Mountain Town News: Plastic grocery bags now a no-no in Vail |

Mountain Town News: Plastic grocery bags now a no-no in Vail

VAIL, Colo. — Single-use plastic bags will no longer be available at Vail’s two big grocery stories beginning on Saturday, Aug. 1. Paper bags will be used instead, but only at a cost of 10 cents a bag.

The law intends to nudge shoppers into taking their own bags to stuff in the lettuce and cantaloupe and, since this is Vail, sushi and other exotic items. Small bags for apples, bulk items and so forth will still be allowed.

The town is calling it the Kick the Bag Habit program. Stores can keep 20 percent of the money collected in bag sales for their costs. The rest will go to a town program that provides bags to visitors and residents.

The two grocery stores in town have been giving out an estimated 4,000 bags a year.

Communities and countries across the world have been cracking down on the proliferating plastic bags. The bags can be recycled, but a report for Los Angeles city government found that an estimated 5 percent of plastic bags in California and across the United States are recycled.

From 2003 through 2007, the United States consumed roughly 400 billion single-use plastic carryout bags, according to a report given elected officials in Vail.

San Francisco outlawed plastic bags in 2007, Portland, Oregon, in 2011, and Austin, Texas, in 2013. This month, single-use bags became illegal in all of Hawaii.

Telluride was first among ski and mountain towns of the West, banning plastic altogether and adopting a fee on paper bags. Aspen and Carbondale, which are located 30 miles apart, followed in 2011.

Breckenridge took a different approach, levying a 10-cent fee on all bags at all stores.

Whistler has been working with grocery retailers in a six-month program in which the stores voluntarily charge consumers 5 cents per bag.

Vail chose to emulate its rival, Aspen, and by extension, Telluride, but at a lower cost: 10 cents for paper bags, instead of 20 cents.

Some mountain towns have adopted bans but faced pushback from consumers. Basalt voters, located near Aspen, overturned the council ban on plastics, and so did those in Durango.

Mark Hoblitzell, a municipal staffer in Vail who did most of the homework required of elected officials, said the decision by the council in March has been fairly well received. He said that of every 10 people he has talked with, eight have been supportive. The other two were quite upset.

Vail intends to next move into a program that eases other retail merchants out of the bag habit, but it first has to implement the existing ban.

Mandatory composting & recycling in Whistler

WHISTLER, B.C. — British Columbia makes little land available for landfills. Whistler, for example, ships its refuse by truck to Vancouver, where it is put on railroad cars for shipment to a landfill along the Columbia River.

This creates a direct economic incentive to composte and recycle. Whistler last year had a waste diversion rate of 54 percent — which would match the highest rate in Colorado, for example, Loveland, which is not a ski town.

But studies in Whistler find that a great amount of items that can be composted or recycled are still being shipped south to the U.S. border and across most of the state of Washington to be buried. Officials estimate that 41 percent of Whistler’s garbage could be diverted to a local composting facility and another 40 percent could be recycled.

With that in mind, Whistler is now looking to follow Vancouver, San Francisco, and other major municipalities along the West Coast by banning organic materials and recyclables from the trash stream.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden says current efforts have failed to divert significant amounts of waste from commercial operations and multi-family housing that can be either composted or otherwise recycled. Bins for both would be provided. And failing to use the bins could provoke fines. Just how guilty parties will be detected has yet to be determined.

This, said Wilhelm-Morden, “will reduce the amount of waste that is going to the landfill, which is a good thing and long overdue.”

One advantage of more waste diversion is that it will save the municipality $92,000 a year. Whistler is also tinkering with how to pass along those cost savings to customers.

Antler arches in Jackson good for 50 more years

JACKSON, Wyo. — The town square in Jackson is a many-antlered place. The four corners each have an arch made of antlers, about 2,000 antlers per arch, assembled around a steel arch.

The arches are something to remember and a photo-op like few others. On any given day, scores of visitors can be found standing next to the arches, admiring the handwork and taking photos of themselves and companions.

The arches were first created 60 years ago. The town is bordered on its northern side by the 24,700-acre National Elk Refuge. During winter, the refuge has 14,000 elk that shed their magnificent crowns each year.

A decade ago, a half-century of weather and high-elevation sunshine had taken a toll on the arches. In response, the local Rotary Club joined with the town to rebuild them. The fourth and final arch was completed in June.

Officials tell the News&Guide that the four arches together have 56,000 pounds of antlers and, given the shifting price for antlers, their total value is $450,000.

Larry Pardee, director of public works, says the arches are icons that speak to the cultural tradition of Jackson and, more broadly, Jackson Hole and have somewhat of a brand logo. “I’m still impressed with how many people are taking pictures in front of the arches at any time of the year,” he said.

Why homeless people stay in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. — Housing has been scarce in Jackson and Teton County for a long time. But coming out of the recession, the Jackson Hole News&Guide began reporting a tighter housing pinch than anyone could remember.

Since then, the vise has always increased — and summer is infinitely more busy in Jackson Hole than winter.

Outlying communities, such as Driggs and Victor, in nearby Idaho, have housing. This creates a slog of commuters from Jackson every day at about 5 p.m. to rival that of most cities. There’s a similar pulse of traffic along the Snake River to Alta, about 20 miles away.

But many people want to avoid these time-chewing commutes. The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports about a history teacher, David Wells, who had driven across Teton Pass perhaps 1,500 times over the years, mostly to go to work. He and his family liked their town in Idaho, but since April they have been living in a new house, co-developed by his employer, the school district, at Wilson, just 8 miles from their jobs in Jackson Hole.

“I used to spend eight 40-hour work weeks in a car during a school year,” Wells said. “That’s two months of time freed up to be with my child, go to the park or spend time with friends.”

“The quality of life is much higher because we are not commuting,” agreed his wife, Stefani Wells.

But others haven’t had the same option. There are many reports of people living in the woods. One woman, for example, has been curling up each night this summer with her dog in a Thule ski rack at her forest campsite.

In April, a short documentary called “Postcards from Paradise” was released by Raul Gutierrez. The documentary tells the story of one of the homeless local employees, Gerson Giron, who took to living out of his SUV.

This begs the question of why Giron chose to remain in Jackson Hole if housing is so scarce? The answer: because it is Shangri-La.

“If I lived in Texas and something similar was going on there, I would have packed up and moved,” he said. “Jackson is so beautiful and inspires me to take pictures. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

That’s also the story of Sam Green and Erica Hookland, with their yellow lab, Toots. They recently had a yard sale, to pare their possessions, after rent went up more than what they could afford. He arrived in Jackson Hole 15 years ago to ski, and she six years later after college.

“This is our home, just without a house, I guess,” said Hookland. “And it’s beautiful.”

Taos steamed up about expansion of its airport

TAOS, N.M. — If Taos goes forward with a $24 million runway expansion, who wins and why? And who loses?

Real estate agents think they will gain. They recently took out a full-page ad in the Taos News. Proponents also argue that travelers will gain, because the longer runway will be safer, especially for bigger planes. That’s also the inevitable argument of the Federal Aviation Administration, which commonly funds 90 percent of such runway expansions.

But what about the residents of the 650 houses near the new runway? Writing in the Taos News, letter-writer Seth Brown predicts losses to the traditional ways of Taos. “We don’t want this beautiful, very old agricultural community to be sold out to those who will come in their private jets … We need to take back our government in Taos or developers will have it their way and our farmland will disappear.”

But another reader, blogging on the newspaper’s website, sees only incremental change for the good.

“Hopefully, it will allow more tourists to arrive here. If we decide to get serious about marketing to find them. Many of them will be wealthy. They will stay at and use our area businesses. They will build second and third homes here, using local labor and suppliers. In other words, not much will change. Maybe the economy will grow a little.”

Another writer advised Taos to consider the value of beefed up air service to Aspen, Palm Springs, and other high-end resort areas.

Stimulus package yields Taos fiber-optic network

TAOS, N.M. — Taos is gaining a strong fiber-optic network, and it will, in the words of one manager, produce a “clean industry that’s not going to take away our water, that’s not going to disrupt our cultures.”

Kit Carson Electric, a co-operative that serves the Taos area, is creating the high-speed Internet backbone. General manager Luis Reyes said it provides “speeds we’ve never seen north of Albuquerque.” He emphasized the capability of the fiber-optic network for economic development.

A variety of electrical co-operatives across the country have been getting into the business, not just of delivering power, but also providing high-speed Internet connectivity. In Colorado, Delta-Montrose Electric has also been rolling out a fiber-optic network.

The Taos News explains that the fiber-optic project in Taos began in 2011 when a $44 million grant and $20 million in loans were made available through the recession stimulus package passed by Congress. About one-quarter of the 8,000 hookups to home and business connections to the main line have been completed.

In Colorado, The Aspen Times reports that Pitkin County Commissioners continue to study the feasibility of underwriting expansion of local broadband into the less urbanized areas of the county, outside Aspen and Snowmass. Estimated costs range between $9.2 million and $13.7 million.

The more expensive option would be to run a backbone fiber-optic line with spurs to several areas. The less expensive option would employ microwave technology but it requires line-of-sight for a strong connection.

A survey of residents shows that a vast majority are unhappy with the speed and reliability of existing Internet service. Their average download speed is 18.7 megabits per second. This compares to the 25 Mbps or greater that a U.S. Federal Communications Commission official defines as broadband download speeds.

The surveyed residents found that 34 percent of those responding said they run a business out of their homes.

Sow bear travels long distance to get mated

DURANGO, Colo. — The Steamboat Pilot & Today traveled 350 miles to Durango to get the low-down on a black bear study that has been underway for five years. One of the takeaways from that bear study is that some bears move around nearly as much.

Attaching GPS collars to bears, described as a game-changer for the project, the researchers discovered one sow traveled more than 200 miles in two weeks to New Mexico to mate before returning to Durango. The next year, she returned to New Mexico, this time staying there for 18 months before returning with her new cubs to Durango.

The bear is currently living in a subdivision in Durango.

The sow wasn’t an outlier. Researchers found other adult females that have similarly traveled great distances, something that has not been documented before.

In part, the Steamboat Pilot reports, the research is seeking to determine how human development affects bear population trends.

One conclusion: Some bears in Durango have made human food their primary food source. Other bears, even in a bad year for berries and nuts, never wandered into urban areas. But most bears are behaving like we want them to.

Newsmakers troop in and out of Aspen

ASPEN, Colo. — The national newsmakers continue to parade in and out of Aspen for conferences sponsored by the Aspen Institute.

Last week, it was the Aspen Security Forum, and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch talking about twists of the U.S.-Iran pact. Arizona Sen. John McCain was also there, and he also talked about the Iran deal but also about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s statement that disputed McCain’s reputation as war hero because of his record as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

McCain said he wasn’t personally bothered by Trump’s statement. “Teddy Roosevelt made the famous quote about the man in the arena. I’m in the arena, so I’ll take it,” McCain said. But McCain said he was angry because Trump impugned all American prisoners of war.

Republican governors were also in Aspen, and Nikki Haley, of South Carolina, talked about the circumstances that led to her call for removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the statehouse. Democratic governors will also be in Aspen.

Aspen, it’s a busy place on the talk circuit during summer, very nearly an outpost of Washington, D.C., — but oh so much more pleasant.

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