Canary Initiative launches in Aspen

ASPEN – Going where few other communities have dared go before, Aspen last year set out on an enterprise called the Canary Initiative. The project accepts the theory of global warming and asserts that local communities – in the face of denial by the Bush Administration – must begin addressing their own impacts.

The first step in addressing impacts is to document them. That was done in a study that found that Aspen residents were responsible for double the per-capita emissions of greenhouse gases of U.S. residents. The United States is responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emission.

Some fault the study as too filled with liberal guilt. To wit, the study includes both the comings and goings of tourists, most of whom travel by plane. Critics say that Aspen should, for example, take responsibility for only one-half of the round-trip made by a visitor from Chicago or by a resident going to Hawaii. And at least one Aspen city councilman argues that Aspen should take responsibility for essentially none of the travel of its visitors in this model of cause-and-effect.

Yet, the thrust of the plan is to take more responsibility. Drawing on work done in Portland, Ore., architects of the Canary Initiative have now drawn up a plan that essentially creates a tax on burning of carbon – something that many observers believe the United States will be forced to adopt in the next decade.

The Aspen Times reports that the City Council didn’t flinch when presented the rough-draft action plan. Higher annual registration fees for inefficient vehicles is among hundreds of ideas. Another one: charging for electricity based on the efficiency of buildings, not just consumption. Yet another: a surcharge to tourist visits, to account for the effects of their flights, or allowing them to buy energy credits.

Meanwhile, a new report issued by students from Colorado College uses previously assembled data to predict far less snow in ski towns. By late in the 21st century, say the students, Taos will have 89 percent less snow, Alta and Snowbird 84 percent less, Park City 61 percent, and Vail 57 percent. Sun Valley is projected to have 51 percent less snow, Colorado’s Summit County resorts 50 percent, Aspen-area resorts 43 percent, and Jackson Hole 26 percent.

But what good are these models? Only two years ago, at least some climate scientists said that good modeling for micro-areas would not be delivered for a decade. Pointedly, no scientists were quoted in the flurry of stories about the Colorado College report. However, bothThe Aspen Timesand theVail Daily consulted Auden Schendler, the environmental manager for the Aspen Skiing Co., who said he’s confident of the projections.

Schendler argues that the ski industry’s greatest role will be as a lobbyist on the national stage. “We can be very powerful when the Western recreation industry goes to Washington and says ‘We’re concerned about this.’” He said emissions must be cut by 50 percent to 90 percent by 2100.


Direct air succeeds in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – This past winter’s airline program at Steamboat was a major success. While the ski area and local lodges had posted $1.95 million in revenue guarantees to the airlines, organizers now expect to pay only $950,000.

The ski company posts 60 percent of the guarantees, and the remainder comes from a local marketing district, which imposes a 2 percent bed tax.

Steamboat had excellent snow this winter, but Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., said reduced commuter shuttles from Denver caused more people to fly direct from cities to the Yampa Valley. That meant more passengers per plane. Higher airfares also meant the airlines made more money, and the locals had to pay less in revenue guarantees.

The program was a success in other ways, too. Load factors that four years ago averaged 63 percent hit a record 71 percent this winter. Altogether, the flights carried 110,000 passengers during the winter out of a total possible 137,000.

Next winter, 150,000 seats will be offered, but Steamboat will post slightly less in revenue guarantees. Among the additions will be a daily flight from Atlanta, which is currently served with a weekend flight. Wirth describes Atlanta as the heart of Steamboat’s market.

Chris Diamond, president of the ski company, said he believes few people realize that winter vacationers are tending to plan their trips earlier. This is in contrast to a 20-year trend of later bookings.


Rico shrugs off Telluride workers

RICO – The twin towns of Telluride and Mountain Village are having a problem finding room for employees. They don’t want to use their open space or building sites, which means that they’ve been looking elsewhere – down-valley or even beyond.

Located 25 miles away and across Lizard Head Pass, the tiny town of Rico has served notice that it doesn’t want to be the dumping ground for Telluride’s housing needs, reports theRico Bugle.

“We believe responsible community planning requires housing programs that are in the same community as the place of employment,” the town board said in a letter sent to officials in Telluride, Mountain Village and San Miguel County.


All eyes watch Front Range run-off

I-70 CORRIDOR – Reports vary widely about the level of concern provoked by this year’s big snowpack in the mountains of northern Colorado.The Summit Daily News reports some fretting about newcomers being unprepared for a big water year. Denver papers similarly have reported wariness.

In the Eagle Valley, theVail Daily found preparations for high waters, including purchases of flood insurance and also stockpiling of sand bags, but no real alarm. Mike Crabtree, a photographer who lives on the bank of the Eagle River in the town of Eagle, said that 1996 set up as a 100-year flood event, and he survived it rather easily.

In Avon, there was similarly no alarm. “Water in the snow this year is about 120 percent of normal,” said Charlie Moore, chief of the Eagle River Fire District. “We’re not hugely concerned, unless we get warm weather and rain at the same time.”


Man poisons trees to improve view

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – In 2004, John Fitzhenry, bought a home in the Lake Tahoe Basin for $2.4 million. Still, it wasn’t quite what he wanted. Three pine trees obstructed his view of the lake.

So he drilled holes in the base of the trees and applied Roundup, an herbicide. Later, he applied for a permit to remove the dying trees. That’s when the illegal cause of the dying trees was discovered by government officials.

Fitzhenry apologized to directors of the district that oversees environmental impacts in the basin, calling his actions “selfish, impulsive and completely without justification,” but refuses to pay more than $34,000. But directors of the district think a more severe slap on the hand is needed to discourage the wealthy from being scoff-flaws, and want to find him $50,000, reports theTahoe Daily Tribune.


Town weighs underground parking

GRAND LAKE – When you see the first underground parking lot in a town, you know that real estate prices are elevating. That’s exactly what is being proposed in Grand Lake, at the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Grand Lake still has much of the the ambiance of a knotty-pine, 1950s-style resort, as well as a variety of restaurants named Pancho & Lefty’s and the Chuck Wagon.

But real estate prices have been rising, and so a developer is now proposing a three-story mix of 16 residential units and some retail slots. But instead of buying land for a surface parking lot, which he considers an eyesore, the developer wants to install the underground parking. Spaces are valued at $10,000 in Grand Lake, a pittance compared with structures in Aspen, Vail and other such resorts.


Aspen-area real estate still booming

ASPEN – The real estate market in the Roaring Fork Valley is roaring even more loudly this year than last.

In Pitkin County, where Aspen is located, sales through March had increased more than 8 percent compared to the same mark last year. The final tally last year was $2.2 million. Fractional ownership continues to be a large part of the story, at least as defined by number of transactions, 39 percent of all sales, according to a Land Title Guarantee Co. report.

Down-valley, in worker-bee Garfield County where the towns of Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Rifle are located, the dollar volume was smaller, but the proportionate increase from last year greater at 71 percent.

– compiled by Allen Best