Resort towns near ‘tipping point’

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Nearly everywhere in the West, ski towns are being urged to build more affordable housing.

In Jackson Hole, developers of residential real estate are currently required to make 15 percent of their housing available for deed-restricted lower- and middle-income housing. A consultant recommends upping the ante to 40 percent.

Jack Stout, the president of the Housing Authority’s Board of Directors, said he expects opposition, but that an ambitious action is needed to stem the loss of Jackson Hole’s worker base. Fourteen percent of employees commuted into the valley in 1990, say consultants, but 33 percent by 2005.

The goal is to keep the percentage of the commuting workforce to below 40 percent. Christine Walker, Housing Authority executive director, said that the “tipping point” at which a town loses its sense of community is when 40 percent commute. At that point, many of the local service providers relocate to outlying areas.

Jackson Hole began its affordable housing program in 1996, and so far this century has been delivering 125 housing units per year, but the expanding job market has seen the need for 270 to 340 new units per year.

The Vail Town Council has also been looking at stepping up affordable housing requirements. A proposal introduced by the town earlier this winter to require that 30 percent of residential construction is at lower price points has been reduced to 10 percent, and only to certain areas of the town. A companion proposal, to require that developers of commercial projects be required to provide housing for workers in those projects, has similarly been watered down, this time to 20 percent. However, the town council has given no indication it will completely back down from proposed requirements.

Aspen is the model that Vail and Jackson Hole, and a good many other towns, have been looking to. There, developers have faced stiff requirements for affordable housing. Some of those developers, when queried by theVail Daily, grumbled that they almost can’t make ends meet. But Tom McCabe, director of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Office, said the stiff requirement has not deterred development. And, in fact, he added, “they still make a ton of money.”


The future of power debated

GUNNISON – Can the West continue to grow in population without building more coal-fired power plants? That has been the fundamental question being asked in recent months in a half-dozen mountain valleys.

Forty-four rural electrical co-ops across the Rocky Mountains and High Plains being asked by Denver-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission to extend their contracts. Current contracts are at 40 years, but Tri-State wants 50-year agreements – and also a commitment to buy 95 percent of their power from Tri-State during that time.

But is the added power really needed? And is coal the only, or even the best, option?

Tri-State insists it can already see the cliff’s edge. It is running its existing coal-fired power plants at full capacity and has recently been buying additional power from the spot market.

However, Western Resource Advocates argues that Tri-State has sufficient resources to meet realistic growth in demand. It says more aggressive energy conservation could cut Tri-State’s demand by 500 megawatts. Also, Western Resource Advocates counters that the utility wholesaler could develop wind, biomass projects and solar energy.

“We’re watching a great opportunity for local benefits slip away,” says Rick Gilliam, an analyst with Western Resource Advocates.

Western Resource Advocates also disputes the demand projected by Tri-State needed by the fledgling oil shale industry of Northwest Colorado. Tri-State projects 375 percent more electricity will be needed than what the industry itself says it will use.  Moreover, another utility, Colorado-Ute Electric Association, made a similar miscalculation in the 1970s, building a power plant at Craig for an oil-shale industry that didn’t materialize, forcing Colorado-Ute in 1990 to go bankrupt.


Whistler reviews Vail and Aspen

ASPEN – Whistler’s G.D. Maxwell, a columnist forPique, visited Vail and Aspen in late January, catching both during snowstorms, and liked almost everything he found.

In Vail, he found the trail map hard to believe: 53 percent of terrain rated most difficult. “It’s a feel-good, better-than-you-are

marketing spin. Either that, or it’s a paranoid fear of litigation,” he reported.

Blue Sky Basin he described as a “panorama of hero blacks, braggin’ blacks, blacks in name only.” In fact, anything that doesn’t get groomed in Vail gets tagged black diamond. Still, he found remarkable skiing at Vail: “Remarkable for its overall ease, remarkable for its lack of crowds, remarkable for its lack of hair-raising pitches, remarkably fun.”

At Aspen, rummaging among the four mountains, he was warmed by the steeps of Highland Bowl, “the best run of the trip.”

He also found Aspen’s Jekyll and Hyde personality, and was more than delighted by half of it. “For every Terrace Room at the Little Nell, there’s a Cooper Street Bar; for every members-only Caribou Club there’s a Jimmy’s: An All American Restaurant and Bar with meatloaf featured proudly on the menu; for every overhyped, overpriced Prada shop there’s a Pitkin County Dry Goods store.”


Drought strikes the Sierra and Idaho

TRUCKEE, Calif. – The snow was thin through January at the Truckee-Tahoe resorts. The result: cutbacks and layoffs. One ski area, Sugar Bowl, reduced hours of food workers, lift operators and housekeepers 50 to 80 percent, according to theSierra Sun. About half of the seasonal employees in the Truckee-Tahoe area come from other countries, with a good many from South America.

January was also extremely dry in central Idaho, leaving Sun Valley at 71 percent of average.

In Jackson Hole, meanwhile, January was the third-coldest month in history, or at least in about 40 years, which is as far back as reliable records go. The average high temperature was 19 degrees, and the average low was 4 below. But although it was consistently cold, there were no extraordinary cold temperatures.

Canmore to mandate green building

CANMORE, Alberta – City officials in Canmore plan to mandate increased energy efficiency and other standards, what is sometimes called “green building.” They have been looking to Green Built standards as well as the LEEDS certification program.

Some builders had been building to higher standards in recent years, reports theRocky Mountain Outlook, and developers of the high-end Three Sisters project have been required to do so. The newspapers found no particular opposition to the stiffer standards, as long as they’re applied equally, according to one development representative.

Canmore, meanwhile, continues to become steadily more engaged in a concept called the Natural Step. The process intends to cause communities to look at their environmental footprint. The footprint in this case is not just the amount of land occupied by a town, but also the resources and infrastructure needed to support that town and its residents.


Sales of altitude tents take off

BOULDER – Elevations of 7,000 to 9,000 feet are considered optimal for both training and sleeping athletes. But most athletes live at lower elevations.

In response, several companies sell tents that simulate higher elevations, including a firm called Colorado Altitude Training, which is based in Boulder. The central technology, reports theDenver Business Journal, is something called the CAT Digital Controller, which reduces the oxygen percentage inside the tent while simultaneously maintaining a steady internal pressure to exactly counter whatever the outside air pressure might be.

Taking advantage of the technology are athletes who then go to lower elevations to compete. Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, Green Bay Packer A.J. Hawk and Denver Nuggets forward Nene are reported to be among the company’s clients.


Mayor defends his Hummer

TAOS, N.M. – Can you own a Hummer and be truly distressed about the various implications of our fossil-fuel based economy?

Bobby F. Duran, the mayor of Taos, says he can.The Taos News reports that Duran took some hits for owning a Hummer recently when he introduced a showing of a movie, “Crude Impact,” at a community meeting. Duran defended the Hummer, but said “Crude Impact” and “An Inconvenient Truth” are scary, and wants the movies shown to school children to get out the message about the effect of carbon emissions on global warming.

Taos recently joined the U.S. Mayors Agreement on Climate Protection.The Taos News made no mention of how Taos intends to meet the commitment of reducing emissions by 7 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012, as the agreement requires.

–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