Mountain Town News: When terrorists try to assassinate billionaires |

Mountain Town News: When terrorists try to assassinate billionaires

I watched two bighorn sheep jumping from rock to rock on the cliffs above Green Mountain Canyon Sunday morning.  Bighorns are native to Colorado.  They are relatives of goats, and have balance-aiding split hooves and rough hoof bottoms for natural grip. These attributes, along with keen vision, help them move easily about rocky, rugged mountain terrain.
Bill Linfield / Special to the Daily |

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, The New York Times examined the risk of such things to people of great wealth. For example, the terrorist group Al Quaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in September called for the assignation of various billionaires in the United States, including Bill gates, Warren Buffet and the Koch brothers, Charles and David.

“It’s not an insignificant threat,” Christopher Falkenberg, president of the security and risk management firm Insite Security, told the Times. “They’re looking for the easiest target with the highest yield,” he said.

That, of course, raises the question of how much security do billionaires think they need when visiting high-end mountain resorts. Aspen, for example, has dozens of billionaires among its full- and part-time residents, and many others fly in for conferences and so forth.

The newspaper didn’t delve into mountain resorts, but it did cite some eyebrow-raising numbers. Falkenberg, of the securities firm, said a security detail would start at $180,000 a year.

Whistler-based reality show hits higher mark

ASPEN, Colo. — Another ski town-based reality TV show has debuted, and Andrew Travers of The Aspen Times thinks it’s pretty entertaining after watching the debut episode.

Whistler-based “Apres Ski” is “part workplace drama, part ‘Real World’-esque strangers-in-a-house and hookups-in-the-hot-tub spectacle, and part ‘Real Housewives’ rich diva train-wreck, with lots of luxury and mountain scenery to ogle and a dash of ski town spirit.”

The only previous reality show in a ski town setting was “Secrets of Aspen,” which had a run five years ago — and was, he says, “inane and gross.”

But “Après Ski,” if it stays in the mold evident in the first installment, leaves room for a different reality show.

“With its tourism industry focus, it’s not looking to tell the story of a town or a mountain, though I think we’d all love to see somebody try that,” writes Travers. “It appears instead to be combining a lot of what’s worked in reality before — coupling up housemates, office battles, raging 1-percenters — and setting it against the colorful backdrop of a posh ski resort, where attractive people cater to the outrageous requests of attractive rich people. Rest assured, before the season’s done, it’s all going to go boom.”

Forward movement on Superfund status

SILVERTON, Colo. — Overcoming several decades of reluctance, elected officials in San Juan County last Monday evening authorized staff members to begin negotiations that could lead to a Superfund designation for several mines.

A miscalculation at one of those mines, the Gold King, unleashed three million gallons of orangish water tainted with heavy metals down Cement Creek and into the Animas River. The Animas flows through Durango and into the San Juan, which goes into Lake Powell.

“This is just the first step,” said Willie Tookey, the county administrator. Adopted unanimously, the motion gives him authority to begin negotiating with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, a process that would put the upper Cement Creek drainage into the National Priorities List.

In preliminary discussions, said Tookey in an interview that Monday, local authorities were assured that Silverton could be excluded from the designation. He said no there “is no other funding source or program that could adequately address the remediation needs of the Cement Creek area.”

While there are mines across San Juan County, the major problems have mostly come from the Gladstone area, located near the Silverton Ski Area. Four mines there routinely produce enough metals-laced water that fish have disappeared from portions of the Animas River.

Silverton and San Juan County for years have resisted Superfund designation, worrying about the economic effects. Recently, representatives of those jurisdictions, plus those downstream in Durango and the Southern Ute Tribe, took a three-day trip to visit comparable mining sites in Colorado that have been part of the Superfund program.

“What do you think property values would be if there had been no cleanup?” Willy Powell, Minturn’s acting administrator, said. Instead of declining property values, he said, the mine cleanup has produced sky-high property prices in Minturn. Without the work, the river would still be orange and devoid of fish.

Minturn, which is adjacent to Vail, now formally includes the Eagle Mine, which has 65 miles of tunnels inside Battle Mountain. Mining there began in the late 1870s and continued until 1977. In 1984, the mine was allowed to flood.

After Superfund designation in 1986, negotiations took several years and even then things weren’t quite right. The Eagle River turned even more orange until a water treatment plant was completed in 1991.

The Denver Post tagged along on part of the trip and reports that representatives in both Leadville, especially, and Idaho Springs offered a more nuanced perspective. There were disagreements — loud ones in Leadville — but it was still the way to go. Same thing in Idaho Springs.

“We had no other choice,” said Nelson Fugate, a former Clear Creek County commissioner.

Perhaps the key quote from The Denver Post story was from Ernie Kuhlman, chairman of the San Juan County Commissioners, a former miner. “If we want some remediation immediately, we’re going to have to go that way,” he said. “I think our downstream partners —Durango, La Plata County and the Indian tribes — want something done immediately.”

Meanwhile, The Durango Herald reports that claims for $1.3 million in damages have been submitted to the federal government in connection with the August incident. Most claims were relatively small. For example, one applicant asked for a $4,398 refund after deciding to a cancel a vacation to Durango.

“Our vacation was to be centered on fun river activities and events,” the applicant wrote. “I have decided that a fun time in Colorado is not worth risking the health of my family. Concerns for drinking water safety, unnecessary exposure to toxic material and the loss of entertainment opportunities has forced us to cancel our vacation and make other plans.”

Among those seeking compensation were rafting companies, which claimed major losses because of the nine-day period when access to the river was deemed unhealthy.

Local governments in Durango and La Plata County also want reimbursement, as do the Southern Ute Tribe and the Navajo Nation, but they are pursuing separate settlements.

Record crowds this year in Yellowstone

JACKSON, Wyo. — Yellowstone and Grand Tetons national parks have been getting busier and busier in autumn.

Twice as many people made the trip to Yellowstone in October, when gas prices were low and the economy chugging along nicely, as compared to six years ago, at the depths of the recession.

But crowds came earlier and stayed later, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Shoulder seasons, says Grand Teton park ranger Clay Hanna, “are beginning to look a lot like June, if not July and August.”

National Park Service officials are preparing for even bigger crowds next year. It will be the centennial anniversary of the agency, gasoline prices will probably stay low and the May issue of National Geographic will be a special issue wholly devoted to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

At some of its gateway communities, including, Jackson, the Park Service has held “listening session” meetings this fall devoted to how the agency can better accommodate and ease the effect of the burgeoning crowds.

Grizzly experts get lecture on attitudes

JACKSON, Wyo. — Federal wildlife managers in the Yellowstone National Park and adjoining areas say the public should think of grizzly bears in terms of total populations, not specific bears.

But Tom Mangelson, a famous wildlife photographer, and other members of the public were having none of that reasoning when it came their time to speak at a recent meeting in Jackson.

“I think in the last 35 years we … we come to the realization that animals feel emotions and feel joy and pain just like us, just like our animals, just like our dogs,” Mangelson told the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee.

“Blaze and Cecil (another grizzly) are en example of our changing times. … Giving animals names is not humanizing them, but recognizing them,” he said. “To quit worrying about individuals and focusing only on populations is an unfortunate comment.”

Cecil was the lion killed in Zimbabwe by a hunter this year, while Blaze was a grizzly sow killed after she killed a hiker in Yellowstone.

Park Service officials said they were inundated by emails and phone calls after killing the grizzly. “A lot of it would classify as hate mail, and some of it thinly veiled threats — not only to me but to other park staff,” said Kerry Gunther, Yellowstone’s lead bear management biologist. “This really kind of took us by surprise. I think it’s a wave of the future. People have learned to use social media as a weapon, and a few people putting out false information can really stir up lots and lots of people who may not know any of the real facts of the situation.”

The mauling and killing of the hiker and subsequent killing of the grizzly generated more than 6,000 comments on Yellowstone’s Facebook page.

So, is the town going to buy gas for my car?

WINTER PARK, Colo. — Town officials in Winter Park have installed two new electric vehicle charging stations. A full charge takes about four hours, costing the town $2 to $3 in electricity. There is no cost to users.

Will Winter Park start buying gasoline for his pickup, wonders Norm Benson, writing in the Sky-Hi News? He says that people with electric cars need to buy their own electricity, but they also need to pay taxes to help cover the costs of highway construction and maintenance.

Officials in Colorado and the United States altogether have been struggling with how to incorporate cars with high fuel economy and electric cars into the funding for road work. Traditionally, per-gallon taxes on gasoline provided the lion’s share of funding for road work. Driving an electric car, you pay not such taxes.

Aspen mayor to be at climate talks in Paris

ASPEN, Colo. — The mayor of Aspen is going to Paris for the climate change negotiations. One of the reason Steve Skadron plans to go to talks in early December is that he believes that local communities should act now instead of waiting for federal action to take place.

Skadron was invited by the mayor of Paris and the former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg. Last summer, Skadron joined the Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda and the Compact of Mayors, which he said is the world’s largest coalition of international leaders addressing climate change.

“I’m proud of Aspen because Aspen should lead. And part of that leadership is recognizing that resort communities are integral to state and national economies, and inherent to a resort community is reliance on the natural world,” Skadron said.

Bloomberg, in an essay published in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, argued that municipalities are the key to fighting climate change.

“Although history is not usually taught this way, one could argue that cities have played a more important role in shaping the world than empires,” he wrote. “They have been the drivers of progress throughout history, and now—as the knowledge economy takes full flight—they are poised to play a leading role in addressing the challenges of the twenty-first century.”

Aspen is a place of 6,000 people, so it’s not exactly a city, at least as most people imagine it. But it has its own electrical utility, which provides electricity for half to two-thirds of the town, and in August it became the third municipality in the country to be 100 percent renewable.

While in Paris, Skadron will speak on a panel organized by Powder magazine.

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