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Mountain Town News

Allen Best

Several projects are in the works to make use of the thousands and probably millions of beetle-killed dead trees now standing in the forests of north-central Colorado. The Sky-Hi News says they are at the “cutting edge of finding solutions to today’s rapidly changing economic and natural landscape.”A plant that would burn trees to produce heat and electricity is being studied near Walden, located in North Park. The electrical utility for that area, Mountain Parks Electric, is getting a federal grant of $242,000 to study its options.General manager Joe Pandy said there are three options: 1) burn the biomass to produce steam, which would turn a turbine that makes electricity; 2) it can be made into a liquid fuel; or 3) it can be made into a flammable gas.Such a plant is believed to have an electrical generating capacity of three to four megawatts. That compares with the 700-megawatt coal-burning fire plants being planned by Tri-State Transmission and Generation in southwestern Kansas. But if the plant is successful, other plants could be built elsewhere in the region.Another company, Ranch Creek Limited, which is based near Granby, is also getting a federal grant for $144,000 to better use existing dead trees in making posts, railings and logs for homes.Yet at Parshall, located between Kremmling and Granby, a proposal has been filed to create wood pellets for stoves. The proponent, Forest Energy Colorado, believes there’s now enough wood in the area to keep the pellet factory and 14 to 18 employees in business for at least 10 years.

Job fairs are being held in Whistler, which says something about the job market there. In former years, summer was more of a slack time and finding employees was not a problem.But labor is a problem across British Columbia. Part of this is due to the boom in the energy sectors of nearby Alberta; jobs there pay high wages, drawing from other areas, such as Whistler.In Whistler, the employees being sought this summer are for the service sector. But Pique Editor Bob Barnett says that is likely to change. As Whistler gears up for the 2010 Olympics, “construction is going to be a major part of our lives for the summers of 2007, 2008 and 2009.” Construction jobs already pay more than service jobs, “and with Olympic deadlines to meet, the wages may be higher than ever, which is a daunting thought for local businesses in the service industry.”He notes that the story won’t be just in Whistler. In coming years, both downvalley and upvalley areas, including the poor but land-rich First Nations people (as Native Americans are called in Canada), are likely to be major players.

Ski season was looking grim early on in New Mexico. Last season was among the worst ever for snow, and December was a continuation of the same. Going into Christmas, Angel Fire had only half its terrain open.Then a big storm hit, leaving 5 feet of snow. Since then, the four ski areas around Taos – Taos Valley, Angel Fire, Red Rive, and Sipapu – have coasted. “We had more snow in January than we did all of last season, and February to March just blew the cork off skiing,” said Angel Fire marketing director David Dekema.

County commissioners in Idaho’s Teton County, an overflow area for Jackson Hole, have declared a six-month moratorium on zoning changes and new applications for development. The moratorium does not affect previous applications to create 3,000 new building lots nor prevent building of previously approved projects.The valley includes the towns of Victor, Driggs and Tetonia. These towns and rural subdivisions are home to hundreds of people who commute across Teton Pass to jobs in Jackson Hole. As well, the valley is gaining a resort-based economy of its own, with new higher-end vacation and retirement housing in the works.Jackson Hole News & Guide reports the community is sharply divided about growth controls.”This is runaway socialism tonight,” said former planning commission chairman Bill Moulton. He said the moratorium will prevent the sale of property by residents, thereby ruining their retirement plants. The newspaper said it will not prevent the sale of property as such.The county commissioners were also divided. The two commissioners supporting the moratorium were both elected last November and are both Democrats; one had written an editorial warning of possible population growth reaching 114,000 in the county.The lone commissioner opposing the moratorium, a Republican, moved his chair to the end of the table, creating a literal gap to symbolize his philosophic distance from his colleagues. He urged them to “eat crow and eat it fast.” He was alluding to an effort last year by previous commissioners to enact a similar emergency moratorium.

Virtually the last of Vail’s low-cost lodging is going to be razed during the spring shoulder season. The Roost Lodge, located about two miles from the ski lifts, typically caters to college students, hunters and people from Colorado’s Front Range.The going rate for a room this weekend is $89, compared to $149 at a nearby Holiday Inn Express, while a hotel at the base of the mountain goes for $250. (Some of the five-star hotels go for considerably more than that, even in April.)But in a general way, Vail is going steadily more upscale. The average daily hotel rates in February, for example, hit $330 this year, compared to $263 during the same month last year. A host of high-end properties will open during the next several years, some of them remodels of existing hotels but others essentially new.The Roost is to be replaced by a Marriott Residence Inn, still on the low end, but a notch up from its predecessor. As in Aspen, which has agonized over its loss of affordable lodges, Vail is concerned about being exclusively a high-end resort.

Opponents of a major new resort at Jumbo Glacier, about 30 miles from Invermere, were crying foul after learning that the ruling government in British Government was considering legislation that they believe would remove the final decision-making on the project from local hands.The provision in question would enable the provincial cabinet to establish a “resort region,” which would suggest a rezoning of the land could be accomplished within that region, instead of the Regional District of East Kootenay. Opponents charged government officials with an “end run” around local decision-making.The 5,400-bed resort has been in the works for 16 years, and a website boasts of 5,500 vertical feet of skiing, plus 2,300 feet of glacier skiing in the summer.Opposition in Invermere and nearby areas runs strong and loud. A group called the Jumbo Creek Conservation Society has 1,400 members and opposes the resort because of its location in a relatively pristine area that is home to grizzly bears, among other species. The resort would be on the site of a former sawmill, and the area has been heavily logged.Supporters claim the “quiet majority” and proclaim the tax revenues it will provide are vital.In an editorial, the Invermere Valley Echo called for a referendum on the topic, to find out once and for all which side has the votes, “and let the chips fall where they may.”

The nitty-gritty of reducing carbon dioxide emissions at the grassroots level is getting tedious in Crested Butte. There, the city had considered an outright ban on all new snowmelt systems, including heated driveways and sidewalks. Instead, because of protests, it instituted a moratorium while considering the options.The thinking is that that heated walkways are an extravagance that the town should not be a party to, given the accumulating evidence about climate change. Electricity is most often used in such melting systems, which means that natural gas or more likely coal is being burned somewhere to produce that electricity. Both produce carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas.But the council, reports the Crested Butte News, is struggling with fairness. For example, will melting the snow with electricity really cause more hydrocarbons to be burned? “If snow is not melted, it has to be moved with a snow blower, a plow, something like that,” pointed out Councilman Ron Chlipala. “What I’m worried about is that we are problem-switching as opposed to problem-solving.” Fellow Councilwoman Leah Williams suggested a carbon tax.The council had originally considered copying a program introduced in nearby Aspen and Pitkin County, called the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (REMP). That program establishes an energy budget for all homes of more than 5,000 square feet. Any “luxury” items such as outdoor heated swimming pool or heated driveways must compensate for the extra energy use by installing solar panels, for example. Or, they can pay a mitigation fee, which is then put into use elsewhere in the community by people who will install solar panels.Though the Crested Butte council shied away from adopting such a program, because of the administrative headache, the newspaper reports that a REMP-type program is back on the table and scheduled for a re-examination by council members who are now thinking it’s not so complicated after all.

The U.S. Forest Service says that the permission to expand the Breckenridge ski area is not in question. The only question is what kind of skiing will be allowed. The Summit Daily News reports that hike-to skiing and snowcat skiing are being considered.Breckenridge has the highest skier density per acre of the 12 ski areas on the White River National Forest, an area that also includes the ski areas owned by Vail Resorts and Aspen Skiing Co. The company wants the 400 acres to help provide more elbow room on busy days. The expansion will nudge the ski area’s “comfortable carrying capacity” to about 18,000, which compares to a soft cap at Vail Mountain of 20,600.The Summit Daily News reports a bit of heartburn in how the Forest Service has gone about this expansion, with very little opportunity for public input. There are concerns that the expansion, located on Peak 6, in the direction of Frisco, will affect wildlife but also backcountry skiers. There is also some sense that re-assignment of Forest Service lands to concessionaires was effected without proper public transparency.

Lest history not repeat itself, residents of Silverton will find yellow-and-black signs taped to their doors one day in April. The signs, explains the Silverton Standard, will be part of a mock test of a plan in case the pandemic flu arrives at Silverton.Even being located in a remote mountain valley at 9,300 feet probably won’t isolate the town from the virus. It didn’t in 1918.That flu epidemic literally decimated the town’s population, killing 10 percent of residents, 170 altogether. In just one week, 42 people died – the result, according to later speculation, of transmission of the virus at a public celebration. Margie Lyons, the pandemic planning coordinator, warned that people who need medication or bottled oxygen may not get it. “We’re at the end of the transportation line, and transportation may be the first thing that gets disrupted,” she told the Standard. She urges people to keep two months worth of canned and dry goods on hand, rotating the stock to ensure freshness.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at bestallen@earthlink.net.


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