I-70 transit on the fast track

I-70 CORRIDOR – Russell George, who took over as director of the Colorado Department of Transportation this year, seems to be carving a new path for Interstate 70.

While George’s predecessor, Tom Norton, had talked about mass transit in the congested corridor being perhaps 30 years away, George is talking as though it’s the solution now. “The future for transportation in Colorado,” he said at a conference in Glenwood Springs, is “more than a highway.”

Although the funding source is unknown, “we have to have an honest-to-God irrevocable start on the transit piece. I don’t think we can afford not to,” George said.

State transportation planners have talked about a rail-based bus guideway system, but ruled out other forms of rail-based transportation, including kinds that are found in Switzerland as well as futuristic monorail systems, as intolerably expensive.

Earlier this year, George announced that he was postponing release of the programmatic environmental statement, which has been in the making since 1999. He said six extra months will be needed to revamp the study to give rail-based transit options a fair shake in the eyes of residents along the corridor in the mountain communities.

Among those communities are Summit County, Vail and the Eagle Valley.

The conference, reported theGlenwood Post Independent, had the twin themes of the concept called peak oil, in which it is believed that oil supplies have or will soon begin to decline, and global warming.

The present time, George said, is a “moment of challenge” to find creative solutions to forge a new energy economy less dependent on carbon-emitting cars.

But while that future looks uncertain, so does the source of money to create the new transportation infrastructure, he said. In that, George and his predecessor do not disagree.

George lives in Rifle, where he once was a water attorney and Republican legislator, while commuting to Denver, about 200 miles away. Along the way, he passed through the Eagle Valley and Vail. There, officials have been contemplating for some time the potential for a valley railroad.

Transportation officials are talking about local railroad service in the Eagle-to-Vail area being implemented no sooner than 2030, when Eagle County’s population is projected to reach 87,000. That does not include 30,000 people commuting on a daily basis to jobs in the county. In 2000, there were only 1,000 commuters.

The Vail Daily explains that officials from the various towns in the Eagle Valley are discussing the creation of pedestrian-oriented communities. Avon, at the foot of Beaver Creek, is putting together such a plan as it begins plotting its redevelopment.


Town pitches real estate restriction

CRESTED BUTTE – The Town Council in Crested Butte is still getting plenty of kick from people who don’t like the proposed zoning that would restrict new real-estate and other such offices from ground floors along the town’s main tourist-oriented business strip, called Elk Avenue.

Existing uses would be grandfathered, explains theCrested Butte News.

Crested Butte officials are worried about a sluggish retail environment, which results in fewer sales and hence fewer sales tax revenues, the primary sources for municipal operations in Colorado.“To tell people you can’t rent to a real-estate office – I think that’s so terribly unrealistic and unfair to dictate to the people that have invested in this community,” said Judy McGill, a property owner on the strip, called Elk Avenue. A business owner on the strip, Steven Ein, said restricting the use might decrease the value of property by 10 to 30 percent.

Another speaker, Gordon Reeves, wondered at the logic that assumes a real estate office is bad and a medical office is good.

Mayor Alan Bernholtz said the issue is one of balance. Real estate offices currently represent an imbalance on the street.

Bray said the ordinances treat a symptom rather than the ailment. “We don’t have a viable tourism industry. If you want to cure what’s going on downtown, bring more people here,” he said.Similar zoning is nothing new in ski towns. Vail adopted the zoning 34 years ago and has never looked back.


Granby rebuilds after rampage

GRANBY – It’s been more than three years since Marvin Heemeyer drove a bulldozer from the muffler shop he owned, the driver’s seat concealed in a fortress of concrete and steel, guns protruding, and proceeded to terrorize Granby for the better part of an afternoon.

Heemeyer damaged or gutted 13 buildings during what instantly was labeled a “rampage” before his contraption stalled in the partially crumbled basement of a Gambles store. There, his behemoth smoking, he turned the gun on himself, taking no questions as to why.

A taped recording that had been mailed beforehand answered some of the questions. Heemeyer had felt wronged in a zoning dispute. He believed the town had incorrectly permitted a neighboring landowner to erect a noisy, dusty batch plant for gravel operations.

Among those sent fleeing for their lives that afternoon in 2004 was Patrick Brower, editor and publisher of theSky-Hi News. Heemeyer’s grunting bulldozer crashed into the newspaper office only moments after Brower and another editor from nearby Winter Park fled out the back door.

Brower says that Granby has recovered physically. He admits that Granby needed a touching up. It now has a brand new town hall and library, both bigger and better than what preceded them. The commercial buildings are mostly rebuilt.

But a legacy of sourness lingers, he says. Somebody with a project before the planning commission or town board will take umbrage at the first sign of evaluation. “Now I know how Marv felt,” they may say. Or, “Don’t make me pull another Marv.” And, “Maybe Marv wasn’t so crazy after all.”

Brower says government should not roll over and play dead. Small-town government is not “oppressive.” Town government, he says, had given Heemeyer some, but not all, of what he asked. Heemeyer was not wronged – merely wrong.

“I hope people will think twice in the future about invoking Marv’s legacy of recklessness and costly revenge all in the name of pride and anger.”


Ogden emerges as extreme capital

OGDEN, Utah – Is Ogden, Utah, located along the Wasatch Front about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, the upcoming center for extreme sports?The New York Times dangles that proposition.

The best evidence is that Jeff Lowe, once one of the world’s top mountaineers, has returned to Ogden after 30 years in Boulder. He has established a series of climbing routes using bolted ladder rungs and is now planning a tower of ice – suspended from steel cables – to be used for ice climbing

The 2002 Olympic Downhill was held in the Wasatch Range to the east, and now several ski companies have established operations in Ogden, about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City. Another plan is to build a gondola from Ogden to a proposed ski and resort community in the Wasatch Range.

The Times says Ogden’s commitment to outdoor recreation and adventure-based economy – coupled with low prices – is attracting young professionals. The average price of a three-bedroom home runs $160,000. Among those buyers is graphic designer Delanie Hill, 32, formerly of Jackson Hole. “I can’t afford to live in Jackson,” she said, “but I can here.”

It’s not all boom and bustle. The newspaper describes still-empty buildings and a handful of dank bars. Such things, says Lowe, keep Ogden from being “too cool.”

Wine festival attracts well-heeled

ASPEN – The success of Aspen’sFood & Wine Magazine Classic is reflected in these simple facts. Although the attendance has been capped since 1995 at 5,000 people, with ticket prices this year costing roughly $1,000, organizers this year scheduled a reserve tasting of Screaming Eagle wines on a Friday morning. Even at an extra $750, it sold out quickly.

The Aspen Timesexplains that the event began in 1983 as a wine-tasting festival. It drew 300 people.Food & Wine Magazinebegan running it in 1986, changing it from a wine-tasting event into a full-on foodie smorgasbord. The festival hit its stride in 1990 when Julia Child was the featured speaker. In 1995,The New York Times called it the “granddaddy of them all,” and the next year the festival sold out for the first time.

As everything this year, the festival had green edges to it, says theTimes. Some tents this year used compostable plates and glasses. Also, organizers set a goal of raising $1 million for Farm to Table, an organization that supports local farmers and sustainable practices.

Telluride’s Mountainfilm Festival also had an eat-local angle this year, with a lunch using locally produced food items.

– compiled by Allen Best