Mountain Town News |

Mountain Town News

Complied by Allen Best
Aspen Times Weekly

In this town at the foot of Beaver Creek, about six miles from Vail, efforts are underway to shrink energy use.

With prices of both natural gas and electricity escalating briskly, there is good reason to do so. But what is remarkable is that reports on current efforts were focused on reduced emissions of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas. No mention was made of cost savings in a Vail Daily article.

The project uses heat from a wastewater treatment plant located within the town. That heat, which is currently dissipated, can be harnessed by using a heat-pump system, says a consulting engineer, Scott Vandenburgh, with CDM Inc.

Town officials are considering using the new-found heat in two potential ways. The most gluttonous user of energy in the town is a recreation center. Built in the mid-1990s, it uses 50 percent more energy than a newer but comparably sized recreation center at nearby Glenwood Springs. Using the wastewater heat to warm the rec center swimming pool, hot tubs and showers will eliminate 568 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, Vandenburgh reported.

Another option is a streetmelt system for a new pedestrian area being planned. The town has been criticized for heating sidewalks, a use seen by some as unnecessary. But Avon officials are insistent that they wanted melted sidewalks, to encourage pedestrian use. The alternative, gas-fired boilers, would result in 288 tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the study.

But tapping the wastewater heat will have negative consequences of its own, as the heat-pumping system will result in putting 153 tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

Author and crusading journalist Bill McKibben is scheduled to visit Banff in early August to talk about ” what else? ” climate change. McKibben told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that he gets about 10 invitations a day to speak, and he chose Banff because “every now and then I choose one based on my need to run up a mountain.”

But in going to Banff, McKibben also will be in Alberta, one of the world’s hot-spots for carbon extraction. Alberta is site of the tar sands, some of which is piped to Colorado for refining.

McKibben’s current crusade is for a reduction in the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. Those concentrations were 250 parts per million when the industrial revolution began, have now reached 386, and are accelerating rapidly.

Climate scientists have previously said C02 must be capped at 450 parts per million, possibly 550 parts per million, before dangerous changes would begin.

Now, however, leading climate scientist James Hansen says global warming is happening sooner than expected, and so the conversion from carbon-based energy has to happen much more rapidly. That is also the position of McKibben, who is calling for a return to 350 parts per million, a difficult task, given that C02 lingers in the atmosphere for up to a century.

Can a community with 5,000 people still call itself a “small town”? Despite its rapid growth during the last decade, Eagle ” halfway between Vail and Glenwood Springs ” still feels like a small town.

But when you have that many people, you need money for street repairs and other improvements. In Colorado, where homeowners pay very little property tax, that means revenues from taxes on sales.

So Eagle has to wrestle with its need for income versus its desire to keep that small-town feel.

So far, Eagle has heard from several developers proposing to build giant commercial complexes along nearby Interstate 70. It sent the first suitor packing, and the town’s planning commission proposes to similarly show the door to the latest developer, who wants to build 550,000 square feet of commercial space and 581 housing units.

If the project does get built, the planning commissioners say, than buildings should be maxed at 45 feet. The recommendations now go to the town board. The Eagle Valley Enterprise says one way or another, the issue is likely to be decided directly by voters.

There is new talk of imminent changes at Rico, an old mining town in the San Juan Mountains whose remoteness is rivaled only by the beauty of its surroundings. Both mining and resort development figure into this new vision of the town located about a half-hour south of Telluride.

Mega Moly Inc., an investment firm, is at the heart of the new plans for mining presented to the community in two meetings recently by a consortium of inter-related companies.

“I have no doubt that ultimately this resource will be accessed in the future,” said Mark Levin, a representative of Mining and Environmental Services, a firm that conducts remediation of existing mining sites. He said to expect a 10- to 20-year development process.

But Mega Moly still has to cut a deal with the owner of the mining property. Also, there seem to be some doubts about the size and quality of the ore deposit. For example, while Levin describes the deposit as “truly world-class potential in terms of size and grade,” he also said additional drilling that will cost tens of millions of dollars is needed to document the economic value of the deposit.

Mining was also the talk of the town last year, after mining interests announced plans to begin mining of what may be a major molybdenum deposit. The deal fell through.

But with China now a net importer of molybdenum, the market remains strong for the mineral, which strengthens steel and improves resistance to corrosion.

More immediate than mining, says The Telluride Watch, is potential of a Pagosa Springs-like commercial development that includes warm water bathing and a spa. The Kiernan Companies is at the center of this project.

The hot water near the center of Rico was discovered in the 1970s when a mining company created artesian wells, in which the water naturally flows to the surface without being pumped. The water is still flowing at about 100 degrees.

Kyoto Planet Group, a geothermal resources firm, is involved in this aspect of the vision, with some talk also of potential for extracting the heat for electrical generation.

Rico residents for years have wondered about potential for development. A town of 250 during winter, its population doubles during summer, when owners of the old cabins flood in from Arizona and elsewhere.

But there is no central sewer system, and the town has enough water rights for only a few dozen additional water taps, says Rebecca Levy, a town trustee and also publisher of the Rico Bugle.

As well, while the town averted designation as a Superfund site of mining wastes, tailings ponds near the town suggest the need to gussy-up the surroundings.

The town is split on whether it wants changes, says Levy. While many are content with Rico as it is, the town is almost exclusively a bedroom community for Telluride and Mountain Village, with no local economy or tax base.

Dissatisfied with local schools, families are leaving when they begin to have children. Telluride is now longer accepting out-of-district students.

Peter Yesawich, who is well known in the ski and resort world for his research and marketing work, was in Whistler recently to share his expertise about U.S. travel trends.

Yesawich’s expertise is of great interest in Whistler, noted Pique Editor Bob Barnett, since the U.S. market makes up 25 to 30 percent of Whistler’s total room-nights. So far, says Barnett, Whistler has avoided the full impact of U.S. economic problems because of the resort’s proximity to the Seattle metropolis, one of the 10 wealthiest regions in the United States. Even so, numbers have been steadily dropping this year.

And Whistler’s future? Yesawich suggested the travel industry might take its cues form companies like Nike and Saturn, that have developed websites where people can order the exact colors, features and materials they want in their running shoes or cars.

The Denver Water Department has partially backed off from its closure of the road across Dillon Dam. The road parallels Interstate 70, connecting the towns of Frisco and Silverthorne.

Denver Water abruptly closed the road in early July after getting new information about the vulnerability of the dam to a potential terrorist threat, presumably a bombing of some sort that would cause the dam to fail.

The closure was announced with virtually no advance discussion with local authorities ” an omission that ruffled local feathers and rekindled old animosities.

“Denver Water Board” used to be a four-letter word in Summit County and other parts of Western Colorado, and to an extent it still is. The closure added new invective to this damnation.

Five agencies in Summit County sued Denver Water, which in turn agreed to form a task force to examine dam security. For now, the road is open to cars and pickup truck. Still banned are larger trucks and U-Hauls and other such vehicles that could carry the quantities of fertilizer that Timothy McVeigh used to blast the federal building in Oklahoma City.

The plan, said Maj. Gen. Mason Whitney, head of Colorado’s office of Homeland Security, is to “strike a balance between public access and dam security by mitigating vulnerabilities based on most probable threats and possible consequences.”

Another Canada lynx has died after being hit on a road, this one in Summit County between Frisco and Breckenridge. The Summit Daily News says at least 20 people tried to save the hurt animal. The lynx otherwise appeared to be in good health. This is the 13th lynx to have been killed by traffic in Colorado and adjacent states since reintroductions began in 1999. Another 13 have been illegally shot. The most recent fatality occurred on a stretch of road where a wildlife underpass is tentatively planned.

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