Mountain Town News |

Mountain Town News

A new inventory of greenhouse gas emissions for Blaine County reveals that, like other ski resort-based counties in the West, it has a high per-capita carbon footprint, nearly 20 percent higher than the national average.

Kyle Livingston, climate protection coordinator for the Environmental Resources Center, speculated that use of electricity to power the ski lifts at Sun Valley skewed the numbers.

“It is amazing how much we use here,” he told the Idaho Mountain Express. Electrical use is 60 percent more than the U.S. average, he said.

He attributed the spike to use of electricity at Sun Valley Resort, but had no numbers to back up his claim. He also said that the high use of electricity may be due to its low price, which is 4 cents per kilowatt.

In Colorado, as of July 2007, the average price was 7.54 cents per kilowatt hour. Nationally, it was 9.49 cents, and on the Pacific Coast it was 12.51 cents. The highest costs of all are in New England, where prices range up to 18 cents per kilowatt hour.

In the Wood River Valley, where Ketchum and Sun Valley are located, high electricity use was also attributed to irrigation, for both farming and golf courses.

While the construction cranes remain busy in Vail, the pipeline of work for future years seems to be empty. All around are mutters about real estate companies closing their outlying offices and of architectural and engineering firms preparing to pink-slip their employees.

Jim Morter, one of the town’s most tenured architects, says so many projects are on hold he has been forced to put all employees, except for his receptionist, on contract basis. “I’ve been talking to clients,” Morter told the Vail Daily. “They’re optimistic, but there’s nothing brewing right now.”

He expects that will change, as he’s been through several ups and downs since he arrived in Vail in 1972.

More of a glass half-full report was delivered by a rival newspaper, the Vail Mountaineer, which has several architectural firms saying they’re staying plenty busy.

It was almost certain that at some point prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics, life for the hosts, Vancouver and Whistler-Blackcomb, would get tense. Adding to that tenseness now are uncertainties about the financial stability of Fortress Investment Group, the parent of Whistler-Blackcomb operator Intrawest.

Fortress was also chosen to finance development of the $1 billion athletes’ village being constructed in downtown Vancouver for the Olympics. The company was chosen, at least in part, based on its perceived strength.

Instead, Fortress has been shaky. In October, it got last-minute refinancing of $1.668 billion in debt related to its 2006 purchase of Intrawest. More recently, news has been leaked that the Vancouver City Council agreed to advance up to $100 million (Cdn.) to cover cost overruns at the athletes’ village. This was in addition to $193 million (Cdn.), in loan guarantees to Fortress.

The New York Times says this news of the council’s highlighted insecurities in Vancouver about the advisability of seeking the Olympics. It recalls that Montreal, in agreeing to host the 1976 Olympics, had been promised that a deficit would be no more likely than of a man having a baby. But, in fact, Montreal incurred a debt of $1.5 billion that was not paid off until 2006.

Decades after they closed, the mines of Colorado’s mountain towns continue to demand attention.

Breckenridge has begun operating a $1.2 million water-treatment plant that is supposed to remove the zinc, cadmium and lead that contaminate the water coming from the Wellington-Oro Mine. The Wellington, explains the Summit Daily News, was the largest mine in Summit County from the 1980s to the 1930s. Mining there did not finally cease until 1972, or 11 years after the Breckenridge ski area began operating.

Summit County’s government and the Town of Breckenridge purchased the site as part of an 1,800-acre open space parcel. Breckenridge intends to operate the treatment plant at a cost of $90,000 annually. The solid waste is to be delivered to a smelter, which will process the zinc and cadmium into the manufacture of batteries.

Two mountain ridges away at Gilman, located near Vail, the official launch of the Eagle Mine cleanup began 20 years ago. The former zinc, silver and lead mine had contaminated the Eagle River so badly that it killed fish and most other aquatic life. At first, the cleanup was botched, and in the 1990-91 ski season the snow produced at nearby Beaver Creek was orange, because it was drawn from the same river.

Later, fish returned to the Eagle downstream from the mine, but pollution levels remain somewhat elevated. “This was never the kind of site where it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re done,'” the Environmental Protection Agency’s Jennifer Chergo told the Vail Daily.

But the bottom line is that after $80 million and 20 years of cleanup, acid mine drainage from the old workings within the bowels of Battle Mountain continue to pollute the Eagle River. Even now, the river has no sculpin, the native fish in that segment of the river. There are brown trout, but they are not native.

A water treatment plant along the river near the old mine has been operating since the early 1990s at a cost of more than $1 million a year.

With up to 90 percent of lodgepole pine in Colorado already dead or soon to be dead, thanks to the epidemic of bark beetles, worries continue about the potential for giant forest fires. Lodgepole pine, because of their shallow root systems, typically fall down within three years after they have died. However, in that time, particularly when they still have red needles on their branches, what could a fire like that be?

To help answer that and other questions, a fire is being set in Rocky Mountain National Park after there is enough snow or rain to prevent the flames from advancing very far. The project is a joint venture between the National Park Service and researchers from Colorado State University.

The Park Service says that researchers also hope to learn more about the mechanisms of pine seed dispersal following a beetle attack, and also survival of beetle larvae following burning.

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