Mountain Town News: What makes paradise of Aspen unhealthy? | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Town News: What makes paradise of Aspen unhealthy?

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

ASPEN, Colo. – Most people would consider Aspen close to paradise. Beautiful scenery, great public amenities and plenty of jobs. So what do you make of a report about the top medical risks there?

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression are the top three medical risks being reported by members of a local health collective called Valley Health Alliance. It is comprised of 3,700 employees and their dependents from the five largest self-insured employers. They include the Aspen Valley Hospital, the Aspen Skiing Co., Pitkin County, the city of Aspen, and Mountain Family Health.

Kathleen Killion, executive director of the organization, told local officials that patients reported a wide-range of factors leading to increased stress.

"It's life, it's relationships, it's balancing work and life," she said, according to a report by the Aspen Daily News, which covered the meeting. "It's commuting two hours to come serve the economy of Aspen, and not really being able to enjoy what Aspen and the valley has [sic] to offer because of working multiple jobs. So it's a very complex set of human issues."

She added that health care dynamics have changed greatly in recent years with fewer employees being covered solely by their employers. This leads to fewer and fewer people connecting with a primary health provider.

Killion noted that depression is 10 percent higher in the valley than the national average, and there are roughly four times the number of suicides per capita.

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When a house in Aspen just isn't nice enough

ASPEN, Colo. – About 180 trucks per day rumble through the gates at the Pitkin County landfill, hauling trash from Aspen, Snowmass and the country estates surrounding them. Recycling efforts in the Aspen area divert about 40 percent of all household waste, which is high among Colorado town and cities (if low by Canadian and European standards).

But that's still a lot of trash, and here's the key statistic: up to 63 percent of the trash comes from construction and demolition projects.

The Aspen Daily News reports that no home is ever nice enough for the buyer. The mansions of Aspen and Snowmass routinely get gutted, sometimes even leveled, to be replaced by something presumably better.

The problem for Pitkin County is that it has a landfill with a capacity for just another 15 to 25 years. While there is some potential for expansion of the landfill onto adjoining land, that's not a guarantee. The question, as the Daily News points out, is whether more trash — especially from construction sites — can be diverted?

Pitkin County plans an in-depth study of how much of the construction and demolition waste can be reused. Every board, beam and tile not buried at the site extends the life of the landfill.

"We could probably buy about 10 more years of life if we could divert" as much as is theoretically possible, said Cathy Hall, the county's solid waste manager.

Salvaging of houses will reduce landfill waste. The former 15,000-square-foot house of Peter Guber, a Hollywood executive and producer, was picked over before the backhoes arrived, yielding 70 handmade doors, as well as cabinets and other easier-to-remove fixtures being donated to Habitat for Humanity.

But one for-profit salvage company set up in the Aspen area couldn't make it. Pitkin County is talking about setting up a nonprofit that could pair old but good doors and other items with those who need them.

In addition, county commissioners are looking to update building codes that govern energy efficiency and sustainability. One model might be Boulder County, which has regulations that require more recycling of buildings when they are torn down.

JP Strait, owner of Aspen Deconstruction, has been disassembling buildings targeted for destruction. He tells the Daily News that he can reuse as much as 85 percent of a building if given the time to take it apart correctly. That, he says, takes weeks, if not months.

We're tied to China at both ends of economy

BEND, Ore. – We live in a global economy, so it only makes sense that the plastic jug that you toss in the recycling bin might well end up in China. But the price that recyclers get for plastic has been going down, recyclers tell the Bend Bulletin.

"They just don't need as much material as they once did when they were growing at 10 or 15 percent," Dave Claugus, vice president of Pioneer Recycling Services, told the Bulletin. He said the Chinese economy is now growing at a rate closer to 6 percent.

Low-priced oil, a key ingredient in most plastics, also dampens the price for recycled plastic, because plastic can more easily be made from virgin resources.

Another hotel in Telluride and Steamboat timeshare

TELLURIDE, Colo. – It's hotel-building time once again in ski country.

In Telluride, the developer of the Hotel Ajax reports getting the loan necessary to begin construction this year. It is to include 50 hotel rooms and 11 condominiums. The condos will range in price from $1 million to $7 million, with a maximum size of 4,000 square feet. The hotel, reports the Telluride Daily Planet, will be branded as a Luxury Collection Hotel under a license agreement from Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

In Steamboat Springs, the Sheraton has been telling prospective guests that it's getting out of hosting conferences and will convert some or all of its remaining hotel rooms into point-based timeshares. The hotel has the largest conference space in Steamboat.

As of last year, reports Steamboat Today, the Sheraton was comprised of 244 hotel rooms, 22 condominiums and 21 timeshares.

David Baldinger Jr., a local real estate agent, speculated that the conversion to timeshare will produce higher year-round occupancy rates. He noted that more and more hotels in resort communities are converting their hotel rooms to increase the occupancy shares.

Moratorium while town weighs its rental options

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – The Crested Butte Town Council will be taking up a proposal to put a moratorium on short-term rentals. The Crested Butte News says 16 percent of the town's housing stock is available for short-term rentals, and in the town's historic core it's nearly 33 percent.

A citizens' committee has discussed a variety of responses to the conversion of housing into the short-term rentals advertised on the internet. One possibility is to increase fees. Another is to ask voters for a tax increase on short-term rentals, with the money allocated for affordable housing. Another option is capping the number of people allowed in a rental for safety reasons.

Jackson's middle ground on short-term rentals

JACKSON, Wyo. – Jackson has new zoning for its downtown area, and the Jackson Hole News&Guide says the key point of contention was whether the market-rate units authorized in the rezoning should be allowed for short-term rentals.

Developers said yes, they should, because short-term rentals increase profitability and hence the incentives to build employee housing.

Opponents said short-term rentals create more low-wage jobs than the new developments would produce in employee housing.

The council took the middle ground, restricting the places where short-term rentals can be done.

Two Zipcars now can be rented in Whistler

WHISTLER, B.C. – Zipcar has now made two Hyundai available for reservations by the hour or by the day in Whistler. One of them comes equipped with bike and ski racks.

Zipcar members pay a monthly or annual membership fee in addition to car reservation fees, which include gas, insurance, and 200 kilometres of driving per day, "making it a great option for both locals looking to decrease their personal car usage and tourists visiting the area for a few days," wrote Zipcar Vancouver communications manager Kate Binette in an email.

Bear pays ultimate price for breaking and entering

STATELINE, Nev. – Another bear has been shot for breaking and entering a home in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The Reno Gazette-Journal reports that the two-year-old female had been raiding trash bins in the area. Nevada game officials tried to chase her off with bear dogs and rubber bullets, but the bear didn't move off into the forest. Instead, it stuck around, looking for food in houses. The bear was shot after it broke into an occupied home and lashed out at an occupant.

Wolf watcher doesn't always have to watch

BANFF, Alberta – Just as a new book about the wolf packs of Banff National park came out, the Rocky Mountain Outlook carried a news item that seemed to be supporting evidence for the book. A young wolf that had gotten into food and garbage left by campers had been killed by park officials. It was, they said, showing bold behavior toward people.

The wolf was a member of the troubled Bow Valley pack that has lost several members this year, the Outlook noted.

This incident came just as the book, "The Pipestone Wolves: the Rise and Fall of a Wolf Family," was issued. Written by wolf behavior expert Gunther Bloch, the takeaway is that things aren't working out very well for wolves.

John Marriott confided that he believes the park is being loved to death. He said henceforth he will restrain his instinct to be out there all the time shooting.

"If I'm going to walk the walk of being a professional wildlife photographer living in a place where wildlife is precariously on the edge so much, then I can't be one of the ones that's out here 24-7 continuously following the same wolf or the same bear," he said.

"We don't have to be out there every single day and following them," he added. "Ethically, I think that's the way it has to go."