Workers charged with embezzlement

TELLURIDE – After an investigation of nearly a year and a half, arrest warrants were issued for three longtime town employees and one former town employee. Although charged with a variety of crimes, ranging from embezzlement of public property to soliciting unlawful compensation, the case seems to have stemmed from the practice of employees doing such things as changing their oil while at work.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation began the probe when a town public works employee complained that staff members “using town facilities for private enterprises had made deals with some of our contractors,” and that the department was failing “to account for equipment and parts,” a town councilman told The Telluride Watch last March.

The legal team representing the former employee characterizes the investigation as “Pencilgate,” saying it is like taking a pencil home from the office, or taking home a broken pencil sharpener that had been thrown out, fixing it and keeping it.

“The whole thing stems from a practice of employees who were on 24-hour call,” said Susanne Ross, an attorney for one of the defendants. “They were having to keep their old cars running and in working order so they could be on call. Raymond was the first one to come into town in the middle of night, even on New Year’s Eve, to help townspeople with a problem. It was a practice that was OK’d by town management. If they had free time and needed to change the oil in the car they could work on something like that.”

Aspen tries on-lift advertising

ASPEN – Where can you go to get away from the constant visual flicker of advertisements? Not to a ski area, or at least not at Aspen.

The Forest Service has authorized a program in which trail maps are fastened on the safety bars of lifts. Called lap maps, they show the trails, but also carry advertisements for malted beverages and massage services, among other things, reports The Denver Post (Feb. 17). The Aspen advertising agency that assembled this program gets a cut, as does the Aspen Skiing Co.

The advertising was authorized by the Washington, D.C. office of the U.S. Forest Service. However, Erik Martin, winter sports specialist on the White River National Forest, seems to disagree with the policy. He says the most attractive places of the world that he has visited consistently lack advertisements.

But Tom Thompson, deputy Forest Service chief, said the product not only provides a service but also provides an opportunity to promote safety and environmental messages. The agency was encouraged by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., but Forest Service officials said they felt no undue pressure.

However, Scott Silver, of Wild Wilderness, sees this as another step in the commercialization of public lands. “While the USFS admits that this advertising is ‘controversial,’ they have the gall to suggest that advertising provides their customers with a public service for which we, the people, should be thankful.”

Building boom nears end in Vail

VAIL VALLEY – The building boom has ended in the Vail Valley, as several high-end projects, most with slope-side real estate, have been completed or are getting close.

“You shouldn’t confuse what’s going on here with the national economic trends,” says Harry Frampton, a principal in East West Partners, a development and management firm at Beaver Creek. “Everything that was high-end, ski-in and ski-out resort property is now finished. It’s a fundamental change. At the same time this was going on, the economy changed, too.”

The real estate boom that picked up speed in the early 1990s was fueled by four major developments – Beaver Creek, Bachelor Gulch, Arrowhead and Cordillera, all of which are now completed or substantially built out. All offered extremely high-cost housing, some homes exceeding $8 million.

“It’s a monumental shift,” Frampton told the Vail Daily (Feb. 19). “We, as a community, have been addicted to development in a thousand ways. No matter what, it won’t approach the levels of before because the (developable land) is not there.”

A great deal of construction is still planned in Avon, at a project called The Village at Avon, where two big-box retail stores are being completed as well as several thousand housing units. Also, a great deal of redevelopment is being plotted in Vail. Not least, the down-valley communities of Eagle and Gypsum expect to grow in population as part of the exodus of city residents who, in turn, are urbanizing mountain valleys.

“Now anyone can live in the mountains,” said Harry Gray, a local builder. “You can get a four-wheel-drive and heated driveways and anyone can live here comfortably.”

Businesses that depended upon this high-end development are phasing out or shifting gears. One business that prominently caters to high-end resort properties, Slifer Designs, now employs 65 people, compared with 100 two years ago. The owner, Beth Slifer, has been expanding to golf courses, resorts and fractional-fee ownership projects in other parts of the country to offset the decline in projects in the Vail Valley.

Study examines impacts of trails

SUMMIT COUNTY – Think hikers and backpackers have no impacts on backcountry areas? Don’t kid yourself.

A study conducted over the last several years in the Roaring Fork Valley shows that trails and trail use alters native systems. For example, red foxes and coyotes use trails to gain access to forest interiors, where they can munch upon species that otherwise would be well away from the predators.

Delia Malone, a field biologist in charge of the study, told The Summit County Independent (Feb. 6) that from what has been learned so far, the type of use is less important than the behavior of users. In other words, a few quiet mountain bikes have less impact than a half-dozen noisy hikers, she said. However, every species has its threshold.

What limited studies have been done have focused on the urban interface, i.e. those areas close to cities and towns. This new study was launched by the Aspen Wilderness Workshop. Next up is a study, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, of effects of Interstate 70 on the backcountry, including that of adjacent Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.

What will come of all this study? Malone suggests that this type of research will one day result in modified trail-management strategies, such as seasonal trail closures and maybe even permanent re-routes. Based on the advice of wildlife biologists, such is already the case for a few notable hiking trails in Colorado, but based mostly on the needs of animals such as elk and bighorn sheep. Some mountain biking trails have been relocated as well.

County tinkering with hospital

SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit County officials are hiring a consultant to help them figure out how to upgrade medical care, possibly including creation of a hospital.

The county is surrounded by hospitals, but the closest is 35 minutes from Silverthorne, more or less the middle of the county. That lack of proximity has become an issue as Summit County has grown, being the 15th fastest-growing county during the 1990s. Also, as in most resort areas, the population is tilting toward gray hair.

Among the ideas being discussed is inviting a Catholic group to build a hospital. That, however, brings up the question of abortion policy. The county also is talking about building its own hospital. However, some say a first-class hospital is not needed, as an abundance of good hospitals can be found both east and west along Interstate 70, says The Summit County Independent (Feb. 4).

Avalanche beacon testing suspect

JACKSON HOLE, WYO. – Depending upon your avalanche beacon to save you? Don’t put too much faith in it. European standards for beacons require only that they survive a two-meter drop onto compacted sand.

Standards became an issue after Steve Haas suffocated under four feet of snow in an avalanche in a closed in-bound area at Jackson Hole. His companion, Tom Burlingame, had been washed by the snow 100 feet down the couloir. His transceiver took most of the hit when he hit a band of rocks, although he also broke two ribs. He then fell 50 feet.

Having survived the avalanche, Burlingame tried to locate his companion but discovered the beacon gave inconsistent signals. Another skier arrived with a functioning beacon, but by the time they found Haas and dug him out, 20 minutes had elapsed.

Beacons don’t ensure survival of avalanches in the first place, explained the Jackson Hole News & Guide (Feb. 19). One-third of victims die of trauma. But avalanche victims have been known to survive for 15 minutes. A functioning beacon might have meant the difference.

The transceiver in question, a 2002 Ortovox M2, had been warped by the impact of the slide. Still, it met European safety standards, which all beacon manufactures comply with if they hope to sell merchandise in the all-important European market. But to upgrade equipment to withstand much more damage would cost at least $30 more, which would depress sales, according to a spokesman for Ortovox.

Town considers becoming a city

JACKSON, WYO. – The town of Jackson is considering becoming the city of Jackson. What’s the difference?

Under state law, a town becomes a city when the population goes higher than 4,000 (in Colorado the trip line is 2,000). To make that leap, all a town council must do is certify to the government that the town’s population is more than 4,000 people. That should be easy enough – it was 8,647 as of three years ago, says the U.S. Census Bureau.

Why do it? Mayor Mark Barron told the Jackson Hole News & Guide (Feb. 12) that city status gives the government a better opportunity to get grants and federal funding. Also, as a city, town officials could be paid more. Currently, Town Council members can make only $3,600 a year and the mayor $12,000 a year. That’s why there’s more interest in becoming a county commissioner, which pays $30,000 a year.

The downside? People in mountain towns don’t like the idea of cities, including their own. “I think it would be, for many, an emotional upheaval,” Barron said.

Still being investigated is whether Jackson can officially become a city while informally calling itself a town.

Tsunami possible at Lake Tahoe

LAKE TAHOE, NEV. – Lake Tahoe was created by earthquakes about 3 million years ago, and the shaking isn’t over yet. A study by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography indicates the faults continue to move 0.4 to 0.6 millimeters each year. As such, an earthquake strong enough to generate a tsunami is likely every 3,000 to 4,500 years.

What’s more, stick around 10,000 to 20,000 years and beach-front property at Incline Village can be expected to be 50 feet under water or more. Geological evidence around the basin shows that the lake at various points in time was 100 to 700 feet higher than it is today. The natural rim of the lake today is 6,225 feet in elevation.

Park City wary of liquor changes

PARK CITY, UTAH – Utah’s liquor laws are confusing and vaguely insulting to many visitors to Park City. Now, local restaurateurs are carefully watching some changes that state legislators are considering.

Currently, visitors can enter a private club if they buy a temporary membership, which is valid for two weeks and costs $5, or if they are sponsored by an existing member. But a bill being discussed by legislators would modify this, reports The Park Record (Feb. 12). To the vexation of caterers of wedding receptions and the like, the bill proposes to bar children from the premises of these clubs.

“If you are seriously considering reforming the liquor laws, we should do away with some of the more silly rules,” said Michael Kaplan, owner of Mother Urban’s Ratskeller. “For me, the membership rules are the most ridiculous. Asking people to fill out a form and then pay a fee to enter the club, let alone ‘voting them in as members,’ is intimidating and inhospitable to our guests and perpetuates our negative reputation.”

Winter Park hopes to attract Harley riders

WINTER PARK – Winter Park is hoping to secure an event called HawgFest 2003, a combination Harley Davidson ride and music festival previously held at Red Rocks, near Denver. Performers have included Lynard Skynrd and George Thorogood.

The chamber of commerce expects it will cost $500,000 to promote the event, and the Town of Winter Park has agreed to pony up a $100,000 grant as its part. According to the Winter Park Manifest (Feb. 19), the event could bleed money if there are wildfires and such, but if it’s successful the town could actually make back its investment.

Protestors assemble at Cheney’s home

JACKSON HOLE, WYO. – About 30 war protestors assembled at the gate of Vice President Dick Cheney’s vacation home, where he was scheduled to stay for several days.

In Jackson, as in most ski towns, feelings on possible war are running high. Thoughts range the spectrum. Forest Wakefield, co-owner of Harvest Bakery, Cafe and Organic Foods, is closing his store every Thursday as a pledge for peace. He has already placed advertisements in alternatives newspapers in San Francisco and New York City, as well as newspapers in Aspen, Glenwood Springs and Vail.

Man dies in plunge at Mammoth

SQUAW VALLEY, CALIF. – Friends of Andrew Thomas Pertzborn, 32, remember him as a great alpine and telemark skier, but his reputation for dare-devil mountain biking is almost legendary, says the Tahoe World (Feb. 20). Because of his inexhaustible exuberance for mountain sports coupled with a penchant for bright and zany ski attire, his friends called him “Superfreak.”

He died Feb. 13 after falling from a 400-foot cliff in the backcountry near the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. He had gone to Mammoth with several friends to be filmed for a Chevrolet truck commercial. The plan was for them to jump a 30-foot gap on their mountain bikes in the snow.

When the commercial couldn’t be shot due to bad weather, the group of seasoned skiers, decided to explore the backcountry. He became separated from the group, and when he failed to show up by 9 p.m. that night, they alerted authorities.





News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index