Mountain Town News: Two grand ambitions, but only one still possible (column)
May 27, 2017
SOUTH FORK, Colo. — Dreams of a new real estate development high in the mountains live on—except for where they don't. Colorado has examples of both.
The dream that lives on is at Wolf Creek Pass, in southern Colorado. There, Texas billionaire B.J. "Red" McCombs set out more than 30 years ago to build a giant real estate project next to the ski lifts at Wolf Creek. Last week, McCombs's dream was set back yet again.
A land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service was needed to make the project work. In 2015, the agency approved it. But environmental groups argued that the federal agency had unlawfully limited the scope of the environmental analysis. U.S. District Court Judge Richard P. Matsch has now agreed with those concerns, the Durango Herald reports.
That doesn't mean the project is dead. The proposal can go back for review. But, at least for now, there are no condos for sale at Wolf Creek. It's still relative wilderness.
But the dream died a long time ago elsewhere in Colorado. Infatuated by the success of Vail, St. Louis businessman Fred Kummer in 1973 set out to build a ski area called Adam's Rib 18 miles south of Eagle. The Forest Service rarely saw a potential ski area it didn't like then.
Over the years, the Forest Service began paying attention to environmental laws like the Clean Air Act. Finally, in 1997, local district ranger Anne Huebner laid it down straight. The plain fact was that the site was a terrible one for a ski area. Kummer threw in the towel.
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What he wanted to be his base area, a wetlands filled area called Vassar Meadows, instead became part of the Colorado state park system.
But one component of the project still lives on in the form of the 1,540-acre Hardscrabble Ranch. The Vail Daily reports that Eagle County commissioners recently approved spending $9 million to buy the ranch. Other funds have fattened the kitty to $10.3 million.
To get the purchase over the finish line — and preserve the land as open space — will require another $3.1 million, which open space advocates hope will come in June from Great Outdoors Colorado.
The cost of presidential families visiting Aspen
ASPEN, Colo. — When family members of U.S. presidents take skiing vacations, it costs taxpayers a chunk of change.
The Aspen Times cites research by a group called Judicial Watch that found the costs of a trip by Michelle and the two Obama daughters in 2016 was $122,000. The airplane trip from Washington, D.C., cost more than $57,000. Hotel expenses by the Secret Service agents that accompany all presidential family members accounted for most of the rest of the cost. Barack Obama stayed at home in Washington, D.C., that holiday weekend.
Donald Trump has also been a frequent visitor to Aspen through the years, but not since he was elected. However, his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner and their two children visited this winter. Costs of that have not been released.
Two Trump weekend visits to his resort in Florida cost $1.2 million, Judicial Watch said.
"If Congress is looking to save tax dollars, they might consider trimming the platinum travel budgets of this and future presidents."
Maybe pollinator garden can help butterflies, bees
TELLURIDE, Colo. — A pollinator garden rich with flowers has been planted along the San Miguel River downstream from Telluride with the intent of nurturing both butterflies and bees.
The Telluride Daily Planet explains that the pollinator garden was proposed by a former local official, Art Goodtimes, because the population of both insects has been declining.
Volunteers from Fort Lewis College in Durango planted 12 to 15 different pollinators, including native pollinators such as showy milkweed (to help preserve Monarch butterfly populations); native blue columbines; and potentilla.
A call to expand ban on plastic water bottles
WHISTLER, B.C. — In 2012, Whistler municipal officials banned the sale of bottled water in plastic containers at all the facilities it manages. Now, there's a local call to take this a step further: ban the sale of plastic bottled water altogether in Whistler.
"With millions of visitors every year, Whistler has a unique position to educate visitors on making a conscious shift toward reusable containers," says an online petition launched by Steve Andrews, a local resident.
"Many other communities have already set the precedent, and hopefully Whistler can be part of the change toward a more sustainable future," he says.
Whistler's Pique Newsmagazine agrees, and points out that 83 percent of Canada's bottled water exports come from British Columbia. Maybe the province should cease selling its water to bottling companies, the newspaper suggests.
Park City discussing a ban on formula stores
PARK CITY, Utah — Formula retailers, also called chain stores, may see the door closed along Park City's iconic Main Street.
The Park Record reports that town officials are starting to review alternatives to limit the homogenization of the street-front locations. There are currently 18 such retailers that fit the definition of a chain, defined as any store with 10 or more locations.
The town's planning staff has resisted interest by the elected officials to limit access to the prime location by chain stores such as Patagonia, the North Face, and Lululemon. Instead, they argued that the free market should prevail.
The announcement that L.L. Bean planned a store on the street shifted the thinking of the city staff. "That really kind of turned up the Bunsen burner," said Jonathan Weidenhamer, the city's economic development manager.
The alternative preferred by the planning staff would prohibit any more street-level storefronts by chain retailers. Another possibility would be to establish a cap. But concern remains. Hannah Turpen, a city planner, said a ban could make the area more viable for smaller retailers but with the unintended consequence of leading to vacancies and lack of vibrancy.
Cigarette tray part of call for rethinking of recycling
WHISTLER, B.C. — See somebody pass around a tray of cigarettes at a social event lately?
In Whistler, it happened just weeks ago. But there was no real expectation anybody would smoke the cancer sticks. Instead, says Pique Newsmagazine, a point was being made about changing mores and expectations.
"How many of you remember being in restaurants where every table had an ashtray? But now it would be quite a surprise if somebody asked to smoke in your restaurant. It's not something that's commonly done," said Sue Maxwell, one of the municipal council members.
What Whistler city officials hope to see more of is waste diversion, especially in those places frequented by tourists. The resort community has boosted the recycling rate from 17 percent in 1999 to 56 percent in 2011. Among other items, food scraps are diverted to a composting operation.
Since then, the recycling rate has stalled. Local homes do a pretty good job of recycling. The push now is on commercial and apartments, or strata. Together, they contribute 64 percent of the landfill waste in Whistler. That waste is hauled hundreds of miles to a landfill along the Columbia River near the Oregon-Washington border.
To help nudge along the recycling, municipal codes may be altered to allow a little more space in units, to be used for garbage rooms, where the recyclables can be sorted.
Maybe patrols will stop garbage by Banff campers
BANFF, Alberta. — Last summer, two female members of the wolfpack that roams the Bow Valley of Banff National park were shot and killed following a series of worrisome accidents.
Both wolves had become food-conditioned after getting into food and garbage left out by messy campers.
In an effort to ensure that something similar doesn't happen this summer, Parks Canada has hired several private security personnel to patrol the campgrounds in the Bow River Valley, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.
A tall learning curve for greenhouse in Jackson
JACKSON, Wyo. — A year ago a 13,500-square-foot greenhouse built on the south-facing side of the municipal parking garage began operations in Jackson. Called Vertical Harvest, it is designed to produce leafy greens through the winter while providing employment for locals with physical and mental disabilities.
The opening drew national attention, including a story in the New York Times. That caused others to begin calling to figure out how to do something similar. The calls continue. But operators of Vertical are still trying to figure it out themselves, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.
"There's not a week that goes by where another community doesn't contact us and say they want to replicate this," said Nona Yehia, co-founder of Vertical Harvest. "We had a vision of how this would all work out, but that's definitely still an evolution. I don't think you can underestimate the fact that there is no playbook for this."
The greenhouse is state of the art. Each room acts as its own microecosystem, regulated to maintain the ideal heat, moisture, ultraviolet light, and carbon dioxide levels for 35 crops so that they grow in the fastest, most nutritious, and environmentally sustainable way possible, all year long, at 6,200 feet above sea level.
Figuring out how to integrate all the cutting-edge technology, however, has been a daunting task. But delivering meaningful work to the employees has been an unqualified success.
The goal of Vertical Harvest is to deliver 100,00 pounds of fresh produce a year. So far, the production is a little more than half that.
Advice to Durango mayor: overcome partisan divide
ASPEN, Colo. — Dick White, the mayor of Durango, was in Aspen last Friday, where he had a question for former Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter. The question was how to get the local electrical co-operative, La Plata Electric, to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy.
Durango's city government, he explained was doing fine in its commitment to decarbonizing its electricity supply, thanks to a purchase of wind power from investor-owned utility Xcel Energy. But the challenge was to extend that pledge to reach 100 percent renewable energy to the broader community.
"How do we extend that to our whole community when our co-op board really isn't too excited about that?" he said, and then answered his own question: "One of the reasons is that the chair of the board (of La Plata Electric, a co-operative) is a conservative rancher and is basically a climate denier," said White, a retired astronomer.
How about citing the economic opportunities of renewable energy?
"But that message hasn't completely gotten through," he said. He reported that there is some acceptance of the idea that renewable generation can deliver economic opportunity, but the argument hasn't been fully embraced. The issue is now being defined on party lines, he added.
Ritter, who now heads the Center for the New Energy Economy, a think tank that works with both Democratic and Republican governors in the West, urged the mayor not to let a partisan divide get in the way of conversation.
Since the 2010 elections, said Ritter, a Democrat, decarbonization has been a wedge issue.
"We have seen this impacting rural coops around the country, despite the fact that 85 percent of all wind generation is in red legislative districts," Ritter said, referring to areas won by Republican candidates who have mostly aligned against climate change efforts.
"I just encourage you to keep talking and try to make it less about political partisan stuff and build around the economic development opportunities and the fact that this transition is occurring."
Ritter then pointed to the decision by the Public Service Company of New Mexico to stop using coal-fired electricity within the next 14 years. That will affect power plants located just to the south of Durango in New Mexico, he said.
"It's happening to the south. It's happening east and west. It will happen here," he added.
La Plata Electric, because of its contract with Tri-State Generation and Transmission, can secure a maximum of 5 percent of its own power. Tri-State gets a great amount of hydro generate power from dams in the West and has been expanding its use of in wind farms and natural gas plants, plus some solar. However, it remains heavily invested in coal-fired generation.
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