Biomass booming through Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY – Interest in building a wood-fired biomass plant continues to grow in the resort communities from Vail to Grand Lake that are plagued by beetle-killed forests.

Summit County has the most active plan. Current effort aims to put a biomass plant on line as early as the winter of 2007-08. The plant being considered would be located near Frisco, where a variety of county offices, as well as a new hospital and medical campus, are located. The thinking, explains theSummit Daily News, is that the heat produced by the burned wood could be used to heat the various buildings.

Pollution emitted from the two 30-foot smoke stacks is a concern, although the county’s special projects manager, Steve Hill, said the two-boiler project being proposed would emit only slightly more particulate matter than two 2,000-square-foot homes heated by old-fashioned wood-burning stoves.

A consultant, Howard Gebhart of Air Resources Specialists Inc., further explained that national air quality standards allow a maximum of 150 micrograms of particles per cubic meter. The biomass plant can be “reasonably” expected to produce an average of 13 micrograms per cubic meter, 26 in the worst-case scenario.

Still, only 8 micrograms are allowed for “pristine air sheds” in and around national park areas. To keep the air that clean, Gebhart told the commissioners that scrubbing technology would be required, at a cost of $75,000 to $100,000.

The plume from the dual “smoke” stacks would be barely visible. Water vapor, however, is another matter. While harmless as a pollutant, vapor can be more visible in colder climates and higher altitudes. One example is a wallboard factory at the town of Gypsum, between Vail and Glenwood Springs, which has a large, industrial-looking plume of water vapor for about half the year.

Levels of mercury are also expected to be very small.

Still, at least some neighbors in Frisco are concerned. “Most of us have moved here because the air is pristine, and any degradation, even if it meets EPA standards, is just not acceptable,” said Philip Sanderman. Said another neighbor, Mike Wood, “It sounds like a good thing to me, but you don’t necessarily want it blowing into your back yard.”

Representatives of Vail, Avon and Beaver Creek, meanwhile, recently went to Austria to study biomass plants in operation in high-end resort communities. “It was beautiful in its simplicity,” said Stan Zemler, Vail’s town manager.

Jackson joins billion dollar crowd

JACKSON HOLE – Even more than in the Vail, Aspen and Summit County markets, real estate sales in Jackson Hole exploded last year. For the first time, total sales surpassed $1 billion. That’s a 46 percent increase from the previous year.

By contrast, sales volume in Pitkin County, where Aspen is located, increased 40 percent, Colorado’s Summit County increased 30 percent, and the Eagle Valley, where Vail is located, increased 26 percent.

In an interview with theJackson Hole News & Guide, Clayton Andrews, chief operating officer of Sotheby’s International Realty, called it a huge milestone. “It allows Jackson Hole to be on par with some of the other resorts in the Rocky Mountains,” he said.

The Vail-area sales were $2.8 billion, the Aspen-area sales $2.4 billion, and the Summit County sales were $1.47 billion.

As in the other markets, the story seemed to be one more of increased prices than increased sales. A study prepared by David Viehman of Jackson Hole Real Estate & Appraisal reported a 78 percent jump in sales of properties costing more than $1 million. Of those, 34 sold for more than $5 million. The median price of single-family homes in Teton County, which is where Jackson Hole is located, increased by 20 percent. The new median is $750,000.

The most expensive sale was a $12 million purchase of a 3,800-square-foot house with a guest house on 100 acres. At year’s end, the least expensive home on the market was just a nose under $500,000.

Trio spends night on Imogene Pass

TELLURIDE – A trio of snowboarders attempted to snowshoe from Telluride across 13,114-foot Imogene Pass and down to Ouray. They started late, were ill prepared and knew very little about the route, which is plagued by avalanche potential. To top things off, they encountered a howling storm, the effect

being “like needles going into our faces and our lungs,” the lone female in the group later said.

All’s well that ends well, even if they did get a public scolding from rescuers in the pages of theTelluride Daily Planet. The three survived by wisely turning back at the pass, seeking refuge in an old powder cache, a concrete bulwark, at the long-abandoned Tomboy Mine. If not for that, there was some speculation they may not have made it, as they had no spare clothes or sleeping bags.

“Our whole bodies were shaking and convulsing,” said the woman who, unlike her male companions, was actually glad to see rescuers the next morning.

“The ground team located the unprepared and ungrateful trio and assisted in their egress,” said the press release from the search and rescue team.

Big-box ban in works near Aspen

CARBONDALE – Trustees in this town 30 miles downvalley from Aspen are pushing toward a ban on big-box stores of more than 60,000 square feet in size.

Town residents during the last several years had entertained the possibility of a shopping complex that might have included The Home Depot, but ultimately rejected it. The last agreement was that the town and the developer would work toward a common solution.

This proposed cap of 60,000 square feet, if adopted, would nullify that prior agreement, reports Carbondale’s local newspaper, theValley Journal. The Home Depot says it needs a minimum of 102,000 square feet.

While capping the size of stores well below the threshold for typical big-boxes like The Home Depot, the town continues to actively explore the possibility for what some would call a boutique-style Home Depot, as well as mixed retail, with housing being built in conjunction with such a store. That concept is central to the concept of New Urbanism that has many adherents in the Carbondale area.

County calls for affordable housing

HAILEY, Idaho – County officials in Blaine County, which is where Ketchum and Sun Valley are located, are looking at adopting inclusionary zoning as a way of ensuring more affordable housing.

The proposal calls for 20 percent of the lots and houses in county subdivisions to be permanently restricted as affordable housing. That zoning requirement has already been adopted by the town of Hailey, where the county seat is located, while Sun Valley requires 15 percent. Ketchum, explains theIdaho Mountain Express, has an incentive-based program that allows for increased density in developments that include affordable housing.

In Colorado, Steamboat Springs city officials have also been studying inclusionary zoning.

A-Basin avalanche changes policy

SUMMIT COUNTY – The fallout from a rare but major in-bounds avalanche at Arapahoe Basin last May was first a fatality, and now a new policy. That policy will allow ski patrollers to err more on the side of caution if they encounter snow conditions they find suspect.

Joe Foreman, the Forest Service snow ranger for Arapahoe Basin, said steep, slide-prone slopes could be closed earlier in the year, based on more detailed observations of temperatures as well as snowpit data from new locations.

In reporting this, theSummit Daily News notes that the Forest Service intends to improve understanding and hence forecasting of wet-slab avalanche with research at several places in the West.

The Butte may get bowling alley

CRESTED BUTTE – For whatever reason, bowling is becoming cool again. A bowling alley is part of a proposal for a major redevelopment project in Vail, and now a 10-lane bowling alley is before officials in Crested Butte, a town better known for its alley ski race.

The Crested Butte News explains the project has a great many planning hurdles yet, including that traditional bugaboo, a required parking lot. By the town’s calculation, 55 to 60 spaces are needed. That’s about six cars per lane.

– compiled by Allen Best