Chinese smog lands in the Sierra

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Air quality near Lake Tahoe is bad and getting worse, reportsThe New York Times. Air quality filters near Tahoe “are the darkest that we’ve seen” outside smoggy urban areas, said Steven S. Cliff, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California at Davis.

Pollution knows no political boundaries, of course. Previous news reports have identified both local sources and migration of air from San Francisco and other Bay Area cities for Tahoe’s problems. But this story identifies the growing pollution from coal-fired plants in China as a major problem for North America, particularly in mountainous areas.

China, with a quarter of the world’s population, already uses more coal than the United States, the European Union and Japan combined, reports theTimes. Further, it has increased coal consumption 14 percent in each of the past two years.

All this is producing a higher quality of life in China. The number of air-conditioners has tripled in the past five years, for example. But that means every week to 10 days, another coal-fired plant opens somewhere in China.

Those power plants are so badly polluting the city of Datong, located 160 miles west of Beijing, that people drive with their lights on, even during the day time. The pollution is also causing breathing difficulties in South Korea and Japan.

In the United States, no acid rain is being reported as a result of Chinese pollution. However, pollutants are being noticed at mountain monitoring stations in ranges along the West Coast. These particles, says theTimes, are dense enough that, at maximum levels during the spring, they account for a fifth or more of the maximum levels of particles allowed by the latest federal air quality standards. Chinese pollution averages 10 to 15 percent of allowable levels of particles. The amounts are smaller for Seattle, San Francisco and other low-lying cities.


Housing scofflaws plead no contest

BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge town authorities have come to terms with a couple from Indiana who had been charged with illegally purchasing a deed-restricted affordable home then not living in it.

Kirk and Pam Alter had bought the two-story, three-bedroom house in Breckenridge’s Victorian-style Wellington Neighborhood two years ago, paying $305,000. They signed an affidavit saying that at least one of them worked more than 30 hours a week in Summit County.

But town officials alleged the Alters spent only a few weeks at the home during the last two years. In January, facing criminal prosecution, they sold the house for $379,000. Considering they had added a garage, the Alters made a profit of $13,000. They pleaded no contest to the criminal charges and agreed to forfeit the profit and repay attorney fees of $2,500.

The Summit Daily News reports that the attorney for the couple said the Alters planned to live there full time, but “personal and professional issues made that difficult.” Kirk Alter is an associate professor of building construction management at Purdue University.

This was the first time criminal charges brought in Summit County for an alleged violation of affordable housing covenants. “You just can’t have a house that you work so hard to put in place and have it not be utilized,” Breckenridge Mayor Ernie Blake said. “It becomes a big deal.”

Summit Housing Authority has 350 or so deed-restricted to monitor. The Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority has 2,500 units. The agency’s executive director, Tom McCabe, told theSummit Daily Newsthat his office has yet to file any criminal charges, although it has at least one or two civil actions against violators at all times. He credited with advanced computer technology in enabling his department to be more thorough when reviewing potential buyers.


Bugs smother Telluride’s trees

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – Western tent caterpillars in early June descended on Mountain Village, the slope-side town above the old town of Telluride, creating something of a fright.

The leaf-eating caterpillars denuded aspen trees, spun Halloween-type webs on bushes and, in general, gave people the creeps. The plaza at the gondola was so covered with the caterpillars it was impossible to take a step without mashing several, reportedThe Telluride Watch. The newspaper’s correspondent said caterpillars had begun to colonize his satchel, notepad and trousers while on just a short walk.

While such caterpillar invasions are not unknown on the edges of the San Juan Mountains, they normally come every eight years, town officials said. What’s a concern is that this is the fourth straight year of the caterpillars. Phil Miller, a retired forester who lives in Telluride, said it was the most serious infestation he had seen anywhere in 57 years.

Town officials quelled the infestation with a so-called “organic” bacterial pesticide, Foray 48B, which was sprayed by airplane. There was some anxiety about effects on human health.

Brian Fisher, an etymologist with the California Academy of Sciences, speculated that more extreme climates are more susceptible to climate change. Mountain Village is located at an elevation of 9,600 feet. Because of their rapid life cycles, insects are adapting to climate change more quickly than other species, he toldThe Telluride Watch.

An extension agent with Colorado State University who was interviewed byThe Denver Post didn’t comment directly on that theory but sounded like he doesn’t buy it. “We can just sit here forever and guess why, but we just don’t know,” said the agent, Bob Hammond.


Mag chloride mixes emotions

OURAY – Magnesium chloride, in addition to being spread to melt snow, is also used to suppress dust on unpaved roads and streets. Ouray, on the edge of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, remains the rare mountain town without curb-to-curb pavement and hence a dust problem.

To control the dust, town crews have spread mag chloride with such care that the town’s most prominent environmental activist saw fit to commend them. Still, theOuray Plaindealer suggests it’s time to look for alternatives to this “miracle” compound. It kills trees lining roads, insists the newspaper, and damages car bodies and brakes. And finally, what happens when mag chloride dries out?

One alternative, tested in nearby Ridgway, is mag chloride diluted with a 20 percent concentration of lignosulfonate, which is derived from trees and plants. A side effect, thePlaindealer noted, was that Ridgway’s roads smelled like rotting trash for a few days. San Miguel County, where Telluride is located, favors an undiluted and hence more expensive version of lignosulfonate. In Lake City, another town in the San Juans, town trustees opted for a no-mag chloride plan that favors paving, use of a vegetable-oil suppressant and watering.

In Grand County, which includes Winter Park, Grand Lake and Kremmling, county officials are sticking with magnesium chloride. The county road department has tested animal fat, pine tar and soil cement but found all lacking. It has also looked at other, more expensive chemicals, but has concluded that mag chloride, at a cost of $1,050 per mile of road, remains the best and most economical, reports theSky-Hi News.

Begging to differ, thePlaindealer sees the ideal solution being an afternoon shower several times a week. It does not, however, offer to expedite this.


Fly-in, fly-out homes pitched

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Forget about ski-in, ski-out access. For some people, what matters is fly-in, fly-out access.

That’s the premise of two developers, Randall Reed and Richard Friedman, who are proposing to buy the airport at Steamboat Springs. This airport, located on a mesa near the town, was once used heavily by planes for shuttles to and from Denver. Now, however, most airline passengers arrive at the Yampa Valley Airport, 25 miles to the west. City officials have been questioning what to do with the airport, as the expense of maintenance is considerable.

These developers, reportThe Steamboat Pilot, envision a 10-story condominium complex and 80 new homes. Homeowners would have plane hangars in their back yards, similar to the car garages of old. “You drive up to your house, and you wouldn’t even know there is a hangar in the back yard,” said Friedman. He estimates the total cost of the project at $200 million.

The Pilot reports that Friedman spent four years developing a similar fly-in community in Daytona Beach, Fla. With 550 taxiway accessible homes, it is the largest such fly-in community in the United States.

The developers are proposing to buy the property for $3.5 million, retrofit the terminal and absorb the city’s loans.

– compiled by Allen Best

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows