Mountain Town News: Wrongful death suit filed in case of two buried workers |

Mountain Town News: Wrongful death suit filed in case of two buried workers

JACKSON, Wyo. — A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against a resort owner and developer, accusing him of actions that resulted in the death of two laborers in an unsecured 12-foot-deep

trench that collapsed on them last September.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports the complaint cites text messages that were reportedly from the developer to the two men, giving them job-related orders. The text messages indicated that the work site was in violation of local and state regulations. The lawsuit says one message in August to one of the two laborers said: “Keep working regardless of what anyone says.”

This lawsuit asks for $1 million each in damages for beneficiaries of the two men. The News&Guide reports the county prosecutor hasn’t decided what criminal charges, if any, will be filed.

Wyoming’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed penalizing the developer $10,532 for “serious” violations.

Banff starting discussion about congestion pricing

BANFF, Alberta — Elected officials in Banff have started a conversation about whether congestion pricing would help the town inside Banff National Park deal with its excess of cars during summer. It seems to be a no-go at the moment, but the topic is on the table.

Banff has set a congestion level defined by 24,000 trips in a day within its borders as unacceptable. By that metric, the town was congested 67 times last year, according to the town’s engineering coordinator, Stephen Allan.

Applying a fee for use of a car during congested times would seek to discourage use of the vehicle. A congestion charge of $5 to $15 applied from June through September would yield $1.1 million to $5.5 million for alternative transportation, Allen said.

London implemented a congestion charge in 2003 that was credited with reducing car travel 23% by 2012. From 2016 to 2018, the charge yielded $280 million that underwrote other transit initiatives. Elsewhere in the world, both Singapore and Stockholm levy congestion charges, and Vancouver has been exploring such a charge.

In Colorado, Crested Butte is talking congestion, too. But it’s a whole different order of problem, one apparently caused by employees of downtown shops parking in front of the stores. This has the town council talking about enforcing parking limits, including the mountain town equivalent of a parking maid.

“The question facing the council appears to be whether to implement a comprehensive parking plan in town — and that means paid parking — or keep flying with a Crested Butte casual attitude,” explains Mark Reaman, editor of the Crested Butte News.

Reaman concedes Crested Butte’s traffic problems would be considered trifling — or less — in much of the motorized universe. What nobody seems to want is paid parking, as began several years ago in Breckenridge. During July, the busiest and most prosperous month in mountain towns, Crested Butte is “certainly busy and more stressful than May parking, but it’s rarely over the top hell,” Reaman writes.

Kerouac now bronzed along one of his roads

FRASER — A life-size bronze statue of the writer Jack Kerouac has been completed and now stands in the vicinity of Fraser, along with a similar statue of President Dwight Eisenhower.

Eisenhower is an easy explanation. He enjoyed fly-fishing in the creeks around Fraser when he was president, as his wife, Mamie, was from Denver.

As for Kerouac, the author of “On the Road” and “Dharma Bums” passed through Fraser in his continent-crossing traipses in the 1940s and 1950s. Fraser then was a logging and railroad town. This was before the interstate highways, and most travelers between Salt Lake City and Denver used U.S. Highway 40. Kerouac hung out a lot in Denver and San Francisco but made his home in New York City.

The likeness was created by Howard Neville and unveiled at the Fraser Valley Distillery.

“I’m glad that we can unveil it here because this is basically what killed Jackson,” Neville said in a toast, alluding to the alcoholism that killed Kerouac at age 47. Neville, reports the Sky-Hi News, has created 47 miniature versions to sell.

Wildfire worries? Not with snowstorms on summer solstice

FRISCO — Cold temperatures and snow, not wildfire, were on most people’s minds in Colorado’s mountain towns over the weekend.

“This is nuts,” said one Vail resident in a Facebook post. In Summit County, the regatta to kick off the summer sailing season on Dillon Reservoir was canceled. At Arapahoe Basin, skiers were still skiing, and the mountain will remain open for Fourth of July.

And in Steamboat Springs, there was flooding with the arrival of rain and heavy snow. The Yampa and its tributary, the Elk River, already high with spring runoff.

How very different from 2002, a year of marginal snow then hot, hot weather. Three major fires occurred that summer in Colorado by early June. Another parched year was 2012. And last year at this time, fires were crawling up the haunches of Summit County’s Buffalo Mountain.

What size houses are too big, and who should care?

ASPEN — Aspen long has been favored by the world’s 1 percenters, the economic elite. This includes both liberals and conservatives, but especially the latter.

Two of the four Koch brothers, of fossil fuel fame, now or in the past have owned places in or around Aspen. So did a Saudi prince, Bandar bin Sultan, who had a 56,000-square-foot house that he sold in 2012. That’s just the main house.

The buyer, hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson, was one of Trump’s campaign advisors in 2016. And it should be noted that the $24.5 million he paid for the sprawling Aspen digs comes in only second on his real estate list. He paid $41 million for a place in Southampton, New York.

This castle is outside of Aspen proper, like other big homes. But even some lesser McMansions come in at 15,000 square feet. That’s the same size as the Pitkin County courthouse, points out Tony Vagneur, writing in The Aspen Times.

“If you’ve ever wandered through one of those big, bad boys, it’s reminiscent of wandering through an over-sized mausoleum or an outdated, empty hotel,” he writes. “Aloneness is a word that comes to mind, especially when they’re unoccupied so often. It’s hard to make a 15,000-square-foot house ring true to the meaning of ‘house,’ no matter what kind of art you hang on the wall.”

Now, the maximum size allowed is 5,750 square feet. However, by buying land elsewhere in the county and transferring the development rights from those, homes of 10,000 to 13,000 square feet remain possible.

Pitkin County officials — but not those in Aspen — have been talking for the past year about further limiting house sizes. Real estate agents, developers and architects in the Aspen area want to allow more large homes. They have resisted any restrictions. Pitkin County officials will take up the matter again in late August.

The compromise Vagneur sees making sense is 7,500 square feet.

Energy use of the supersized homes figures into the debate. A 10,000-square-foot home doesn’t use 10 times more energy than a 1,000-square-foot home, a study found, but instead 30 times more energy. A house’s energy appetite escalates disproportionately beginning at 7,000 square feet.

Paul Andersen, writing in The Aspen Times, says if the Aspen community “hopes to seriously confront climate change, it has to address the impacts of empty vacation homes, which cover ridgelines and mesas as a testament to the privilege of wealth.”

Why hasn’t the community crimped house sizes in line with their climate impacts?

Because, says Andersen, the topic remains “taboo in Aspen and Pitkin County, where an inconvenient truth is mostly unspoken: extravagant vacation homes contribute significantly to the pending crises of climate change.”

He points to Vancouver as a potential model. There, he reports, the city charges a 1% tax based on assessed value. That caused the number of vacation homes to decline 15% in 2018 and produced $33 million in new revenue earmarked for affordable housing.

Pitkin County likely won’t use the Vancouver model, he says, because Aspen has an unhealthy codependency with its super-wealthy, part-time residents.

“Burdening the wealthy here has become a stigma because wealth in Aspen equates to culture and richness and upscale community amenities,” he writes. “To penalize wealth in any way is to bite the hand that feeds.”

Allen Best’s regional news roundup “Mountain Town News” publishes Sundays in the Summit Daily News. Best never strayed far from mountain towns in his journalism career. His first newspaper job was in 1977 in a town hard along the banks of the Colorado River. Best now lives in Arvada. More of his writing can be found at Contact him at

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