Mountain Town News
August 28, 2008
Somewhat quietly, Vail Resorts has chosen to make its real estate developments significantly more environmentally benign. Most remarkable of all are plans for a new project at the base of Vail Mountain called Ever Vail.The project, which is penciled in as a $1 billion development, has applied for platinum certification under the LEED program. Platinum is the highest and most rigorous of four levels of LEED, a process sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council.The website for Vail Resorts – which also operates five ski areas – says that the project will use a variety of new renewable energy sources for heating and electrifying of the Ever Vail housing and commercial spaces.For example, small hydraulic turbines, called microhydro, are to be installed in Gore Creek to create electricity used for street lighting. Also planned is installation of ground-source heat pumps, which tap the year-round temperature of the ground 8 to 10 feet below the surface, which is at 55 to 60 degrees. Buildings are being designed to best employ passive solar heating during winter months.As well, some of the roofs are to be covered with dirt and planted with grasses, to reduce the runoff and improve insulation. Water reclaimed as snowmelt is to be used as gray water in the toilets, to avoid the use of treated, potable water. A closed-loop gray water system is planned to wash all snowcats and snowmobiles used for operations at the ski area.Elsewhere in its operations, Vail Resorts is also raising its goals. In Wyoming, the company is aiming for a gold-level LEED certification- the highest ranking next to platinum – for its 12,000-square-foot clubhouse at the Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club. In Colorado, at its corporate headquarters between Denver and Boulder, Vail has been awarded a LEED-CI certification. In California, a restaurant being planned at Heavenly is also being designed to LEED standards.How soon Ever Vail will get built is a matter of conjecture. While Vail Resorts has high hopes of moving forward soon, the company is engaged in what amounts to a shoving match about another potential development site where the ski and real estate company owns the land, but where town officials have teamed up with another development company.
Several ceremonies have been held this year to formally dedicate the naming of an 11,293-foot peak in central Colorado as Mount KIA/MIA.The naming was the result of a passion by retired military officer Bruce Salisbury, who lives in northern New Mexico. Salisbury had originally proposed that the Sheep Mountain near Telluride, one of 29 so-named in Colorado, be renamed Kiamia, to honor those killed in action and missing in action – the KIAs and MIAs, to use the military acronyms.Salisbury’s proposal was strongly resisted in the Telluride area, which caused a veto by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. The federal agency demands proof of local acceptance when approving names for mountains.Finally, after several other ventures, Salisbury found local consent for a name in the southern end of the Sawatch Range, near Marshall Pass. The pass is located southwest of the town of Poncha Springs. However, the U.S. Forest Service demurred about the idea of Kiamia, because it resembled a word in the written language of Southern Utes that means a place for departed warriors. What resulted was the more unconventional KIA/MIA.Still, not every individual concedes the name. Slim Wolfe, a carpenter from the nearby hamlet of Villa Grove, said that he has a heap of planer shavings and sawdust out back, which I hereby dub ‘Mount MODD.’ That, he explains in a letter published in Colorado Central Magazine, is an acronym for Mothers of Draft Dodgers, to honor those mothers and fathers who explained to their kids that constructive solutions are more useful than gun-toting arrogance.
When Banff residents were asked what would help them to recycle more, half said greater convenience. To that end, city officials there will begin placing 20 new bins in dispersed locations, so that people don’t have to take their goods to a central location.One side of the bin will be for fibrous items such as newspapers and carbon, explains the Rocky Mountain Outlook, and the other is for bottles, metals and tins.These new recycling containers will be placed next to the bear-proof trash containers. Banff is compact enough that everybody will have both of these recycling bins and bear-proof trash containers within a block of their homes.
A call has been made to install equipment in Durango that will monitor the levels of ozone and other atmospheric pollution.The monitors could confirm suspicions that Durango’s air quality verges on violating federal standards. However, the tests could go the other way, giving the air quality a clean bill of health.Right now, the evidence is circumstantial – but it does not look good. The Durango Telegraph explains that there are monitoring stations for ozone to the west in Mesa Verde National Park, and to the southeast at the Navajo Reservoir. The Navajo site, in particular, has indicated problems.Ozone, although crucial to our atmospheric equilibrium when found in the upper atmosphere, can damage lungs when found close to the ground. It is created by mixing volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides in the heat of day. The organic compounds include the fumes released by varnishes and oil-based paints. Nitrogen oxides are created by internal combustion engines and power plants.In the San Juan Basin of Colorado and New Mexico, the population is relatively small for such a large area. However, there are 3,000 producing natural gas wells, many of which require constant use of diesel motors for compression of the gas. In addition, there are two coal-fired power plants – and another major one recently authorized by the Environmental Protection Agency.Ironically, that same federal agency sets the limits for ozone. That limit of 75 parts per million for ozone has been breached in neighboring San Juan County, New Mexico. The county, according to a study by a Purdue University professor, has the sixth highest ozone levels in the country, despite having a population of only 100,000. Others counties with high ozone are metropolitan areas with far larger populations.
Another mining company has stepped up to the plate, this time paying at least $500,000 to take a swing at that gigantic molybdenum deposit within the bowels of Mount Emmons, the mountain literally in Crested Butte’s backyard.The last hopeful, Vancouver-based Kobex Resources, bowed out in March after apparently deciding that Crested Butte was a more formidable project than it had expected. It spent $5 million in nine months of planning how it might extract the molybdenum, a metal used to harden steel and for dozens of other industrial applications.As it has been for 30 years, the community is largely united in its opposition to the mine. Water quality is the central legal argument, but the broader issue is whether a tourism- and recreation-based economy is compatible with mining.For a mining company, this adds up to the question of whether the world class body of ore, even at $32 a pound for refined molybdenum, is worth the years of ankle-biting opposition that are likely.The newest company, Thompson Creek Metals Co., a Denver-based firm, is described as much larger than Kobex, with assets of $1 billion. Thompson Creek chairman and chief executive Kevin Loughrey said his company has greater financial resources.The contract with the owner, Wyoming-based U.S. Energy, calls for the payment of $500,000, plus $1 million annually beginning in January during the next 10 years. The contract gives Thompson Creek an escape clause, but also potential to gain a stake in the property.Local opponents predict that Thompson Creek will beat a hasty retreat. “Kobex came in, looked at it, and then decided to get out. I think the same thing will happen with Thompson Creek,” Crested Butte Mayor Alan Bernholtz told the Gunnison Country Times. “Once Thompson Creek does due diligence they’ll realize it’s not an ideal location for a mine, because it’s in a municipal watershed.”Dan Morse, who oversees public lands issues for the High Country Citizens Alliance, said even much larger companies have walked away from the ore body. Both Amax and Phelps-Dodge were as large or larger than Thompson Creek, and both eventually walked away from the project.
Once again, Revelstoke will be faced with the issue of how tall is too tall? Developers of a proposed Best Western Hotel said they need six stories to get the 100 units they believe are necessary to make the venture profitable. Revelstoke’s current limit is three stories. The developers say they see no other way to make the numbers work. We don’t have a plan B quite frankly, developer Fred Beruschi told the Revelstoke Times Review. Without the extra height it makes things a lot more difficult.
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Several of the ski-anchored counties of Colorado’s Western Slope are threatening to bolt from Club 20, the regional public interest lobbying group. The flashpoint for the dissatisfaction is the increasing domination of the group by the booming oil-and-gas industry.Telluride’s Art Goodtimes, a commissioner from San Juan County, resigned from the organization in April after losing his spot as an elected official within the group to an oil-and-gas industry consultant.The club has been taken over by the oil and gas industry, from its recent leadership to its big-gun funders, he said in his resignation letter.Two other ski-dominated counties, Gunnison and Pitkin counties – which include Crested Butte and Aspen, respectively – similarly compared grievances at a recent meeting.Rachael Richards, a former Aspen mayor who is now a Pitkin County commissioner, said she is dismayed with Club 20’s stance on oil and gas regulations, which she says pays little attention to the agriculture, tourism, and recreation industries.Too, there is dissatisfaction with Club 20 being seen as broadly representative of the Western Slope.The organization was seen as trending away from its conservative roots and being more welcoming of resort-valley environmental interests in recent years.Club 20 voting is premised upon a one-member, one-vote arrangement. Private companies, as well as local governments, are eligible to join. Of late, the membership has swelled with oil and gas companies, who have advanced an agenda that, as seen from the perspective of Richards and Goodtimes, puts people and the environment in the back seat.Is it time for other ski counties to leave Club 20? Richards told a reporter in April that she didn’t plan to push for Pitkin County’s exit, but in a meeting in Gunnison, she sounded more exasperated in comments reported by the Crested Butte News. Club 20 must figure out better how to issue formal positions that better reflect minority opinions, she said.Reeves Brown, executive director of Club 20, disputes the charge of steamrolling. The majority rules, but the minority always have their day in court, he told the same newspaper.