Anti-Bush billionaires meet in Aspen

ASPEN - Ski towns of the West have been in the news often this year in connection with the U.S. presidential election. Dick Cheney, of course, has a home in Jackson Hole, and John Kerry married into Ketchum, where his wife, Theresa Heinz-Kerry, has long had a home.

Former diplomat and part-time Telluride-area resident Richard Holbrooke is Kerry's lead advisor on foreign affairs. And in Aspen, a quietly conducted meeting took place this summer at which five aging billionaires gathered with a dozen "liberal leaders" to discuss how they could help defeat President George W. Bush.

The best-known individual at the meeting, reports The New Yorker in an article entitled "The Money Man," was George Soros, the 74-year-old Wall Street speculator who alone is worth $7.2 billion. Peter D. Lewis, 70, the chairman of the Progressive Corp., an insurance company based in Cleveland, organized the meeting.

Also attending were John Sperling, an octogenarian businessman who 30 years ago created the for-profit University of Phoenix, and Herb and Marion Sandler, a California couple in their 70s who founded Golden West Financial Corp., a savings-and-loan company. The Sandlers, says the magazine, are devoted to the idea of preserving progressive income taxes and inheritance taxes.

In Aspen, these billionaires discussed such ideas as trying to unionize Wal-Mart employees, but settled upon the more immediate task of trying to defeat Bush, who they all think is bad for the country. Since then, of course, the Democratic Party has held its own with the Republican Party in raising money, which rarely happens.

Ouray fights cyanide mining ban

OURAY - Colorado has only one active gold mine, with no active proposals for others. But the potential for gold mines using liquid cyanide to parse out the gold from vast quantities of low-grade ore has activists hoping to outlaw the process.

Their chief argument is that the cyanide-leaching process causes great environmental destruction. For evidence they cite the Summitville Mine, located in the San Juan Mountains, where cyanide-leach mining has cost nearly $200 million in cleanup, with all but $25 million borne by taxpayers. As well, the pollution poisoned 18 miles of the Animas River.

Since then, Colorado has stiffened its regulations governing mining, but the question remains whether cyanide heap leach processing remains too dangerous. Four counties, including two of them with ski areas, Gunnison and Summit, as well as Gilpin and Costilla, have adopted laws that ban such mines.

Recently, several residents in Ouray County, a one-time hotbed of gold mining also located in the San Juan Mountains, tried for a similar ban there. They argue that state authority remains too weak and ineffective to deal with cyanide processing.

While no mining is now being done in the area around Ouray, a place once called the Switzerland of America, mining sentiments remain strong. Mining industry representatives were able to portray the proposed ban as a forum about mining in general, and so the county commissioners agreed not to take any action now - but said the ban is open to discussion in the future.

Black bear locks itself inside car

MAMMOTH, Calif. - A man in Mammoth Lake thought it odd when, just before going to bed, he noticed the emergency lights on his SUV were flashing. Investigating, he found a large bear inside. The bear, he surmised, had let itself in the car, but then a gust of wind closed the door, and the bear couldn't figure out how to get out.

Once released, the bear ambled across the street and broke into a house. Police told The Mammoth Times that the bear had a habit of breaking-and-entering into both houses and trucks, a consequence apparently of being fed human food.

Grocery store gets in bed with condos

TELLURIDE - Can there be any doubt that real estate rules in the mountain resorts? Not only is for-sale real estate a part of nearly every new hotel built in recent years, but it may soon underwrite groceries.

That's the message in the Telluride area, where The Telluride Watch reports several plans for new grocery stores or expanding existing ones. Clarks Market wants to more than double its 10,000-square-foot store and proposes to build and sell 12 condos in the same complex. The mini-chain also has grocery stores in Aspen, Vail and several other mountain towns.

Glamour contest hits Summit County

SUMMIT COUNTY - While the ski season has now officially started in Summit County, others are talking about pretty faces. Several businesses have banded together to create a contest that will result in one person getting a $14,000 physical makeover.

"I think people don't see that you can be glamorous in the mountains," said Johanna Raquet, patient coordinator at the Summit Center for Cosmetic Dentistry, one of the sponsoring businesses.

Some of the stuff doesn't sound exactly cutting-edge glam. Yoga? Pilates? New contact lenses or glasses? But then there's new clothing, chemical peels, and even dental work, and possibly botox injections.

The Summit Daily News reports that the makeover experience will be documented in reality-type programming on RSN, a resort-oriented television network.

Colorado candidate makes major slip

SUMMIT COUNTY - Gary Lindstrom, a former county commissioner who wants to go to the Colorado Legislature, had what may have been a Freudian slip of tongue during a campaign debate, reports the Summit Daily News .

"We need to support our president," he said. "We need to support our secretary of defense. We need to support our secretary of homeland security to protect us from tourism. Uhhh. I mean terrorism."

Ranches transition toward tourism

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS - Several years ago a company called Routt County Woolens was formed. Headquartered in Steamboat Springs, it turns wool purchased from local sheep ranchers into blankets, which in turn are sold primarily to tourists.

There are many such small businesses in the Steamboat area, where working ranches still dominate the landscape. Local ranch-based entrepreneurs make soap, horsehair bracelets, quilts, log furniture, and food products.

Now, reports The Steamboat Pilot , an effort is afoot to find synergy among them - and perhaps in doing so sustain farmers and ranchers even as they find it more difficult to compete in the global economy with their agriculture products.

Among the ideas to be explored at a Nov. 10 workshop is whether a regional branding plan would make sense. Proponents point out that California's Napa Valley combined tourism with local products in promotional campaigns. In the Steamboat area, the brand would presumably encompass the region's pastoral beauty, skiing and ranching heritage. The goal is to get people to buy the products because the branding invokes these images.

Also to be discussed are whether to pool efforts to market the products and create a communal presence on the Internet, and how to improve channels of distribution.

Among the organizers is Tammie Delaney, of the Community Agriculture Alliance. "One of our greatest concerns is losing our agricultural lands. Working on bringing some of our outstanding local agricultural products to market may help keep some of our ranches viable in the face of growth," she told The Pilot . "What could be better than bringing home a part of the Yampa Valley in a blanket or soap?"

Rich only get richer in Jackson Hole

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. - The rich are getting richer in Jackson Hole, and the poor - well, it's getting more difficult to be poor there, just like in most resort areas.

Numbers-crunching columnist Jonathan Schecter explains that in 1989, when George Bush the Elder became president, those people who made more than $200,000 a year were responsible for 15 percent of the annual income in Teton County. A decade later, they were 44 percent.

During the past decade Teton County has become the wealthiest county in America on a per capita basis. The per capita income has increased more rapidly than median income. That's a way of saying the gap between rich and definitely-not-rich has widened.

As residential property becomes more expensive in Teton County, so do commercial properties. That means that Jackson Hole is becoming more dependent upon wealthier people, he reports, writing in the Jackson Hole News & Guide .

Schecther sees tough times ahead. Housing prices during the 1990s increased 300 percent while median household income increased 73 percent. "It has been our fortune that our wealthy residents have been generous in giving to charities; in future years, as the middle class is increasingly squeezed and governmental funds get tighter, that generosity will become even more important to the community's well-being," he said.

The tax cuts of George W. Bush have helped the wealthy of Jackson Hole, and if Bush is re-elected they will probably be helped even more, he says. But the overarching issue is the massive federal deficit incurred during the last four years. Regardless of who gets elected, Schecther argues, that deficit must be reckoned with for decades.

Insurance pays for cost of wildfire

KETCHUM, Idaho - In July 2001, a fire on the edge of Ketchum spread into the nearby national forest, burning 300 acres altogether.

From the national forest it might have burned into the densely populated Warm Springs neighborhoods around the Sun Valley ski area had not the federal government pressed 100 firefighters and a fleet of helicopters and planes into action. The federal government tabulated the cost at $310,600.

So, who pays? Usually, the federal government, but the Idaho Mountain Express reports that in this case the Forest Service believes it was evident a lawnmower owned by a Ketchum-based landscaping company became high-centered, causing sagebrush and grass to catch fire.

An insurance company representing the landscaping business is not admitting liability, but nonetheless is paying a negotiated settlement of $225,000. "It's difficult to actually have that evidence that proves, without a doubt, who the responsible party was," said Ed Waldapfel, a Forest Service spokesman. "In this case, it was pretty clear cut. A $225,000 settlement is better than no settlement at all."

- compiled by Allen Best





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