Mountain Town News: Whistler wants authority to adopt a closed-door policy
WHISTLER, B.C. — It annoys some people to the point of anger, all these shop doors in Whistler that remain open even during the coldest days of winter.
Global temperatures continue to rise. The Iditarod has become more of an obstacle course because of Alaska’s melted snow and unfrozen rivers. But during Christmas week, a survey by AWARE, the local environmental group, found that 30 percent of doors in Whistler Village, the primary commercial area, were propped open in an effort to draw in customers.
Arthur De Jong, a member of Whistler’s municipal council responsible for environmental matters, admits that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the wasteful use of heat pales when compared to emissions from transportation and other sectors. It’s the symbolism that matters, he says.
“It’s discouraging when we are dealing with the enormity of the climate change challenge,” says De Jong. “If we can’t start with the little things, then…”
Conversations between climate advocates and merchants since Christmas have reduced the percentage of open doors to 7 percent. But De Jong wants a municipal law that addresses the doors more directly.
Whistler cannot adopt such a law, however, unless it gets authority from the provincial government in British Columbia. Just as counties are divisions of state governments in the United States, municipalities are extensions of the provincial governments in Canada. And British Columbia says that Whistler must provide an economic argument for such a law.
De Jong has lobbied provincial officials for greater latitude for municipalities, and not just for the ability to regulate open doors. He’d like Whistler to take action on plastic straws, as some jurisdictions around the world have already done.
“We need an overarching authority that gives us the ability to move on waste reduction, too,” he says.
British Columbia has adopted an aggressive climate change goal of 80 percent fewer emissions by mid-century. To achieve such dramatic reductions, he says, the province needs to give local governments the authority to take the actions they believe necessary.
“They must empower us to be able to follow through to do everything we can at the local level to achieve these goals,” says De Jong.
The tow-headed children in the red-headed states
JACKSON, Wyo. — People in Teton County may have a cowboy atop a bucking bronco on their license plates, the same as others in Wyoming, but in almost every other respect they’re outliers.
Consider the last presidential election. Alone among Wyoming’s 23 counties, voters in Teton County — otherwise known as Jackson Hole — sided with Hillary Clinton. Nearly all other counties gave 70 to 90 percent of their votes to Donald Trump.
Wyoming is conservative and Republican, while Teton County veers Democratic and liberal. This is just the beginning of the many differences.
These differences have been reflected several times recently in efforts, some successful, by state legislators from elsewhere in Wyoming to slap the hands of Teton County officials for what they call regulatory overreach.
The Jackson Hole News&Guide’s Allie Gross cites the example of family subdivisions. Just 3 percent of Teton County is in private ownership, and those ranchlands are treasured preserves. By Wyoming law, family members can deed parcels to other family members without restrictions imposed on others. Teton County believed this exemption was being used for speculative real estate purposes, not the purpose for which it was intended. The county adopted regulations that required minimum land parcel sizes of 35 acres.
That 35 acres is the minimum in Colorado. Other states in the West have similar laws of 35 to 40 acre minimums. But Wyoming views private property rights as sacred.
Ogden Driskill, a state senator from northeastern Wyoming, says Teton County has overreached in telling people what they can do with their land. “I’m a private landowner rights person,” he said. “And a lot of what’s happening in Teton County may be very popular to the public, but it’s an absolute affront to private property rights.”
Along with other legislators, Driskill approved a law this winter that requires Teton County to issue building permits for exempt family subdivisions, no matter the parcel size.
Another disagreement is about Teton County’s affordable housing regulations.
There’s irony in this, as was noted by state Rep. Jim Roscoe, an independent who represents parts of Teton County. “It’s almost a plank of the Republican platform that government closest to the people is the best government,” he pointed out.
County Commissioner Greg Epstein cites many differences between Teton County and other Wyoming counties.
“The way we raise revenue is the opposite end of the spectrum from the rest of the state. We are growing, (while) a lot of the rest of the state is trying to retain citizens,” he said. “I don’t think the state legislators from other parts of the state truly understand the nuance and dynamics of what it takes to be citizens of Jackson Hole and Teton County and be a public servant trying to make this all work. We’re dealing with real urbanization issues in a fragile ecosystem.”
Epstein and another Teton County commissioner, Luther Propst — the founder of the Sonoran Institute — say that Teton County’s unusual circumstances require more complex and usually more restrictive land-use regulations.
Some Wyoming counties have no zoning at all. In that view, Teton County’s regulations represent overreach, maybe even oppression.
In Wyoming, as in other states, towns that have adopted home-rule charters have more independence from state regulations.
Other states have similar dynamics as found in Wyoming. The flags of Blaine County, home to Ketchum and Sun Valley, frequently wave in different directions from Idaho’s 44 other counties. In the last presidential election, just Blaine and the county where the state university is located went for Clinton.
In Utah, it’s Park City and Summit County that frequently walk in a different direction than the rest of Utah. In this, Summit County often has the company of Salt Lake City and sometimes Moab. For example, until recently, the Mormon-dominated legislature required that alcoholic drinks be prepared behind a curtain.
Colorado hews more purple verging on blue in its politics. But the politics of local versus state control has flared for decades, most notably in the debates about regulation of oil and gas extraction.
South of Durango, natural gas extraction has been contested since the 1980s. As the Denver Post pointed out on Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that there was nothing in state law to support the total preemption of a county’s authority to approve oil and gas land-use regulations.
However, as the drilling hotspot has moved to the northern Front Range in recent years, cities and counties that have tried to regulate drilling have been less successful. Good deal, responded the oil and gas industry and local governments who favor the extraction. Let the state be the regulator.
Now, a bill advancing rapidly through the Democratic-controlled Legislature would give those cities and counties much of the land-use authority that they have wanted. This time, it’s the oil and gas industry and its allies who see ruination lying just over the legislative horizon. In Weld County, the center of the drilling, some firebrands have called for the county to leave Colorado and join Wyoming.
Aspen Skiing responds to complaints of Ikon Pass
ASPEN — The Aspen Skiing Co. has changed its mind. Earlier this winter, in response to complaints about holders of the Ikon Pass causing crowding, the company had declined to reveal numbers.
But in an op-ed published in local papers, chief executive Mike Kaplan reported that the Ikon Pass made up only 9 percent of skier visits this season. However, its use is more prevalent on weekends, 15 percent, than on weekdays.
The Alterra Mountain Co.’s Ikon Pass offers unlimited skiing at Steamboat, Squaw Valley and others. At Aspen’s four ski areas, Jackson Hole and select other resorts not owned by Alterra, there are fewer ski days offered.
One takeaway, though, is that Aspen is having its busiest ski season in more than 20 years. Heavy snowstorms are the story, 300 inches at Aspen midway through March. “What is there to complain about.”
The second takeaway described is that the true driver of the busyness on the slopes is a 40 percent increase in use of season passes by locals as compared to last year. True, last year was a dud for snowfall at Aspen, but even compared with the much better snow year of 2016-17, the use of the local ski passes this winter is up by double digits.
As for those big, big winters in the late 1990s when Aspen set skier-day records, much has changed since then in terms of mountain capacity. Kaplan noted several expansion areas as well as the addition of high-speed lifts.
Molybdenum mine now good for another 20 years
GEORGETOWN — In 2015, executives from one of the world’s largest mining companies stood on the stage of Clear Creek High School and assured local leaders they needed to assume that the local molybdenum mine, called Henderson, would be closing. Not tomorrow, they said, but soon enough, within just a few years.
Well, not so fast. In 2017, the market for molybdenum — which is used to strengthen steel and for other uses — has strengthened. And apparently, exploration work at the mine has panned out, revealing a new deposit to be exploited.
The mine is located under the Continental Divide, just a few miles away from US 40, the highway that forks from Interstate 70 and crosses Berthoud Pass before descending into Winter Park and Fraser. The narrowness of the valleys on the east side of the Great Divide caused the mine developers in the early 1970s to bore a tunnel to the west side, in the Williams Fork Valley. There, the molybdenite ore gets pulverized with giant steel balls, then the molybdenum is extracted chemically. The spent ore gets dumped in a giant tailings reservoir.
The Sky-Hi News reports that the mine operator, Freeport-McMoRan last week confirmed ongoing development of a new section of the Henderson Mine.
“Based on current production and development plans, Henderson is expected to operate for roughly the next 20 years,” Ruthanne Van Dyke, director of corporation communications for the company, said.
The company has 245 employees working at the mine and 130 at the mill, and it could use more.
The price of molybdenum as of early March was 150 percent higher than in 2015, when the price reached its nadir and the company talked about closing the mine, the Sky-Hi News reports, citing a commodity price tracking website called Trading Economics.
Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan also operates the Climax Mine between Frisco and Leadville.
And in Crested Butte, Freeport-McMoRan also owns the mineral rights to a molybdenum deposit in Mt. Emmons, popularly called the Red Lady. The mountain overlooks Crested Butte, and since the 1970s the community has worried about the potential for mine development.
“I don’t know of any ski town that has gone back to being a mining town, and we don’t want to be the first,” says Jim Schmidt, the mayor of Crested Butte.
Briefly as a young man new to Crested Butte, Schmidt worked at the Keystone Mine on Mt. Emmons, just about the time that Amax — a mining company that is now part of Freeport-McMoRan — had plans to mine the molybdenum.
That prospect receded two years ago when Freeport-McMoRan regained title to the mining deposits but indicated it has no interest in mining the deposit.
Still, an agreement between the mining company, Crested Butte and Gunnison County has not been fully consummated. The mining company can’t just walk away from the claims, because that will leave the mineral deposits open for somebody else to claim. Federal action, either a presidential proclamation or congressional law, will be required to remove this possibility. Efforts to achieve one or the other are at a standstill, he says.
Even amid the deep snows, thoughts of wildfire season
TRUCKEE, Calif. — From California to Colorado, people are already talking about fire season even as snowbanks still tower over roads.
“It’s hard for people to imagine that there will be a wildfire this summer,” said Bill Seline, chief of the Truckee Fire Protection District at a recent meeting.
At the meeting covered by the Sierra Sun, he advised people to start thinking about defensible space around homes, including taking fire away from the home, pruning branches up to 6 feet from the ground, and keeping roofs and gutters clear of debris.
In Oregon, new state rules governing how much smoke from prescribed burns can enter nearby communities have been adopted, and fire managers welcome them as they plan prescribed burns.
“Having no fire is not an option here,” Deschutes County Forester Ed Keith told the Bend Bulletin.
Bend, the city nearest to the Mt. Bachelor ski area, lies along the Deschutes River, and smoke from prescribed burns tends to hang there at night before dissipating in the heat of day. The rules specifically give forest managers flexibility in setting fires near Bend, but are not expected to increase the acreage burned.
In Colorado, a movement has been building for much of the 21st century to allow land managers to manipulate forested ecosystems. But there’s also the question of appropriating money to do the work.
The Denver Post reports that a near-record 524,282 acres burned last year, five times the average. Rising temperatures have at least something to do with the increase in wildfires. The warmest temperatures were recorded in 124 years.
A new report from state and federal foresters concluded that tree-thinning designed to mimic the effects of wildfires saved subdivisions threatened by fires last summer at Silverthorne, Grand Lake, and La Veta. But this selective thinning costs $1,500 to $3,000 an acre.
Also at issue is expanding home building within forested areas. The so-called wildland-urban interface, also called the red zone, has increased in area 50 percent since 2012, the report said.
Colorado legislators have balked at dictating where homebuilding can occur, leaving that largely to local governments to decide.
Aspen septuagenarian survives moose trampling
ASPEN — Alfred Braun has developed quite a reputation in Aspen. The 78-year-old man was walking on the snow-covered highway east of Aspen, which is closed during winter, when a moose bolted down the road and repeatedly tried to stomp him with its front hooves.
A witness told the Aspen Daily News that several people were on the road, now covered with six feet of snow, some to go backcountry snowboarding and others, like Braun, just out for a stroll. Suddenly, the moose barreled past them and seemed to single out Braun with its annoyance. He tried to hit the moose in the face with a ski pole, but the undeterred moose then knocked the man down and appeared to be stomping him.
What the observers didn’t see was that the moose missed Braun, who then poked the moose in the belly. The animal then galloped off.
In Breckenridge, a moose fell into a window well of a home and crashed into the basement. It was tranquilized and moved elsewhere.
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