Jackson Hole growth debate gets hot

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Jackson Hole is engaged in a noisy debate about population growth and development. Change the names and the numbers, and it’s a story that could be about almost any mountain valley of the West.

Jackson, the city of 10,000 people, is bounded on the north by public lands, and on the east and west by mountains. The logical place for the city to grow is southward, into ranch country called South Park.

There, basically as an extension of the city, two major projects already exist. Called Melody Ranch and Rafter J, they are almost entirely of low-density and somewhat ample homes, most of them occupied full time. In other words, this is home to Jackson’s upper middle class.

But given the economics of land in Jackson, the great growth areas are now more distant, to a place called the Starr Valley, about an hour away, or even across Teton Pass into Idaho, near the communities of Driggs and Victor.

Into this situation comes a developer from Chicago who has proposed a mixture of fair-market and a healthy dose of deed-restricted affordable housing – 500 units in all – to appeal to the middle class, at least as it is defined by the economics of Jackson.

Called Teton Meadows Ranch, the project would offer homes ranging in cost from $400,000 to $740,000. Houses would be smaller than 2,000 square feet, with the largest lots no more than a quarter-acre in size – smaller than the norm in the area.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide has had spirited letters on the proposal for months. Most writers despise the continued urbanization of the bucolic neighborhood. “Let’s have the courage to absolutely cap growth…” said one writer, Nancy Shea, who argues that the greater ethical obligation is to the “elk, the moose, the bear and the mountain lion.”

Another letter-writer, Yves R.H. Desgouttes, sees this  argument as phony. The moral obligation is to the working class needed to service those who have flocked to Jackson Hole in its new phase as a world center for recreation and leisure. “We should treat them well,” he says.

Meanwhile, other development proposals have also descended onto the county officials, causing them to consider a moratorium until Teton County’s master plan is revised.

Ski expansion draws big opposition

CRESTED BUTTE – If the sentiments expressed at a recent meeting in Crested Butte are a reliable measure, the coming debate about the proposed expansion of the ski area onto Snodgrass Mountain will be another battle.The Crested Butte News reports that most of the speakers at the meeting, which was attended by 150 people, had little good to say about the expansion.

Speakers had a general point of view that expansion will make Crested Butte too much like other ski areas, what Margo Levy, a former Town Council member, described as “plain Vail-nilla.” The need for expansion is not yet imperative, she said. “We don’t have to do this now. If we rush into something like this now, we can never go back.”

Others saw the expansion area as just plain silly. Nancy Wicks said putting a ski area on a south-facing slope was inappropriate. “Maybe they could put greenhouses there.”

There were also echoes of wildlife conservation leader Dave Foreman, the Albuquerque-based proponent of the concept of rewilding the Rockies, who had spoken in nearby Gunnison.

“We should stop tearing down what we can protect, and protect the wild heart of the Rockies,” said Kiki Dotzler.

But a dissenting point of view was offered by John Nichols, a local property owner. “We have a shortage of intermediate terrain,” he said, noting that 11,145-foot Snodgrass Mountain will offer mostly just that. He said locals and visitors have plenty of alternatives to Snodgrass for backcountry skiing. “We’re focusing on this like it’s New York City and there’s nowhere else to go,” he said.

The idea of expansion was first broached in 1982, then shelved first because of community opposition and then later, in the 1990s, because of the financial wobbliness of the ownership group, the Callaway and Walton families.

In 2002, as Crested Butte’s economy sagged to perhaps its lowest ebb in the town’s modern incarnation as a resort, the ski area owners began talking up the expansion once again. The idea, then continued under the newer ownership of Tim and Diane Mueller, is that Crested Butte has too little intermediate terrain to hold the interest of destination visitors more than a few days, and very few of them are able to ski the XX-terrain for which Crested Butte is known.

Air quality suffering all over West

PINEDALE, Wyo. – People want to move to rural areas, because the air quality is good. But the tide of news stories suggests that air quality, because of natural gas wells and gold mines, can be bad even in rural areas.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports that an air quality warning was issued in Sublette County, about 80 miles south of Jackson, site of the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline oil and natural gas fields. Children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems were advised to stay indoors because of the ozone pollution.

Ozone pollution has also been a problem in the hot spots for natural gas drilling in Colorado. One of those gas fields is located west of Glenwood Springs.The Rocky Mountain News notes that those high ozone levels are partly to blame for high ozone levels in Denver. Between the two are many of Colorado’s ski areas.

In Idaho, the issue is mercury. Ketchum’sIdaho Mountain Express suggests mercury contamination of a local waterway, Silver Creek, from a mine several hundred miles south in Nevada. The Jerritt Canyon Mine has operated for 20 years, and during that time mercury emissions have exceeded 10,000 pounds per year, according to the Idaho Conservation League, as compared to 125 pounds of mercury per year from an average-sized coal mine.

Unlike other gold mines, the Jerritt Canyon Mine uses ore roasters to superheat gold-bearing ore to several thousand degrees. In the process, mercury that occurs naturally in the rock is converted from its normal liquid state into vapor, and becomes airborne. The prevailing winds in that area carry the mercury northward into Idaho.

Aspen researches assisted living

ASPEN – Aspen is trying to get a better grip on who would be using an assisted-care living facility in the next few years as baby boomers become what is formally classified as senior citizens, age 60 and over.

The community already has one such assisted-care facility. However, it accommodates only 15 people. By the simple math, assisted living will be a boom industry in Aspen during coming years as baby boomers enter their geriatric years. About 16 percent of the population of Pitkin County will be over 60 years old by the year 2010.

About 3 percent of the population, or 550 people, will be 75 or older. This does not include second-home owners, although some of them are expected to also want to live in Aspen permanently as their health and vigor decline.

A new survey sent out recently to several thousand residents is now trying to assess the market for assisted care in coming years.

“We are trying to determine who will use this facility in the next couple of years, not 10 years from now,” said Ken Canfield, a board member of the Senior Council, a citizen advisory group to Pitkin County.

Nearby, both Eagle and Summit counties are also looking into creating assisted-care living facilities. Eagle County had hoped to partner with a private operator, but so far there’s too little money to be made to entice a private operator.However, county officials are now looking at creating an assisted care facility in conjunction with an affordable housing complex, said Justin Finestone, the county’s communications director.

Breck cracks down on Gaper Day

BRECKENRIDGE – Business and government leaders in Breckenridge were taking steps to dampen too much enthusiasm for an end-of-season celebration called Gaper Day. The event has gotten out of hand in recent years, with snowballs and obscenities alike being thrown, usually accompanied by two-fisted drinking. Neither music nor free barbecues are being offered this year, reports theSummit Daily News.

Shock wave claims snowboarder

DILLON – There are many ways to die in skiing and snowboarding, with running into trees being the most common. A 28-year-old snowboarder from Indianapolis, however, died in a freakishly uncommon way. The woman, a pharmacist, fell on her buttocks, which created a “shockwave” up her spine and caused a stroke. She died seven days later in a Denver hospital. It was the seventh death on a ski slope in Summit County this year, and the 14th overall in Colorado.

– Allen Best