Summit County Year in Review: Sept-Dec 2010
Breckenridge highway widening to be complete by October
BRECKENRIDGE – Highway 9 in the construction area north of town had four lanes available for traffic in mid-September, though daily lane closures would continue before the widening project’s completion in late October.
The roughly 1.5 mile highway segment between Valley Brook and Coyne Valley roads was under construction since June 2009 for the widening project. The project paused during winter months. Previous reports predicted project’s completion as late as November.
The widening is another step toward a continuous, four-lane road between Frisco and Breckenridge. The segment between Tiger Road and Agape Outpost Chapel is expected to be the next area widened, although that will depend on when funding for the project comes available.
The $9.25 million project was financed through federal stimulus funds.
Colorado claims victory in effort to bring back lynx
DENVER – Colorado wildlife officials declared victory in September in their 11-year effort to reintroduce lynx to the state, saying the cats are reproducing faster than they’re dying, a sign of a self-sustaining population.
Colorado’s native lynx died out in the early 1970s because of trapping, poisoning and development. The state Division of Wildlife began reintroducing them in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado by releasing lynx that were captured in Alaska and Canada.
By 2006, 218 lynx had been brought in, equipped with tracking devices on collars, so researchers could monitor their movements. The first kittens born to the transplanted lynx were documented in 2003, and third-generation cats were first found in 2006.
At least 141 have been born in Colorado, including 14 this year, though no estimate is available for the state’s total lynx population, partly because these animals live in remote wilderness areas.
Lawsuit over Lowe’s filed against Town of Silverthorne
SILVERTHORNE – A lawsuit claiming the Town of Silverthorne incorrectly categorized a Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse plan for the town was filed in late September. The suit was filed by attorney Rob Waterman on behalf of two Silverthorne residents and two individuals who claimed they’ll be negatively affected by the development.
The suit centers on a planning technicality, claiming the town incorrectly categorized Lowe’s as a hardware store and thereby granted “use by right” status, according to the documents Waterman filed. Waterman’s complaint states that Lowe’s should be in the “conditional use” category that does not guarantee the right to do business and gives town officials more negotiating power.
Silverthorne Town Manager Kevin Batchelder said the lawsuit premises is based on misinterpretation of town ordinance and that “the town intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit, and we’re confident it will be dismissed.”
Town of Silverthorne issues motion to dismiss lawsuit over Lowe’s
SILVERTHORNE – Silverthorne’s town attorney issued a motion in mid-October to dismiss a lawsuit filed in September against the town in regard to the proposed Lowe’s store.
Silverthorne Town Manager Kevin Batchelder cited Rule 106 of the Colorado Rules for Civil Procedure as premise for dismissal. It addresses whether governmental bodies have exceeded or abused their discretion.
Silverthorne’s motion to dismiss essentially says the suing parties are experiencing no direct impact from the Lowe’s project or the alleged miscategorization and that the plaintiffs are challenging an administrative decision made by the town’s community development director. Rule 106 allows citizens to challenge town council decisions, not administrative ones.
Hearings on the suit could be on hold until February or March due to the number of cases lined up on the Summit County District Court docket.
Breckenridge inventor wary of ski-pass technology
BRECKENRIDGE – Some skiers and riders appeared to agree with Jonathan Lawson’s mission to protect personal information, as about 175 of Lawson’s new product – the Ski Pass Defender – were sold by early October since he made it available for online purchase in mid-September.
Ski Pass Defender is designed to prevent any ski pass containing a radio frequency chip from being scanned, read or skimmed until the user is ready to get on the lift. It’s a sleeve that blocks the chip from emitting personal information and tracking a skier’s or rider’s movements as he or she roams the slopes.
Vail Resorts has used RFID in its season passes for several years. Recently, it trumpeted the release of “EpicMix,” which, according to a press release, allows a user to opt in and use the device’s tracking abilities to record vertical feet, days on the mountain and more – and share that information via social networking. It can also help located missing children and persons from a group along with several other digital perks. Lawson said VR is among hundreds of resorts around the world implementing RFID technology in this manner.
Dillon Reservoir waters Denver during Cheesman project
SUMMIT COUNTY – With Denver Water drawing more heavily from Dillon Reservoir, levels were down in early October about 8 feet and were slated to drop 3-4 inches daily until Dec. 1, Frisco Bay Marina manager Phil Hofer said.
Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said three factors contribute to the lowering water levels: Denver needed more water because of an unusually hot and dry September; the high country weather did not produce usual inflow levels; and a rehabilitation project at Cheesman Reservoir (which also feeds into Denver) required water levels to remain high and steady.
The Cheesman project was slated for completion in early December, at which point the Roberts Tunnel was shut off. In mid-December, work began on the tunnel to replace and refurbish valves. It’s slated to take all winter.
Summit Schools don’t hit ‘adequate yearly progress’ goals
SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit School District did not make “adequate yearly progress” in the 2009-10 school year, but district officials say progress was made in several areas.
The district met 89 of 101 necessary targets in state assessments, or 88 percent, which is not up to par, the state says. However, it did remain steady with last year’s progress.
As a district, elementary and high school students did not meet AYP in math and reading.
Patterns show minority groups at Summit schools continue to fall short of state standards while other groups tend to perform up to par. District climate and communications coordinator Julie McCluskie pointed out that Hispanic students, English language learners and socio-economically disadvantaged students (which compose several missed targets) are often the same group of low-performing students. The district has been working to improve achievement among disadvantaged students.
Ten Summit County government employees let go
The Summit Board of County Commissioners announced the elimination of 19 county positions resulting in 10 layoffs in October.
Positions eliminated included that of assistant county manager of community services Steve Hill, along with the facilities director, engineering/solid waste director, social services director, road and bridge asset supervisor, building inspection office manager, systems administrator, community corrections coordinator and engineering permit technician.
An additional nine positions, which staff left vacant this year, were frozen and will not be filled this year or next. The county also reduced weekly hours for four other employees, and the long-range planning manager position was converted to a senior planner.
As the budget picture continues to decline, Martinez said the county is looking at eliminating additional positions, which could result in future layoffs.
The layoffs followed a recommendation for $635,000 in operational cuts and $1.35 million in personnel scale-backs the county staff presented to the commissioners Tuesday afternoon.
There will be a total of $4.5 million in budget cuts across county programs in 2011.
Countywide, sales tax revenue ‘heading in the right direction’
SUMMIT COUNTY – Sales tax collection for the county through August was slightly up, but still lagged behind pre-recession levels.
Mass transit sales tax collections for Summit County – the only blanket tax for all sales activity in the county – were approximately 1.1 percent higher through August of 2010 than it was for the same time period last year.
While year-to-year mass transit tax collection improved, it still lagged 2008 year-to-date tax collection by 1.5 percent. The county seems to be rebounding, but has not fully recovered from the Great Recession.
Overall year-to-date tax collection for the county was down 9.2 percent through August. Other than the 0.75 percent mass transit sales, the county only collects sales tax from unincorporated portions of Summit County – notably Keystone and Copper Mountain. It is likely that, while these areas may be attracting more tourists, they aren’t spending as much money. The county’s total tax collection was down approximately $1.2 million for 09-10 versus where it would be if 2008 levels had been maintained.
Ophir Mountain proposal near Frisco draws conflicted crowd
FRISCO – A U.S. Forest Service proposal to clear dead and dying trees on and around Ophir Mountain attracted some controversy at an open house held at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco.
With so many trees affected by the mountain pine beetle in that area, selective clear cutting – or removing significant numbers of dead trees while attempting to leave healthy spruce and Douglas Fir behind – is the method of choice.
About a dozen interested citizens questioned the clear-cutting method, suggesting instead the idea of continuing thinning in forest areas cut in the 1980’s.
One resident spoke clearly against clear-cutting when he said: “You’ll clear out the valley between Frisco and Breckenridge. … This just seems like the nuclear option.” He raised questions of the scenic appeal after the clear cuts.
Other concerns raising less discussion were about the construction of 5 miles of new, temporary roads (out of about 11.3 miles of haul routes) and the ability to “obliterate” them, as is proposed. Questions about wildlife habitat, allowing jackstraw to simply decompose and enforcement of the logging contract also arose.
Body of missing Breckenridge rafter found in Arkansas River
BUENA VISTA – The body of a Breckenridge rafter missing since July was located by rescuers at about 1 p.m. on Oct. 27 at Frog Rock rapid on the Arkansas River.
Kimberly Appelson was a first-year Arkansas Valley Adventures raft guide who was ejected from a raft during a private excursion July 11. Her body had remained trapped in the area since.
The body was found toward the center of the river in a 10×10-foot underwater cavern created by piled boulders. Divers entered the cavern through a 4×8-foot opening approximately 6 feet under the water’s surface and below a boulder in the center of the river. A cofferdam was constructed to divert strong currents from the area that previously prevented divers from safely entering the area.
The hypothesis is that Appelson was drawn into the sieve and then into the cavern through one of the slots before being pinned against a smaller slot through which water can flow.
The effort was the last of several implemented in the months after the accident.
Keystone marks 40 years of skiing
Keystone Resort celebrated its 40th anniversary on Nov. 19, offering $40 lift tickets to commemorate four decades of existence. The families of the original founders – Bill Bergman and Max Dercum – handed out doughnuts as part of the festivities, and patrons could pick up original trail maps from 1970.
When Keystone opened to the public 40 years ago, it became the third ski area in Summit County, and lift tickets cost only $5.
The resort’s inaugural season brought 75,000 skiers to Keystone. Last year Keystone had 981,000 skier visits – an increase of more than 1,300 percent.
Breckenridge launches new projects to reduce Sunday traffic, drive business
As the ski season kicked off, Breckenridge launched new programs that would not only help visitors avoid the Sunday night Interstate-70 traffic but offered ideas of things to do while they wait out the congestion.
The town, Breckenridge Ski Area, the I-70 Coalition and a number of local businesses partnered to provide up-to-date traffic information to guests before they even leave the mountains.
As part of the project, a new variable message sign is posted at the top of the gondola at Breckenridge with current information on traffic conditions, while another variable message is sign set up on the north side of town near Coyne Valley Road that keeps guests informed of parking availability, traffic and weather conditions as well as upcoming community events.
The project also promotes Sunday night lodging deals on Goi70.com, encouraging travelers to stay an extra night, helping to reduce congestion on I-70.
Forest Service suspends Christmas tree program in Summit County
Citing concerns for public safety, the Dillon Ranger District office did not issue tree cutting permits for the 2010 holidays.
Reasons for suspending the program included falling trees resulting from the mountain pine beetle epidemic as well as concerns for overall product availability.
Jan Cutts, Dillon District Ranger, said the hope is that ongoing mitigation efforts may help reinstate the program next year. Residents had to go to other districts or forests to get a Christmas tree.
Epic Mix launches at Keystone
KEYSTONE – Skiers and riders logged 13,513,336 vertical feet at Keystone Resort on Friday’s opening day.
The radio frequency chip in each of Vail Resorts’ ski passes logs each skier’s and rider’s vertical feet and tallies it as a resort total.
To celebrate, the company pooled $1 for every 30,000 vertical feet recorded at the resorts – Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Heavenly mountains – into a cash giveaway capped at $100,000 for one randomly selected guest set for Dec. 29.
Silverthorne lifted ban on wood stoves this winter
As of Dec. 8, Silverthorne residents are able to upgrade or install new wood stoves.
From the mid-1990s until two years ago, solid fuel-burning devices were banned in Silverthorne due to pollution problems in the valley. But since 2008, there has been a steady reintroduction of permissible devices each year – first masonry heaters, then pellet stoves. In November, wood stoves were brought to the town council table for consideration.
Silverthorne officials adopted the strictest standards in place for wood-burning stoves, and they plan to continue to enforce the ban on fireplaces, Silverthorne planning director Mark Leidal said. The state of Washington has reined in the wood-stove standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency in the early 1990s, and those are the regulations the town adopted.
Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge takes another step forward
BRECKENRIDGE -Summit County and the Town of Breckenridge put their official stamp of approval on an agreement with Vail Resorts, settling in mid-December many of the socio-economic issues around a proposed expansion of the Breckenridge Ski Resort to Peak 6.
The memorandum of understanding represented years of negotiations between the county, town and the ski resort on how to address possible impacts of the expansion on quality of life, housing, parking and transportation and social services.
As part of the agreement, Breckenridge Ski Resort said it would not develop the base of Peak 6 except with skier service facilities and agreed not to expand ski boundaries beyond Peak 6 unless expressly asked to do so by the town and the county in the future.
The expansion is expected to include 450 acres of new downhill terrain and one new lift. Its progress now depends on an Environmental Impact Statement from the U.S. Forest Service. The report, expected in January, has again been delayed a few weeks.
Summit County snowpack above average
As of mid-December, the Colorado River Basin snowpack was up more than 67 percent compared to last year, information from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Division showed.
Compared to average figures for the basin, which includes the Blue River watershed and extends to western Colorado, the snowpack is up about 25 percent above average for this time of year.
For all SNOTEL sites in Summit County (areas where the division has automatic snow survey equipment installed), last year’s mid-December snowpack was well below average, but this year the situation has reversed. Copper Mountain’s SNOTEL average is to have snow with the liquid equivalent of 4 inches. As of Dec. 13, the snow water equivalent was at 7.4 inches.
Frisco Adventure Park tubing hill opens
The Frisco Adventure Park opened to the public at noon on Dec. 11, adding a tubing hill and soon a terrain park to the town’s amenities.
The tubing hill measures 600 feet in length and will have three lanes open today with the option to expand to eight to ten lanes if there’s enough demand. Some lanes are faster and longer than others, according to director of recreation Lynn Zwaagstra. The park has two snowmaking machines to maintain an adequate snow base throughout the season and a snowcat to groom the lanes.
The Adventure Park plans to add a terrain park in January where skiers and snowboarders can hone their skills.
The Adventure Park marks another step toward Frisco’s ultimate goal of becoming a destination town. The total project will run about $5.3 million when all phases are completed, and the town expects to reel in $153,765 this year and $629,595 in 2011.
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