Judge issues Vail arson verdict

EUGENE, Ore. – Were the arson fires that burned a restaurant and a lift terminal atop Vail Mountain in 1998 acts of terrorism?

No, not according to the fine point of law, a federal judge has ruled in sentencing Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, who assisted the arsonist, to nine years in prison. Gerlach was 21 years old in October 1998 when she drove William “Avalon” Rodgers on roads up Vail Mountain, where he subsequently set the fires.

A communiqué Gerlach wrote after the fire made specific reference to stopping the ski area operator, Vail Resorts, from expanding into habitat for Canada lynx, an endangered species, but made no mention of a government role.

However, in several other cases in which Gerlach was involved – fire at a police substation and at a tree farm, plus the toppling of a high-voltage electricity line – were meant as retaliation against government actions or to intimidate the government.

“It was your intent to scare and frighten other people though a very dangerous and psychological act, arson,” U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken told another defendant, Stanislas Meyeerhoff. “Your actions included elements of terrorism to achieve your goal.” She sentenced him to 13 years in prison.

According to a report by The Associated Press, Gerlach had been recruited by Rogers during an Earth First! encampment in Idaho. She was 16 at the time, and reportedly had a crush on Rogers. A defense attorney, Patrick Ehlers, called Rogers a pedophile and sexual predator.

Rogers, as ringleader of The Family, committed suicide in an Arizona jail after his arrest in 2005.

Gerlach apologized to victims of the fires and denounced violence as a means of change. “It’s very clear to me now that if you want to live in a world of peace and equality, you need to embody those qualities in your own heart and actions,” she said at her courtroom sentencing. “I am so grateful I have been given this opportunity to reconcile my past.”

Meyerhoff also apologized. The Associated Press says that in a statement before he was sentenced, he said that the goal of sparking public discussion actually cut off debate and harmed people. “I was ignorant of history and economy and acted from a faulty and narrow vision as an ordinary bigot,” he said, his voice breaking at times. “A million times over I apologize …”

The arson at Vail caused $12 million in damage, part of $40 million in damages caused by the eco-saboteurs in several actions in Wyoming and Oregon. Altogether, 10 people have been charged, and three have been sentenced to prison.

No one was hurt in the cases. Prosecutors said that Rogers, in setting the fires at Vail, did not deliberately check to see if any of the buildings were occupied, although he did choose not to set fire to one building in which he noticed two sleeping big-game hunters. However, prosecutors say that before the cell of activists was broken, he had begun talking of drive-by assassinations using motorcycles.


Gonzo writer’s kitchen hosts debate

ASPEN – The kitchen of the late writer Hunter S. Thompson became the unlikely – and also cramped – location of the latest of seven debates between the two remaining candidates in the election of Aspen mayor.

The candidates, Tim Semrau and Mick Ireland, offer some similarities, but also contrasts.The Aspen Timesreports that Ireland, an avid bicyclist, showed up in his usual gear: bicycling clothing – because, in fact, he rode his bicycle from Aspen to Thompson’s home at Woody Creek, a hamlet several miles from Aspen. He has made global warming one of his key campaign topics and vowed not to burn any fossil fuels attending campaign events.

“I want to be remembered as having walked the walk and talked the talk,” said Ireland.

A one-time bus driver in Aspen, Ireland was a newspaper reporter and then a lawyer but has made Aspen and politics his life’s work. He recently concluded more than a decade’s tenure as a county commissioner. Although several attempts were made to recall him from office, he survived them all, and says many of those who tried to oust him because of development restrictions in the backcountry have become his supporters.

“We did things here that weren’t popular, and it stirred things up, but you have to do the right thing instead of what’s most popular,” he said. He said his vision is for Aspen to become a sustainable resort environmentally and socially, where generations of families can live – not a place for a

grandiose lifestyle or a resort full of consumption, as it is today.

While Ireland is perceived as arrogant but intelligent, saysThe Aspen Times, his opponent, Tim Semrau, is viewed as a developer who leans toward business interests at the expense of the environment and community. Among his projects were a 39-unit affordable housing project. He showed up for the debate wearing a “gonzo” T-shirt and a blazer.

The issue of drugs also came up – and how could it have not, in the kitchen where Hunter Thompson reportedly consumed vast quantities of cocaine, marijuana and other illegal drugs. Both candidates denied similar lifestyles. Semrau endorsed a “casual approach” while Ireland testified to the value of police “enforcing with honesty and realism.”


Winter dominant in Vail’s economy

VAIL – Skiing continues to do the heavy lifting in the economy within the town of Vail. Sales tax collections tell the story, with 71 percent collected during the six months dominated by winter and skiing.

That figure is matched among other Colorado ski towns, with Winter Park, Mt. Crested Butte and Snowmass Village are even more top-heavy. All others are somewhat more evenly balanced, although Estes Park, at the eastern gate to Rocky Mountain National Park, is the direct inverse of Vail.

These figures were reported last year as part of a program called Vail 20-20. The thinking of town officials is that while Vail’s lodging infrastructure is undergoing a massive renovation that may yet surpass $2 billion, it needs to rethink how that infrastructure is used. The comparison is often to computers, with the hotels and public spaces being the hardware, and the activities and uses being the software.

Since its inception, Vail has always been trying to improve its summer offerings, to help buy down the cost of the infrastructure. Almost immediately after its opening in 1962, the creators of the ski resort began soliciting conferences. Work on a golf course began by 1965. By the late 1960s, it was hosting something called the Vail Symposium, which was patterned loosely upon Aspen’s summer festivals established soon after World War II by Walter Paepcke, the Chicago industrialist.

Summer offerings surged in the late 1980s with the founding of music and dance festivals. Hotel rooms began to fill. Still, the sales tax figures show a much stronger winter economy. Rooms, while full, are rented at much less cost than during winter.

In contrast to Vail’s 71 percent winter economy, 59 percent of Aspen’s taxes are collected in winter, while in Steamboat it’s 58 percent, and in Telluride 54 percent.


National park pollution of concern

GRAND LAKE – Scientists are warning of heightened levels of both nitrogen and mercury in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Nitrogen levels are nearly 20 times pre-industrial levels, and scientists say the sources include car exhausts, farm fertilizers and power-plant emissions.The Denver Post says that state air-quality officials in June will consider regulations aimed at reducing air pollution.

The newspaper in December also noted mercury levels in alpine lakes in the park are four times higher than in pre-industrial times. Don Campbell, of the U.S. Geological Survey, said research suggests that 70 percent of mercury in the atmosphere is from industrial processes. The most likely source is coal-fired power plants, although it’s impossible to determine exactly where it is coming from.

Mercury gets spewed into the atmosphere where it can be held aloft in the air, pushed by winds and travel the globe for months before being deposited on land and water. Higher elevations get more precipitation and therefore more mercury.


Sun Valley beefs up recycling

SUN VALLEY, Idaho – Recycling was given a nudge in Sun Valley as the result of a new agreement that includes both small carrots and sticks.The Idaho Mountain Express explains that the agreement is part of Sun Valleys’ attempt to live up to its commitment as a member of the Mayors’ Agreement on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gases.

The agreement with a trash company specifies escalating costs for trash volumes, which should encourage more recycling. The program also sets up a “green” waste program in which grass clippings, leaves and other organic matter can be accommodated into a composting program for $16.70 per month.

Ski-free reborn in Crested Butte

CRESTED BUTTE – The ski-free program at Crested Butte Mountain Resort will resume again for 20 days in early winter later this year. The resort had conducted a similar program from 1991 to 2000. Company representatives say they want the public to “test drive” the ski area, to check out the “many improvements” since the ski area was purchased by Tim and Diane Mueller several years ago.

– compiled by Allen Best

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