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Mountain Town News

Part of the charm of Crested Butte is its gaily painted Victorian storefronts. But that’s the show-business part. To get a better sense of Crested Butte’s grimy past you need to walk the alleyways and visit the empty lots, where a great many coal bins, outhouses and sheds ” many of them graying and rotting ” can be seen.

To ensure the manifestations of yesteryear remain, the town is now looking at incentives and penalties for property owners. The goal is to ensure the old buildings aren’t deliberately torn down, and that some efforts are made to keep them standing.

“I think one of the things about Crested Butte that’s special is the outbuildings,” building official Bob Gillie recently told the town council. “Those buildings, like the coal sheds, say a lot about the history of Crested Butte.”

Council members, reports the Crested Butte News, are leery of over-reaching in their efforts to preserve the past. But they are also reminded that some other communities, such as Telluride, now wish more relics of the past had been preserved, and are keen on applying those lessons to Crested Butte.

Telluride’s real estate economy is seriously in the tank. The town during November collected $18,000 in real estate transfer taxes. That compares with an average $387,000 for the five previous Novembers, a 95 percent decline.

Although sales tax collections haven’t dropped as severely, town manager Frank Bell is calling for reductions in spending by town employees that assume a 25 to 50 percent drop in revenues this winter. Bookings for the winter are currently running 25 percent below last year’s banner ski season, notes The Telluride Watch.

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For employees at town hall, credit cards will be reined in, travel will require special approval, and overtime pay will be banned, except for emergencies and snow removal. Presumably, lack of overtime for snow removal would provoke an even greater emergency.

How quickly this economy has turned. Even last spring the news hither and thither across the West was of mines being reopened or at least being contemplated. Now, mines are being shuttered or, as in the case of a year-old molybdenum mine near Revelstoke, the expansion shelved. Scott Broughton, president and chief executive of Roca Mines, says his company will continue to mine, and he said he’s “keenly interested” in preserving the jobs of the 100 or so workers there.

“It’s not just goodwill and it’s not just philanthropic,” he told the Revelstoke Times-Review. “We want to be able to have this mine up and running and producing molybdenum when prices do go back up again.”

The newspaper notes that the price for molybdenum, an alloy in steel and iron often called simply “moly,” had been holding steadily at $30 to $35 U.S. per pound, but has now skidded to $12 per pound.

Climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions has been called the greatest challenge of our times. But at least in Canada, it will have to wait.

“We will not aggravate an already weakened economy in the name of environmental progress,” said Jim Prentice, minister of environment for the Canadian government.

Prentice spoke at a forum held in Lake Louise in conjunction with the World Cup ski races. The theme this year, as last, was climate change, and Prentice acknowledged climate change is the “pre-eminent environmental issue of our time.” What is needed, he said, is an “acceptable balance between measurable environmental progress and steady economic growth and prosperity.”

The Rocky Mountain Outlook says that former California Gov. Pete Wilson also spoke at the forum, and he said that California’s front-edge politics regarding energy use have gone too far. “There is a need for a kind of realism to be expressed, but California is not waiting,” said Wilson.

Wilson advocates nuclear power, but is dubious of carbon-sequestering technology, which would allow the abundant coal resources to continue to be used. Sequestering of carbon, however, has so far defied efforts to do it in any broad, large-scale way.

Marlo Raynolds, executive director of the Pembina Institute, a climate-action group active in Canada, told reporters that a carbon tax is badly needed. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, in an interview in Newsweek, called for the same thing, to be balanced by a reduction in payroll taxes.

After 101 years, Durango has a new library. It’s larger, with more places to read, and thanks to windows and skylights, it’s much brighter, reports the Durango Telegraph. As well, the building has green credentials, scoring enough points under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification system to score gold, the third highest of four levels.

From all the construction cranes in Vail, you wouldn’t know a major recession is under way. A new Four Seasons hotel is rapidly rising, as is a condominium project called Solaris. Both were conceived during better economic times during the last decade, but with each one requiring a number of years to get approvals, financing, or both.

Meanwhile, Vail Resorts seems to foresee an end to this recession. For several years it has been acquiring property on the fringes of the main resort areas. There, it intends to construct a new gondola to Vail Mountain and create a major, 11-acre project called Ever Vail.

John Garnsey, co-president of the company’s mountain division, told a group in Vail recently that Ever Vail represents his company’s effort to create a real estate product for people who are now in the 25- to 35-year-old range.

“Vail is the best ski mountain and the best ski town,” he said. “But everyone is trying to figure out how to capture the next generation. We’re going to be left at the curb if we don’t, and Ever Vail will help us do that.”

The company is investing heavily in new, green-thinking designs. Company officials in the past have said they intend to create a project able to get platinum designation, the highest of four levels of certification under the LEED program.

While Ketchum continues its efforts to rebuild a tourism economy, it has taken a step in another direction. A company that creates re-agents and antibodies for scientific researchers has set up shop in the town in quarters once occupied by Scott, the ski equipment manufacturer

Most of the company’s 23 employees already lived in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area, said the company’s founder, Dr. John Stephenson. “We have no problem finding people here, and by hiring locally it means less turnover because they already know they like the area,” he told the Idaho Mountain Express.

With his wife, Brenda, he has a house in Ketchum and has been visiting for more than 20 years to ski and hike. He expects to get in 100 days of skiing this winter. As for housing costs for employees, he says the costs are no higher than in San Francisco and San Diego, where his competitors are based.

Can casinos on the Nevada side of the border at Lake Tahoe tell their customers to butt out? One already has.

“This was a pure business decision,” explained Scott Tate, general manager of the Fernley Nugget, which opened Nov. 5. He told the Tahoe Daily News that smokers have access to a patio. “I’m not a proponent of a smoke-free environment as much as I’m a proponent of choice,” he said.

Other casino operators, however, aren’t ready to ban smoking, which is still legal at casinos in Nevada. “From a personal view, I would be all for it, but I don’t want to be the first kid on the block to try it,” said Bill Wood, general manager of the Crystal Bay Casino.

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