Mountain Town News: Steamboat plans plastic bag ban, but legality a bit murky |

Mountain Town News: Steamboat plans plastic bag ban, but legality a bit murky

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs has decided to say no more to freebie plastic bags at four of its major stores come October. But can it legally do so?

It seems late to ask that question. Twelve Colorado towns and cities, all but one of them located within the mountains, have banned or implemented a fee on single-use plastic bags. But the Colorado Sun points to one very basic problem: It may be against a state law adopted in 1993.

The law preempts local jurisdictions from limiting what types of plastics can be recycled. It was created to incentivize people to recycle. The specific language may have been a compromise with the plastic industry, says Morgan Cullen, legislative and policy advocate for the Colorado Municipal League.

In other words, the language was not intended to mean that towns and cities had no authority to ban plastic bags. But it’s hazy.

In 1993 “no one was considering the prohibition of plastics,” Cullen told the Sun. “And now it’s 2019 and the general public has become more aware of the environmental costs of plastics and are beginning to petition their local governments about removing single-use plastics.”

Petitioning the Steamboat Springs City Council by local high school students triggered the impending municipal ban. Steamboat Pilot & Today reports that students last November told the council members it was time for Steamboat to join its peers among mountain towns.

The ordinance to be drafted will call for ban of single-use plastic bags at stores of more than 10,000 square feet. Paper bags can be provided but at a cost of 20 cents each. Three-quarters of the revenue will go to the city. Smaller retailers can opt into the program and they can retain all of the fee.

The four stores — two grocery stores, a Walmart and a Walgreens — distribute 3.8 million plastic bags per year.

A bag ban was first proposed in Steamboat in 1989 by a coalition called Environmental 2000. “It was a relatively new idea,” Steamboat resident Johnny Walker told the Steamboat paper. “It was decided to wait and see what other communities were doing before we really took the leap.”

Telluride was the first municipality in Colorado to take the leap. That was in 2011. The adoption — applicable to the town’s two grocery stores, with the option of a 5-cent paper bag — followed a competition with Aspen to see who could produce the greatest reduction in bags based on voluntary efforts. That same competition was then expanded to other jurisdictions that were then part of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

Even then, Telluride was wary of the state law. Kevin Geiger, the town attorney, told the Sun that the 1993 law was pretty clear about local governments not preventing the recycling of plastics. But the provision has stopped Telluride from a longer reach, to ban disposable forks and straws, as some council members want.

The 1993 law also thwarted Avon’s reach last year. It banned plastic bags but stopped short of polystyrene, foam containers, as some on the council wanted.

The Colorado Municipal League’s Cullen has been working with state legislators on a proposal to clearly delegate to local jurisdictions authority to regulate plastic straws, containers and other plastics.

And it’s only paper bags for customers in Jackson

JACKSON, Wyo. — It’s either BYOB — bring your own bag — or a paper bag at 20 cents per bag at six stores in Jackson.

Come November, other merchants in Jackson — the only town in Jackson Hole — must similarly cease free distribution of plastic bags.

The town began taking steps last year, wanting to allow the stores time to prepare. But one of the stores, Whole Grocer, phased out plastic bags in December.

Reaction has been mixed, checkout staffer Caitlin Brooks tells the Jackson Hole News&Guide. “Some are upset about it and want us to tell the manager they want the plastic bags back,” she said. “Others say, ‘It’s about time.’”

Some have protested that paper bags are not better than plastic. But paper bags can have a second life as cardboard, said Carrie Bell, waste diversion and outreach coordinator for Teton County.

“Paper bags have high recyclability,” she said. “Plastics really don’t.”

One of Jackson’s grocery stores, Smith’s, is operated by Kroger, the supermarket chain that has a similarly branded store in Park City and, in Colorado, a fleet of City Markets and King Soopers. By 2025, it plans to phase out use-once, throw-it-away plastic bags throughout its 2,764 supermarkets and multidepartment stores.

Taking stock of fire threat in Whistler and other places

WHISTLER, B.C. — It’s wildfire season already in Whistler. Oh, there’s snow on the ground still, but with a wildfire just down the road at Squamish and more in the interior of British Columbia, who can blame Whistler for getting a little nervous?

Plus, there’s the recent history: the last two years have produced the worst wildfires in the recorded history of the province.

The province has boosted the budget for firefighting, prescribed burning and other measures to reduce risks. Whistler has also stepped up its efforts to make itself less vulnerable to wildfire. There’s a lot of work to do.

Along the West Coast, other communities are also at risk. The Sacramento Bee and other McClatchy newspapers have put together a list of communities in California that could, given the right conditions, be the next Paradise. The Camp Fire last November killed at least 85 people in and around the town in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

More than 2.7 million of California’s 39 million residents live in the zones classified as having very high fire hazard, including impoverished towns in the shadow of Mount Shasta, affluent suburbs near Los Angeles, and high-dollar resort communities on the shores of Lake Tahoe.

“There’s a lot of Paradises out there,” said Max Moritz, a fire specialist at UC Santa Barbara.

In Colorado, forecasters predict a lower wildfire risk than has occurred in the last several years, at least in late spring and early summer, reports the Summit Daily News. Last year was droughty and spring came early, as is becoming normal. This year is completely different, though. The snowpack was deep and winter looks to hang on for awhile.

Summit County had a good scare last June when a wildfire at the base of Buffalo Mountain threatened many homes. Fire prevention work in the prior decade made a great difference. A year before that, Breckenridge had a good scare. Again, fire prevention work made a difference, although under slightly altered conditions the fire could have roared into the town.

Free skiing ends for those 70 and above at Whitefish

WHITEFISH, Mont. — It was another record year for skier visits at Whitefish Mountain Resort, the third in a row. Business is so good that the resort owners now plan to start charging those aged 70 and above $135 for an annual pass.

Riley Polumbus, spokesperson for Whitefish Mountain Resort, said assessing the septuagenarians and their elders a minimal charge was necessary as that age demographic grows.

“This particular age demographic is healthier and more active than ever,” said Dan Graves, chief executive of the ski area. “We are very much in awe of these dedicated skiers. However, each year of growth has added to the demands of our facilities.”

Just who has the bottom rung of the resort ladder?

KETCHUM, Idaho — Ketchum and Sun Valley, the first deliberately created destination ski resort in North America, by the end of the 20th century had become something of a quasi-private ski area for locals.

To remedy that, Ketchum — the town at the base of Bald Mountain — set out to revamp its development regulations to make them more friendly to new and taller hotels. The most obvious result was the Limelight, which was built by the Aspen Skiing Co. The community also boosted its direct flight program.

Still, Ketchum and Sun Valley lack the commercial vibrancy of other destination resorts, consultant Ralf Garrison told a recent forum at the Limelight in Ketchum.

Local lodging properties have occupancy rates of 30% to 40% during December, January and February, he said. Competing resorts average occupancy rates of 50% to 65% during those same months.

During the winter of 2017-18, he told the Idaho Mountain Express, occupancy rates provided profitability for tourism-reliant businesses on just 62 of the 180 days of the winter season.

Aspen, he went on to say, generates $30 million annually from lodging tax revenue, Jackson nets $27 million, Mammoth $20 million, and Steamboat Springs $10 million.

“You’re going to be competing against Gunnison and Crested Butte for the bottom rung of the ladder,” said Garrison. Garrison began his career in the tourism sector in the late 1960s at the new resort of Crested Butte, where he helped found the town of Mount Crested Butte.

Garrison was in Ketchum to make the case for boosted funding from Ketchum for marketing promotion. The Express did not identify who was paying him, although the most clear beneficiary of his remarks was Visit Sun Valley, the tourism promotion agency.

Snowmaking expansions at Vail continues 40 years later

VAIL — The armoring of Vail Mountain to the vagaries of weather and now climate change continues.

The Vail Daily reports that Vail Resorts has received approval from the U.S. Forest Service to add about 262 acres of snowmaking coverage to the mountain. When the snowmaking expansion is completed in several years, about 25% of the mountain’s terrain — one of the largest in North America — will be covered.

The goal, explains the Daily, is to deliver near certainty for Thanksgiving skiing.

That’s a quest that Vail has struggled with since its opening in 1962. That inaugural year had a parched autumn that continued past Thanksgiving. In the resort’s early years, reliable snow was an iffy thing until Christmas.

Beginning in 1978, after one of the worst droughts in recorded history, Vail began investing robustly in snowmaking. Obviously, it hasn’t quit.

February cold snap took toll on beetles in Jasper

JASPER, Alberta — It got cold enough in February in Jasper National Forest that by one estimate 90% of bark beetles may have died. But the number of red trees in the park will expand this summer, reports the Jasper Fitzhugh, because of concurrent spread of beetles last year.

A 2017 survey found that 93,000 hectares of the park’s 200,000-hectare pine forests had been impacted by bark beetles in this epidemic. The newspaper notes that extinguishing wildfire in the past has allowed the forests to become more dense and older, making them more vulnerable to the insects.

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