Mountain Town News: Trump proposes to end ski town Amtrak trains (column)
April 15, 2017
C02 measurements show
a worrisome progression
NEDERLAND, Colo. — Much as a physician's assistant will take your blood pressure every time you visit a doctor, researchers at Colorado's Niwot Ridge routinely measure the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the mountain air.
Results of the most recent check-up? A worrisome 414 parts per million of CO2.
The research station is located on a wind-swept spur of the Continental Divide, between the mountain town of Grand Lake and the college town of Boulder. It was established in 1967 for varied high-mountain research, including CO2 sampling.
Jim White, director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado-Boulder, calls it "one of the crown jewels in the atmospheric monitoring system." It's at 11,300 feet in elevation, meaning it captures the well-mixed air in the troposphere. If no one site can fully capture what is happening in the atmosphere, he says, Niwot Ridge is among several that help create a big picture of what is happening with greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
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Another detail of that big picture will emerge this summer, after snow is mostly gone, when researchers again sample the air for CO2. In the Northern Hemisphere, plants draw C02 from the atmosphere, and White suspects the reading will drop to about 398 ppm. The average for the year will be somewhere between – but part of a rapid rise in the last several hundred years.
In the mid-1700s, at the start of the industrial age, the atmosphere level of C02 probably stood at around 280 ppm, scientists have concluded after studying the chemical composition of ice cores extracted from glaciers in Greenland, Antarctica, and other continents. In 1958, when direct sampling began high on the slopes of Mauna Loa, a volcano in Hawaii, atmospheric concentrations stood at 315 ppm.
C02 concentrations reflect both natural variability and the emissions, especially the burning of fossil fuels. "In general, emission rates have always gone up unless there was an economic crash of some kind," says White. In the last few years the rate of emissions seems to have slowed for reasons not entirely clear to scientists. "But CO2 is still going up, and rapidly," adds White.
Consider that at even the current, somewhat lower rate, global atmospheric concentrations will hit 450 ppm by the time that a baby born this year graduates from high school.
While there's not certainty, atmospheric scientists have long said that climate systems would more seriously destabilize at around 450 ppm. Others, such as climate scientist Jim Hansen, worry about delayed effects of atmospheric concentrations, such as you might have from sleep deprivation. A few nights short of sleep, and you're surviving – then wham, it catches up with you. This has led Bill McKibben and other environmentalists to call for dramatic action to roll back global C02 levels to 350 ppm.
Recently, Denver Post reporter Bruce Finley tagged along with researcher Jen Morse as she took an air sample on Niwot Ridge. She told him that the problem of heat-trapping greenhouse gases is understood.
"We know what it is producing emissions and we know what we have to do," she said.
"Part of it is that everyone is so busy living their lives day to day. And we don't have a good system in place for solving global problems. This is a global problem," she said.
Trump proposes to end
ski town Amtrak trains
TRUCKEE, Calif. — If the Trump administration has its way with Congress, Amtrak will lose subsidies for its long-distance routes. At least two of those Amtrak trains roll through ski country.
The California Zephyr arrives from Denver and slides under the Continental Divide through the 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel, emerging at the base of the Winter Park ski area while continuing westward to Glenwood Springs and then Salt Lake City.
The same train pauses at Truckee, Calif., proximate to a half-dozen ski areas, before continuing over Donner Pass to Oakland.
Another long-distance train, the Empire Builder, passes through Montana, stopping at an entrance to Glacier National Park and also Whitefish before continuing to Sandpoint, Idaho, at the base of Mt. Schweitzer, on its way to Seattle.
In Truckee, town manager Tony Lashbrook sees Trump's proposed slashing of Amtrak subsidies as a mistake. "It reminds me of the thinking that led to the demise of the street car system in Southern California 75 years ago," he says. Los Angeles is now rebuilding its light rail system.
Truckee has had passenger trains since 1868. The current train station in downtown Truckee was built in 1900 and is on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
"The current administration's proposal to eliminate critical funding for the California Zephyr, without any outreach or communication with impacted communities is unacceptable," he says.
The Trump administration has said it wants to enhance regional routes, as opposed to the long-distance routes, but has offered no specific proposals. Truckee, says Lashbrook, has long been interested in improved passenger service between the Bay Area and Reno, Nev., located 30 miles down-valley from Truckee, as an alternative to the congestion commonly found on Interstate 80, especially during the snowy winter months.
"Eliminating the only passenger rail service serving our region without exploring regional options that could replace it is simply ill advised," he says.
In Montana, Whitefish last year accounted for 54,000 riders of the 123,600 passengers who got off an Amtrak in Montana last year, notes the Whitefish Pilot.
Trump's budget says long-distance routes "incur the vast majority of Amtrak's operating losses." The budget proposes to cut $2.4 billion in Amtrak funding. Amtrak last year operated at a net loss of $227 million.
It's a go for new ski area
in the Cariboo Mountains
VALEMOUNT, B.C. — Colorado has Vail, but British Columbia is getting a Valemount Glacier Destination in December 2018.
The resort is to be on the western flanks of the Continental Divide, about an hour and a half from Jasper and five hours from Banff. The bed base is to be relatively modest, 2,000 beds. The lift capacity is to be 9,500 per hour, compared to almost 70,000 an hour at Whistler Blackcomb.
Valemount, however, will boast of two key superlatives. It will have the most top-to-bottom vertical terrain in North America, 2,090 meters (6,856 feet), moving ahead of Revelstoke Mountain Resort's 1,713 meters. It will be third in the world, behind Zermatt, Switzerland, and Chamonix Aiguille du Midi, France.
The length of the operating season, up to 300 days a year, may also distinguish Valemount. Tom Oberti, vice president of the Vancouver-based Oberti Resort Design, told Whistler's Pique Newsmagazine that no snowmaking will be needed to achieve this.
"We get so many e-mails from ski teams because there are not many options other than Mt. Hood (in Oregon) and to a lesser extent the Horstman Glacier (at Whistler Blackcomb)," he told Pique.
Oberti pointed out that the site, located in the Premier Range of the Cariboo Mountains, gets neither the extreme cold of Jasper, located on the other side of the Continental Divide, nor the rain of the Coast Mountains, where Whistler is located.
He didn't mention it, but mid-winter days are short. Days at Valemount, B.C., last 7 hours, 33 minutes at winter solstice, compared to 9 hours and 22 minutes at Vail, Colo.
What also must be mentioned is this: Valemount is 5 hours from the closest major city, Edmonton. (Mammoth is the same distance from Los Angeles).
Oberti said his company expects to draw ski enthusiasts, especially those from the United States and the emerging Asian market.
The idea for the ski area was discussed beginning in the late 1980s but took off in 2011 as municipal officials in the Village of Valemount struggled to fill gaps caused by the decline of the forestry and wood-processing industries. The municipality reached out to Tommaso Oberti of Oberti Resort Design, and Tom Oberti's father. The elder Oberti had spent many years trying to establish Jumbo Glacier Resort, which was to have been near Invermere, B.C. It was vigorously opposed by environmentalists and local groups, too.
The two main investors in Valemount were reported to be Hunter Milborne and Greg Marchant, both of Toronto. The initial investment is expected to be $100 million.
Ski teacher gets half-loaf
in war with Aspen Skiing
ASPEN, Colo. — Former ski instructor Lee Mulcahy, who is campaigning to be mayor of Aspen, has a reputation in Aspen of being a pebble in a shoe or, as he prefers, a David trying to get the better of Goliath.
Goliath, in his eyes, is the Aspen Skiing Co., which has declared him persona non grata in company offices or any of the four ski areas it operates since he was fired as an instructor seven years ago. Company representatives said he was dismissed because of poor work. He asserted it was because he led an effort to unionize ski instructors. His efforts included distributing pro-unionization flyers to ski area patrons and to guests at the company's The Little Nell hotel.
Local district court judge Chris Seldin has issued a ruling that draws flesh from both parties. The company can rightfully refuse him the right to darken the doorways of its hotels, restaurants, and other accommodations, and it can even refuse to sell him lift tickets.
But refuse him access to the ski slopes that the company leases from the U.S. government? No, said Seldin, that goes too far. Mulcahy's access to the slopes subject to "reasonable time, place and manner limitations" that are to be defined later.
Mulcahy says he's been ostracized because of the ski company's power, forced to get by as a substitute teacher and taxi driver. Even the town government won't hire him to be a janitor, he told the Aspen Daily News.
Crested Butte hears pitch
for backcountry policing
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — By many accounts, the situation on the gravel and dirt roads around Crested Butte two years ago was a real mess. Lots of cars and trucks, lots of people camped out in places they maybe shouldn't have been camping, and even at least one case of a truck ducking around traffic congestion on a Forest Service road through a field of skunk cabbage.
If last year was a little better, the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association believes there needs to be a direct response. The organization wants to create a Crested Butte Conservation Corps, with crews on duty six days a week, doing everything from picking up trash and handing out doggie bags to removing tree blow-downs.
They promise to intervene at bandit campsites and provide guidance to drivers at heavily congested sites. The Crested Butte News reports town officials support the idea but have not yet allocated money.
Golfer Norman's spread tops
asking prices in Colorado
MEEKER, Colo. — The 10 priciest residential properties in Colorado currently on the market are all in the mountains, and it should surprise no one that 6 of the 10 are in the Aspen area and one is at Telluride. None is below $35 million.
The other locations reported by Property Shark might surprise you: mountain valleys more known for their cows than skiing. None are in even the ritziest areas of Denver or Boulder.
A property near Kremmling, listed at almost $40 million, comes with a 6,900-acre ranch, while a Westcliffe spread has 55,486 acres (at an asking price of $49 million).
Professional golfer Greg Norman has the biggest price tag, $55 million, for his 7 Lakes Ranch, which has 11,701 acres located about 25 miles east of Meeker, near the edge of the Flat Tops Wilderness. The ranch, says the Wall Street Journal, includes a 14,000-square-foot main house with 8 bedrooms plus staff quarters and 11 other residences, including cabins, guesthouses, and more staff quarters that Norman purchased from financier Henry Kravis. The property also includes two miles of the White River, which is savored by trout anglers.
Anger, anguish, and answers
to affordable housing woes
JACKSON, Wyo. — Everywhere in the ski towns, the mismatch between the demand and supply for cheaper housing remains a source of anguish, sometimes anger, and even more rarely answers.
One answer may be found in a law being considered by the Jackson Town Council. It would govern apartment complexes with 20 or more rental units designed to cater to the lower-income renters by relieving the developer of affordable housing requirements. The exemption would apply to those with smaller units ranging between 550-square-foot studio apartments and 1,350-square-foot three bedroom apartments, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.
The thinking is that the regulations might encourage developers to build apartment complexes with units affordable to those in the local service industry instead of allocating the land to building relatively giant houses, often called McMansions, that local residents working in the local economy almost assuredly cannot afford.
A new report cited by the News&Guide concludes that people will move to Jackson whether there is housing available—or not. Both population growth and job growth, especially for seasonal workers, has far outpaced residential and commercial development.
Jim Stanford, a town councilor who used to be a reporter for the News&Guide, said he remains concerned about affordability over the long haul. What used to be affordable housing has been converted into housing that is no longer affordable, he noted. "It's not as simple as just increasing supply. That's not the way it works in Jackson."
In Crested Butte, it's the same story. Not that many years ago, the sort of dilapidated housing left over from Crested Butte's mining era was relatively cheap—renting for a few hundred bucks a month or less, says Mark Reaman, editor of the Crested Butte News. But those shacks have been gussied up to the point that local service workers cannot afford them.
Will government now step in with more deed-restricted housing? The newspaper says local officials in Crested Butte and other jurisdictions appear poised to seek voter approval for new taxes on lodging or property to raise $80 million. The money would deliver 400 new "affordable" units all over Gunnison County by 2020. A public official says the private sector can be expected to deliver another 500 units.
And in the Aspen-dominated Roaring Fork Valley, two men with a lively interest in the affordable housing problem are trying to persuade the myriad of local governments from Aspen to Glenwood Springs of the value for a taxpayer-funded regional housing authority.
Bill Lamont, a former planning director in both Denver and Boulder, and attorney Dave Myler tell the Aspen Daily News that the housing authority could generate enough money to significantly address the valley's long-standing housing problem. They cite just one other comparable multi-jurisdiction authority in Colorado, that being in Summit County.
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