Green building sweeps the West

EAGLE VALLEY – Building departments in the Eagle Valley are slowly beginning to adopt regulations intended to make homes, offices and hotels use less energy and in other ways become more “green.”

Vail still has not revised its regulations, but it has hired Dan Richardson, the first director of Aspen’s Canary Initiative, a program created in response to global warming.

Down valley at Avon, town leaders are requiring projects in an area called West Town Center to be certified at the most basic level of LEED standards (Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design).

At Eagle, officials are waiting for the National Association of Home Builders to release a green building standard. But building official Bob Kohrmann is worried that addition costs will elevate the cost of housing, further exacerbating the housing pinch.

That same question came up last year when Eagle County was looking to adopt green-building standards. Adam Palmer, an Eagle County planner, cites Department of Energy statistics that show an energy-efficient home, while costing marginally more at the outset, is much cheaper, because of lower utility bills.

Consider a $150,000 home upgraded at a cost of about $5,000 in energy-saving features. With 90 percent of the home financed at 8 percent interest, the mortgage would be $32 per month higher, but the energy savings would be $92 per month.

Eagle County’s regulations went into effect last September, offering a mixture of carrots and sticks, with waived building fees constituting the carrots. Regulations adopted in Aspen and Pitkin County served as a template for the regulations adopted in Eagle County, and Eagle County’s regulations are now being mimicked at a private project near Steamboat Springs.

State revives I-70 light rail plan

I-70 CORRIDOR – A vision for rail-based mass transit on the Interstate 70 corridor between Denver and the mountains is getting a new lease on life.

A planning document that was eight years and $25 million in the making was expected to call for highway widening through Clear Creek County, between Denver and the mountain resorts. The document rejected rail-based mass transit as too expensive given an assumed cap of $4 billion in state and federal funding.

But the administration of Gov. Bill Ritter is backing up at least one step in an effort to reach consensus with mountain communities located along the corridor.

“When I got here, it was clear that as decisions were being made, we left our friends and constituents out along the way,” said Russell George, who took over as executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation in January. “We shut them out too soon, and they didn’t like it, and it probably wasn’t right. It gave the appearance that the decision was pre-ordained.”

George told theRocky Mountain News that he is tossing out the arbitrary $4 billion cap in funding and will listen to all solutions. “If my friends in the corridor are happy with me, maybe they will help me find the money to do something up there,” he said.

Rail proponents have also been encouraged by a $1.5 million appropriation to study the potential for a network of passenger trains, both on I-70 and the I-25 corridor. The latter lies along the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Some envision a passenger train linking Albuquerque and Santa Fe on the south to Denver and into Cheyenne and even Casper, Wyo.

Bill Briggs, director of the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority, said that he believes at least the tunnels will be needed along the I-70 corridor, including one under Loveland Pass. One tunnel already exists. It was bored in the early 1940s as a test of the geology, although the highway tunnel that became Eisenhower Memorial was later dug in a different location.

Snowmelt still hot in Crested Butte

CRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte has joined the Mayors’ Agreement on Climate Change. It has vowed to pursue compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

But what does that mean in practical terms pertaining to, for example, snow-melt systems? Despite gains in wind and other forms of alternative energy, most electricity today is produced

by burning of coal, a major source of carbon dioxide. Because of increasing demand for electricity, many observers expect burning of coal to actually increase.

Confronted with this situation, the Town Council continues to struggle toward consensus. A moratorium on new snowmelt systems has been extended through summer. Exempted are public sidewalks.

As reported by theCrested Butte News, the council seems to be of two schools of thought. One group favors no exemption to a total ban on private snowmelt systems. “To me, if we embrace the Kyoto Protocol, our mission is to reduce (our carbon emissions) to a certain level,” said Skip Berkshire, a council member. Another council member, Bill Coburn, favors exemptions, “There are sometimes good reasons to melt snow,” he said.

The middle ground seems to be a 100-percent offset program modeled on the approach adopted by Aspen and Pitkin County. There, homeowners can install snowmelt systems in driveways, outdoor swimming pools and other users of outdoor electricity. However, if they do so, they must offset this supposedly extravagant use by installing alternative energy systems, such as photovoltaic solar collectors. Or, in absence of that, they can pay money that is then used to reduce use of coal-fired electricity elsewhere.

For example, to offset the electricity needed for a 536-square-foot snowmelt system on a patio and a 64-square-foot spa would require a 2.8 kilowatt photovoltaic system. The cost of that system, $25,000 could instead be paid as a mitigation fee, with the money devoted to an alternative-energy system elsewhere, such as on a public building.

Labor shortage hits Jackson Hole

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Judging by the classified advertisements in theJackson Hole News&Guide, the labor shortage has increased 20 percent from last year. The newspaper explains that the listings occupy eight pages, compared to six pages last year.

Many employers continue to look abroad, while labor officials blame a 30 percent increase nationwide in applications for slower responses to applications.

In Jackson Hole, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Service has received requests for 1,682 workers this summer.

Ned Brown, a restaurateur who applies for the workers each summer and winter, says getting the foreign workers is expensive. He pays hundreds of dollars per worker, plus a $1,000 fee to the federal government to expedite his application. “For three months, it’s a pretty steep price, but I don’t have another option,” he said.

But the Grand Teton Lodge Co. received approval for about 200 guest workers without complication. Bob O’Neil, director of human resources, said his company is experienced and it also rehires employees season after season, allowing it to avoid the federal caps on foreign workers.

Carbondale tilts against Home Depot

CARBONDALE – In a nonbinding 4-to-3 vote, Carbondale town trustees have indicated they wouldn’t allow a Home Depot into the town.The Valley Journal reports that the contentious issue may yet be given directly to voters for resolution.

In various permutations, the issue of big box stores has been debated for several years in Carbondale, located 30 miles down-valley from Aspen. In the latest planning, a developer is proposing a major shopping complex that includes a 60,000-square-foot grocery store.

At issue is whether the town will also accept an 80,000-square-foot Home Depot as part of the complex. The grocery store, although nearly as big, and also presumably of a national franchise, seems not to be controversial.

One faction believes that allowing Home Depot into the complex will make Carbondale “anywhere USA,” to use the words of Trustee Alice Laird. At least one other trustee believes that the citizenry would reject a Home Depot, if a referendum were called. A referendum several years ago rejected another big-box proposal for the same site.

Those favoring Home Depot cite the tax revenues. The commercial complex with a Home Depot is projected to yield $1.7 million annually for the town treasury, $700,000 more than a commercial area without the Home Depot.

– compiled by Allen Best

Bear laws lack teeth in Aspen

ASPEN – What’s the difference between bears and the laws adopted by Aspen and Pitkin County to eliminate the garbage that attracts bears?

The answer, saysThe Aspen Times, is that bears have teeth, but the laws don’t.

Although he didn’t quite come out and say so, state wildlife biologist Kevin Wright suggested in the paper that the laws are being widely flouted. He reports regularly seeing overflowing dumpsters at Aspen construction sites and garbage that isn’t properly secured at residences.

“Basically, Aspen needs to wake up and get a clue here,” Wright said. The newspaper notes that the commitment of the city and county to enforce their bear ordinances has been an issue in prior years.

At least in Colorado, laws designed to reduce trash were first drawn up in Snowmass, then in Aspen and Pitkin County before being copied in Vail, Beaver Creek, Steamboat and, most recently, Crested Butte.

Aspen gas surges past $4 a gallon

ASPEN – Gasoline prices reached $4.09 per gallon in Aspen by mid-May, while they were at $3.55 in Vail. Philip Verleger, a consulting economist based in Aspen, estimated that gas prices could reach $6 a gallon in Aspen this summer. Aspen is regularly 50 cents above the national average, he toldThe Aspen Times.

Verleger said he doubts that free buses and higher prices will limit automobile traffic into Aspen, where congestion at the town’s entrance results in something that is the opposite of rush hour both morning and evening.

Telluride chalks skier-day record

TELLURIDE – Telluride recorded a record number of 426,000 skiers last winter but may be hard put to match that feat next winter, no matter how much it snows.

A number of projects promise to make Mountain Village, where most of the hotel beds are located for the ski area, into a construction zone. The ski area operator, Telluride Ski and Golf Co., is pushing group sales as a hedge in the reduction in bed base.

Ken Stone, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, cautioned that record skier days don’t necessarily mean record profits. “You can also have more skier days and lose money if your yield isn’t good,” he explains. “Our job is to improve yield.”

Last WWI veteran a native of Rico

RICO – The last known World War I veteran from the United States died Feb. 22, and it turns out he was a native of Rico, a small mining town south of Telluride. Howard Verne Ramsey was born in Rico in 1898 but moved with his family when he was 15 to Portland, Ore.The Rico Bugle says that Ramsey was in the Army’s transportation corps, owing to his ability to drive automobiles, a rare skill at the time, and put that skill to use at the front lines in France.

Hidden book appears in Silverton

SILVERTON – Contractors removing shingles from the eaves of an old parsonage for the Congregational Church in Silverton found a surprise, a book calledThe Writings of Armenius.

The book, published in 1853, was written by the founder of an anti-Calvinist school. “Some early pastor had this book, which was rather controversial,” current pastor Cynthia Chertos told theSilverton Standard. “I would just love to know who put it up there and why?”


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