Towns ponder renewable future

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Mountain towns of the West fretting about their part in greenhouse gas emissions continue to imagine new energy futures.

In California, that new future will definitely include a sharply increased amount of electricity from renewable sources. With Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger looking over their shoulders, directors of a utility district based in Truckee last winter rejected an extended contract for electricity from a coal-fired power plant proposed in Utah.

So far, the news is nothing but good. Next year, 29 percent of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District’s electricity will come from renewables, including geothermal and hydroelectric. The year after, renewables will be 49 percent of the mix. And somewhat surprisingly, the cost is actually less than coal, reports theSierra Sun.

It may not stay that way, however. Unlike the 50-year contract for coal, these contracts are for brief periods, and prices could be volatile in the future.

In Colorado, residents of several mountain towns got riled up last winter about whether their electrical providers would participate in construction of one or more new coal-fired power plants. That issue was revived recently at a hearing held in Telluride when speakers spoke to the need for more local production of electricity. “We don’t like all of our eggs in the carbon basket,” said Edwin Schlapfer, a Telluride resident.

In Jackson Hole, a session on energy was held for the benefit of legislators in 13 Western states. Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal said that the bottom line is the carbon impact. But he doesn’t see abandoning coal as an energy source. Instead, he wants a focus on carbon sequestration.

The task is not to quit using coal, he said, but rather to “figure out how to use it right.”

Carbon has been sequestered in underground caverns in a few places, but not on a large scale.


Aspen mandates affordable housing

ASPEN – Aspen seems to be as serious as a heart attack about ensuring more local housing for workers.

Developers of commercial properties are required to provide housing for 60 percent of their workers. But the City Council is now thinking of stiffening the requirement to 100 percent, and applying it to both commercial and residential development. The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority has been charged with investigating the ramifications.

The Aspen Times also reports that the council is looking at building up to 400 affordable housing units on its own during the next several years. Except at Burlingame Ranch, where 116 units are possible at a cost of $50 million, the other potential units are scattered about the city. Those sites present a host of challenges, and the total bill is likely to be several hundred million dollars, says the newspaper.

Getting all this done may require a new bond measure, to be presented to voters in November, 2008, as well as reauthorization of the real-estate transfer tax and a housing/day-care sales tax.

Evidence of the council’s commitment is also found in the decision to recruit somebody to push the projects to fruition. Because of the various skills required of such a position, the town expects to pay up to $100,000 a year.

Whistler faces major housing crisis

WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler is out of its doldrums. Both winter and summer have been busy, and the pace of development is picking up in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics. On the other hand, the lack of housing for employees is once again an issue.

“I would describe it as a crisis looming on our horizon,” said Councilor Ralph Forsyth at a recent forum.

The municipality has sowed the seeds for a 50 percent increase in deed-restricted housing, from 4,000 now to 6,000 expected in the next four years. However, the comments reported byPique newsmagazine indicate that’s not nearly enough. Also at issue are increased transportation costs.

Whistler figures that an individual needs to earn $26,000,or $60,000 for families, to pay rent, buy groceries, with still enough free time to take vacations and enjoy what Whistler has to offer.

Among the ideas being investigated are temporary trailers or modular housing, and also a daily shuttle service from Vancouver, two hours distant.

Ruminating on this and other stories,Pique editor Bob Barnett suggests that Whistler needs another infusion of Type A individuals. “Whether these people are drawn to the mountains or they grow up in them, the concentration of ambitious, successful achievers in resort towns is not new or unique to Whistler,” he writes. “A decade and a half ago Park City’s Myles Rademan described how that translates to politics in mountain towns: every issue seems to be immediate and life-changing.”


Telluride block downtown offices

TELLURIDE – Telluride’s town government has signed to become the latest ski town to draw a line on real estate and other offices in the town’s retail core. Some 20 percent of the town’s main street, called Colorado Avenue, is currently occupied by real estate and other offices.

The stated goal of this zoning is to “increase vibrancy of downtown core businesses.” Town officials expect to revisit the issue within the next year.

The Summit Daily News says that Breckenridge, where real estate offices now occupy 20 percent of Main Street locations, is also considering such a restriction. Breckenridge’s Town Council also passed an ordinance restricting residential development on its main street.

Many other resort towns have also adopted such zoning, starting with Vail in 1973 and followed in recent years by Aspen and, most recently, Crested Butte and Park City.


Coffee rivalries cover the West

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – Anchorage, not Seattle, actually leads the nation in coffee shops per capita, at 2.8 shops for every 10,000 residents. But Mammoth figures it just might have room for an argument, since it now has six full-time coffee shops for a year-round population of 7,500 people.

The Sheet suggests a new motto for Mammoth Lakes: “We’re the Seattle of the Sierra – without all the rain and crappy drivers.”

Meanwhile, Eagle, a town of 5,000 people located 30 miles down-valley from Vail, now has four latte-delivering shops. The latest, Starbucks, opened next door to a competitor called Zach’s.

Annie Egan, writing in theEagle Valley Enterprise, sees no good coming from this exercise in free enterprise. “Some people say that it works to have two coffee shops together ... somehow they play on each other. But guess what, folks, that’s in the big cities, not small-town America.”


School enrollment drops in Tahoe

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Student enrollment is down for the eighth time in nine years in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. Altogether, the district has lost 15 percent of its enrollment since 1999.

The story told by the Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee is a familiar one: higher costs of living are causing families with children to leave the area. This is despite a housing market where the median price has dropped $100,000 in the last year. The overall population continues to grow.

Much the same story was told in school districts in resort areas of the Rocky Mountains in recent years. However, during the last two years enrollments have begun to grow again.The Aspen Times, echoing reports from Jackson Hole to Crested Butte, this week reports increased enrollment once again in schools there.


Frontier Airlines expansion hits snag

DENVER – The expectation last year was that Denver-based, low-cost air carrier Frontier Airlines was going to have its new 70-passenger Q400 turboprop planes flying to Rocky Mountain ski towns by this coming winter.

By mid-summer, however, it was clear this would not happen at most locations. A key problem is that Frontier has been unable to get certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to use the propeller-driven Bombardier Q400s.

In hopes of expediting the review, Frontier has asked for a face-to-face meeting with FAA officials, reports theRocky Mountain News.

Among the ski towns that had most eagerly anticipated the new plan were Aspen, but also Vail/Eagle Valley, Steamboat and Jackson Hole.

— compiled by Allen Best