation of several years, town authorities are only now considering a proposal that would wag the long finger of the law at wood shakes and shingles. Only fire-resistant Class A materials would be permitted on new roofs or reroofed areas.The change is the first installment of wildfire regulations that are being created to better insulate Vail against wildlife.That threat of wildfire is no longer an idle one at Vail. Foresters some years ago described the forests near ski towns as being asbestos-like. Catastrophic fires in higher-elevation spruce-fir forests more commonly occur every 300 or so years.But the current bark beetle epidemic has waxed uncommonly long, unhindered by sustained cold temperatures. Too, extended drought has weakened trees. The result has been whole hillsides in Vail looking rusty, the result of beetles attacking trees, their needles dying.Colorado ski towns join global warming actionVAIL – The Colorado Association of Ski Towns is getting engaged in the debate about global warming. The group has delegated Stan Zemler, Vail’s town manager, to represent it on a new task force set up in Colorado to evaluate a state-wide response to climate change. The backup delegate on the group is Tim Gagen, Breckenridge town manager.Eight states, led by California but also including Arizona, and New Mexico, have completed action plans for responding to global warming, and five states have started. Bypassing Colorado’s state government, a Denver-based group called the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization has organized a panel with a broad arc across Colorado’s political and business climate.Included are mayors of three mayor Front Range cities: Denver, Fort Collins, and Lakewood, plus former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, utility company executive Pat Vincent, and assorted others. The group expects to issue a report next year to the new governor, Bill Ritter, and state legislators.Real estate development next for small ski areaGLENWOOD SPRINGS – Ski areas in the 1980s and 1990s increasingly renamed themselves resorts while on their way to adding base-area real estate.That is also the progression in store for what used to be called Ski Sunlight. Now called Sunlight Mountain Resort, it is being sold to a Florida-based firm called Exquisite Development. The firm is currently developing condo resorts in Florida, Alabama and Tennessee.In addition to the 40-year-old ski area, which has been doing 68,000 to 100,000 skier days in recent years, the sale includes land that is currently zoned for up to 780 residential units and a retail complex. Only minor lodging exists at the ski area now, although a subdivision is located a few miles away.Sunlight has remained profitable, owners and managers have said, but narrowly so. With prices for skiing falling in recent years at resorts catering to the Front Range population, skiers found it harder to justify driving the 175 miles from Denver to Sunlight. That said, the Forest Service, which administers the land on which the ski area sits, saw the greatest potential proportionate growth in skier days at Sunlight.But owners saw a different potential: high-end real estate development. Sales price was not disclosed, but it had been advertised last fall for $50 million. The sale is contingent upon government approvals of the real estate component.In addition, Current Sunlight operators estimate $10 million is needed to keep the three existing ski lifts operating. They also want more investment in snowmaking. “It’s been awhile since we’ve had anything up here happen” in terms of improvements, said general manager Tom Jankovsky. “It’s time. Our infrastructure is getting old. Something has to happen.”Analysts see more ski area sales aheadMAMMOTH, Calif. In it its Dec. 2, issue, The Wall Street Journal took a broader view of ski areas, noticing the recent shuffling of ownerships unrivaled since the consolidation phase of about 1997. “What’s the must-have time this ski season? A resort,” says the Journal.The newspaper noted the entry of private-equity firms such as fortress Investment Group, which in October completed the purchase of Intrawest for $2.8 billion, but also purchases of California’s Mountain High Resort by Valor Equity Partners and the sale of Mammoth Mountain last year to investors led by Starwood Capital Group Global.Analysts tell the paper that they expect more ski-resort deals in months ahead. The intense interest is reflected in the stock price for Vail Resorts Inc. Stock price rarely percolated above the $16 price of the IPO in 1997, but how now surged above $44 per share. “Ski resorts are in some ways a perfect target for private-equity firms, which buy businesses in hopes of selling them for a profit after improving them,” explained the Journal. “The resorts generally have low debt, their upscale clientele is less affected by economic fluctuations. “But resorts also have plenty of risk, most notoriously their reliance on natural snowfall.The Journals also notes a softening real-estate market that could hurt demand for second homes and condos. It did not note the still-Herculean demand for real estate in Aspen, Vail and other high-end markets.Worker housing added to plans for ghost townTELLURIDE – Owners of a long-abandoned mining town called Alta, located at an elevation of about 10,000 feet near the Telluride ski area, have sweetened the pot in hopes of getting the property annexed to the town of Mountain Village. Mountain Village is the slope-side town located above the town of Telluride and would provide utilities for the project.The biggest pot-sweetener is affordable housing: 71 price-capped units. In exchange, the developers hope to be able to build 71 high-end residential lots, a 44-unit lodge and sporting center, and 45 small for-sale cabins.Affordable housing is in short supply in the Telluride area, and Mountain Village earlier this year emerged with some egg on its face for its proposal to put affordable housing well away from the town, in a river canyon about 15 miles west. That plan received a barrage of criticism, and was then withdrawn.This new affordable housing, if the annexation is approved, will also be apart from Mountain Village, thus eliminating traffic impacts that existing property owners feared. Those objections killed a previous effort to annex in 1997.Lance Armstrong to shift gears on Leadville 100LEADVILLE – Bicycle rider Lance Armstrong is scheduled to test his mettle next summer against the 100-mile mountain bike race at Leadville, report the Leadville Chronicle and Denver Post.The race starts at Leadville, elevation 10,152 feet, and during the 100-mile course gains some 11,000 vertical feet. At its high point, the trail reaches an elevation of 12,600 feet at a somewhat ironically named Hope Pass.Leadville was among the first mountain towns to engage the ultra-extreme athletes beginning with a 100-mile foot race that began in 1983. It now attracts 750 runners. The bicycle race was started a decade later.Highest and best use isn’t always the wisestKETCHUM, Idaho Hailey is more or less the entry town to the Wood River Valley, where Sun Valley and Ketchum are located. But a rodeo grounds at the town’s gateway is likely to get developed into what town and development officials are calling the “highest and best use.”The Idaho Mountain Express protests this possible change. “So, what could be ‘highest and best use’ at that site? Another boxy structure with the personality of lifeless concrete?” wonders the newspaper.”‘Highest and best use’ has its place when visionaries use land to uplift a community’s virtues. But so, too, do icons and landmark building and historic sites that create a community’s character and make it more livable … If this trend continues, the valley is in danger of evolving into another undistinguished triumph of ‘highest and best use’ of land whose value can be measured in real estate taxes, not character.”TV program takes aim at immigrationASPEN and VAIL – Major national attention will be focused on the immigration issue as it plays out in the high-end resort valleys of the West. NBC News has spent eight months in the Aspen-Rifle-Vail triangle in research for a one-hour program that will be broadcast on Dec. 26. The report is to be called “In the Shadow of the American Dream.” It will be narrated by Tom Brokaw, the former anchorman for NBC.NBC says the report will look at the “economic realities, social consequences and political controversies” surrounding Colorado immigration, and will feature interviews with police, government officials, teachers, doctors and others.While the dynamics of immigration are fundamentally the same in the Vail and Aspen areas as they have played out elsewhere, they provide an attractive place for telling the story because cheaper, immigrant labor has financed rapid economic growth in both places, and because of the dichotomies between rich and poor are even more distended than in most places. Not least, the immigration to both places surged even in the late 1980s, well before most other places in the country.Proposed Idaho employee town stays in slower laneKETCHUM, Idaho The idea of a new town in the Wood River Valley to provide the muscle for the Ketchum-Sun Valley area won’t be allowed to cut to the front of the line. The county commissioners of Blaine County have ruled that the proposal must hew to the normal planning process instead of getting the fast-track of a “special planning area.”The new town, tentatively called Spring Creek, would be located farther down valley than the existing bed-room communities of Hailey and Bellevue, and would provide 2,000 to 3,000 housing units, 70 percent of them in lower-cost (but not deed restricted) housing.Although an urban Land Institute team that visited last summer admired the idea proposed by developers Bob Kantor and George Kirk, there is hesitation in the Wood River valley. “There’s something wrong about ghettoizing our workforce,” said John Peavey, a rancher and former Idaho state senator. Another sentiment is that previous planning efforts want density focused in and around existing towns. Environmental groups ranging from The Nature Conservancy to Citizens for Smart Growth also oppose the fast-track ink, as did mayors of the various towns in the valley.The thinking from the county commission is that while affordable housing is an increasingly thorny issue there, it’s not yet a crisis. “We have the luxury of time,” said Commissioner Tom Bowman.Labor shortages in B.C. are focus of new studyWHISTLER, B.C. Looming labor shortages in the Whistler-Vancouver resort area, called the Sea to Sky Corridor, continue to confront local economic leaders. A study begun last year estimates a minimum shortage of 3,5000 workers in the tourism labor market in Whistler.”The corridor can neither rely on the reputation it once enjoyed nor continue to believe that workers will come because they are solely attracted by the lifestyle,” concluded the Sea to Sky study. “Maintaining the status quo in recruiting will no longer serve the business community.”Affordable housing was identified as a key issue in every resort community in the corridor, including Whistler, where reports are legion of landlords charging $500 to $600 a month for shared bedrooms.Meanwhile, a similar study is being launched in the Kootenay area of British Columbia, which is home to Panorama, Fernie, and Revelstoke. There, employers compete for workers with the booming oil-and-gas fields of the nearby Alberta-Edmonton area.Whistler assesses impact of new U.S. passport lawWHISTLER, B.C. Tourism officials in Whistler remain guarded about the potential impact of a new U.S. law that requires all travelers into the United States to have passports, including U.S. citizens who have left for vacations.Previously, only a driver’s license, birth certificate and some other form of government identification was adequate. But as of Jan. 23, all people flying into the U.S. must have passports and go through a time-consuming screening process. Currently, only 27 percent of Americans have passports.Michele Comeau Thompson, director of communications for tourism Whistler, tells Pique newsmagazine that the impact on the air travel market is not expected to be as bad as for land crossings. That is in part because people who fly are much more likely to have passports, and that is particularly true of Californians, who compose a great deal of Whistler’s business from the U.S.But Whistler also gets a great deal of business from the Seattle area, and those-land crossers are less likely to have passports. But, since the deadline for land crossings is not scheduled until Jan. 1, 2008, Canadian officials believe there is time to educate potential customers.The flip side of the coin, however, is that Canadians rank first in visitors to the United States, and second to the Japanese in tourism expenditures.
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