Mountain Town News | AspenTimes.com

Mountain Town News

Allen Best

Interstate 70 through the Eagle Valley is a hurry-hurry thoroughfare. The speed limit is 75 mph from Glenwood Canyon to Avon, and then 65 and 60 mph to Vail.But a group of Eagle County officials is asking for a lowered speed limit in the midvalley section at least to Eagle, reports the Vail Daily. The officials cite the high death rate on the highway, with most fatal crashes occurring during the summer months.The speed limit was 65 until the mid-1990s.

The story over the Fourth of July in the Fraser Valley was of trees, dead and dying, in what is undoubtedly Colorado’s ground zero for the bark-beetle infestation of the last decade.Touchy about the fire potential, Grand County commissioners declared a ban on open fires. A community fire plan was being prepared that identifies potential safety zones and helicopter landing sites.The Winter Park Manifest also reports that logging of 1,900 acres of forest has begun. The intent is to remove dead trees, but impacts are expected to several popular trails used for mountain biking. Appropriately, one of the trails is called Chainsaw.Winter Park and Fraser, the valley’s two towns, haven’t been hit badly by bark beetle, but they’re very close – just over a ridge – from the Williams Fork Valley, where the future is evident in all its grayness. In places, 90 percent of trees are dead.

It appears that ore processing could return to Silverton by Christmas, and mining itself within three years.The Pride of the West ore-processing mill, which is located at Howardsville, about four miles from Silverton, has been sold to Colorado Goldfields at a cost of $900,000. Of that, $250,000 was paid in cash.Todd Hennis, the company’s president and chief executive officer, told the Silverton Standard and the Miner that the mill is only the functional ore mill within 100 miles. Gold and silver prices are high, and Hennis expects them to rise.The short-term plan is to process ore provided by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal and state agencies that have environmental materials in need of milling.Hennis, who has 26 years experience in mining and metals, sees untapped potential in the Gold King, Mogul and Echo mines, as well as others. “With professional experience, some luck and good management,” Hennis told the Standard, the mill should operate for perhaps 20 years.For the sale to go through, the buyer wanted an undisputed clear title to the land. The county had thought of using the old railroad grade through the property as a trail, but the county commissioners, in a 2-to-1 vote, disclaimed any interest in the railroad right of way.The dissenting commissioner, Peter McKay, objected to the hasty nature of the decision.The commissioners were informed of the demand for a disclaimer only minutes beforehand, and were told that failing it, they might face a lawsuit – or the mill would be taken apart and moved to Mexico. It’s not good public policy to make decisions so hastily, said McKay.Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman, a one-time miner, said he wouldn’t let a railroad right of way stand in the way of renewed mining.Silverton’s last mine closed about a decade ago. Since then, it has moved to more of a tourism- and second-home based economy.

What began as something of a science experiment by high school students in Banff is resulting in the addition of biodiesel to be used in the 28-bus fleet in the local school district. The buses are expected to use a 5 percent component of biodiesel in winter, when freezing temperatures limit full use of biodiesel, but a 20 to 50 percent mixture is possible in summer months, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook. All of this is coming by 2010.

Revelstoke city officials are taking additional steps to improve the air. Earlier this year, the council banned idling in the downtown area. Now, councilors are preparing to make idling unlawful across the community. Signs declaring that fact are to be erected at the municipality’s main entrances.In another action, reports the Revelstoke Times Review, the council is planning to offer grants of $300 and $800 to those willing to replace their inefficient old wood stoves in favor of the more efficient models.A final change likely to yield clearer skies is the imminent shutdown of a sawmill burner, although one final burner will remain in the city. While a major ski resort is being built at Revelstoke, it remains for now a logging town as well.

Although Durango-based La Plata Electrical Association is already investing 1 to 1.5 percent of its revenues in encouraging more efficient use of existing electricity, local activists want it to do more and reduce electrical use 10 percent by the year 2020.Mark Schwantes, the co-op’s director of corporate services and planning, tells the Durango Telegraph that a 10 percent reduction would be “very challenging,” given the increasing number of consumers in the Durango-Pagosa Springs-Cortez area.In addition, the San Juan Citizens Alliance wants more energy to come from local sources. Nearly 1 percent of its electricity comes from renewable sources, but that wind power is generated elsewhere. A new Colorado law mandates that utilities hit 10 percent by the year 2020.Driving the push from activists is a concern mostly about global warming. Nearly all of La Plata Electric’s power comes from coal-fired power plants. In the United States, burning of coal is responsible for about one-third of all emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas.There are additional concerns in the Durango area about adverse effects of two coal-fired power plants in the nearby Four Corners area.

The steadily worsening housing crunch continues to get ink in the Vail Daily. The newspaper revisits a report produced last December by a team from the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit group. Eagle County – an area dominated by Vail but also including a portion of Aspen’s suburbs – will need 11,500 new homes in the next 20 years, most of them with lower price points, the report says.The report maintains that the market alone will not deliver the housing, and called for a consortium of governments to address the issue. It also calls for policies requiring lower income housing in conjunction with the higher-end “market” housing.Eagle County’s population, now edging northward from 50,000, is projected to surpass 80,000 within 18 years. In contrast, 18 years ago it was at less than 23,000.Meanwhile, in Jackson Hole, Jonathan Schechter reports a marked pinch in the labor supply this year. Judging by the classified advertisements, he calculates the demand by early July was 25 percent higher than it was a year ago.

Last November voters in the Eagle Valley approved a $128 million bond election to build a new high school, among other facilities. The new 1,000-student high school will be located in Edwards, replacing the high school closer to Vail and Minturn.But to the disgruntlement of some parents, the budget does not include money for artificial turf or for a full stadium. There are doubts that the grass field now being planned will stand up to soccer, lacrosse and myriad other uses, and many activities will be held instead at the old school about six miles away, reports the Vail Daily.

Who’s to blame for the fire that destroyed 254 homes at Lake Tahoe in the late June fire called Angora?In what looks to be a case of spin the bottle, fingers are being pointed everywhere. The likelihood of fire at Angora, near the town of South Lake Tahoe, was identified with some precision in a story in the San Francisco Chronicle in the mid-1990s.But preventative work on public lands was slow getting started. And on some private lands, it was not done at all.The basin has 200 to 500 trees per acre, whereas a healthy forest has 50 to 70 trees per acre, said Tom Bonnicksen, a professor emeritus of forest science at Texas A&M University.The Los Angeles Times reports that 21,000 acres of federal, state and private land have been thinned in the last decade, but 67,000 more acres still need work.Some point their fingers at environmentalists for slowing the thinning. Matte Mathes, a Forest Service spokesman, told the newspaper that not one environmental appeal or lawsuit was filed against Forest Service thinning projects in the last 10 years. The greater problem was the absence of money from the federal government, until a couple of years ago, to pay for thinning.But while thinning slowed the flames, it could not halt them, said Dave Marlow, the vegetation, fire and fuels manager for the Forest Service.Far more blame – including much anger – has been pointed at an agency called the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Created in 1969, that agency is charged with reducing sedimentation in the lake, and accordingly it has strict rules about modifications to the landscape. Some are saying that the bureaucracy is too meddlesome, requiring permits for removal of any tree larger in diameter than 6 inches. But that agency allowed creation of defensible space around houses, and in a good many cases – by some estimates about 80 percent – the defensible space was neither created nor properly maintained. In particular, fingers are pointed at second-home owners. In fact, about 2,000 homes were permitted on private land within the forests, and another 4,000 parcels remain that can be built upon. The Sacramento Bee reports that even environmentalists have not cited the fire hazard in pushing for a housing moratorium. “It would be kind of a weird campaign; there’s thousands of houses here already,” said Patricia Hickson, former chairman of the Tahoe-area branch of the Sierra Club.Some homeowners tell reporters that they knew the risks but living amid trees is worth the risk.Governors of California and Nevada – the basin is in both states – plan to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to sort out the issues, reports The Associates Press.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at bestallen@earthlink.net.


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