Real estate in flux all over West

TELLURIDE – The real estate market in Telluride tumbled through the winter, but agents express confidence that summer will bring a recovered market. April, they report, has been very promising.

Total sales volume dropped 66 percent in March, reportsThe Telluride Watch. That’s $23 million in sales, as compared to $68.5 million for the same month last year.

“Buying a second home is the furthest thing from people’s minds right now,” said T.D. Smith, of Telluride Real Estate Corp. However, occupancy levels for winter were up 6 percent. But even in the high end, people were holding out for bargains.

Realty figures insist the market is not a disaster. “Visitors who come to town expecting to find the local real estate market in a shambles may need to readjust their expectations,” said Matthew Hintermeister, president of the Telluride Association of Realtors.

Jackson Hole had 25 percent fewer real estate sales in the first quarter of this year as compared to last. Still, the median price of those sales that occurred was up 86 percent.

David Viehman of Jackson Hole Real Estate and Appraisal, says the prices of some high-end properties have been reduced to more accurately reflect market conditions.

But despite the sluggish sales, reports theJackson Hole News&Guide, plenty of people want to peddle land and homes. Jackson Hole now has 805 real estate agents – nearly double the number of properties listed for sale.

Ray Elser, responsible broker for Real Estate of Jackson Hole, estimates that 30 to 40 percent of agents are “hobbyists.” “Retirees, divorcees and bored housewives are a big chunk of it. I don’t think there is enough business that goes on to support 800 Realtors.”

In Park City, Utah, real-estate agents see a silver lining in every cloud. The number of homes sold in the first quarter of this year was half that of last year in the town. “There is an opportunity for buyers to find a great value,” an agent tellsThe Park Record. The median price of homes dropped 11 percent.


Forests becoming carbon banks

TRUCKEE, Calif. – The future is in California, where the state government is trying to usher in a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions. And in this new regime are opportunities – or so thinks the Truckee Tahoe Airport.

It owns a ranch in the nearby Martis Valley, located between Truckee and Lake Tahoe. The ranch has trees, and trees soak up carbon. So, the thinking is that the forest can be managed so as to soak up carbon, and hence a business elsewhere in California that emits greenhouse gases can buy the “credit” from this forest.

At least that’s the theory, and the true value of the cap-and-trade regime as applied to carbon is being debated across the globe. The European Union adopted it as part of its Kyoto Protocol commitment, but the jury is still out as to how well it is actually working to reduce greenhouse gases.

That’s the doubt in Truckee, too. One of the airport community advisory team members, Andrew Terry, calls the plan being considered for the local forest a “feel-good” measure. “It’s not saving the planet. It’s enhancing the ability to pollute the planet,” he said.

But the essential question remains whether forests can be managed as carbon “banks” if for more than a temporary period.Forest Magazine, in the current issue, reports that scientists are unsure if the science and economics match up. The science of long-term gain is “squishy,” said one scientist.

Another challenge to the idea of forests as long-term carbon sinks is posed by the bark beetle epidemics. A case in point are those forests in British Columbia now being killed by an epidemic of mountain pine beetles. A study led by Werner Kurz of the Canadian Forest Service estimates that the forests will release more carbon dioxide than they will absorb, reports the Association Press.

“When trees are killed, they no longer are able to take carbon from the atmosphere. Then, when dead trees start to decompose, that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” Kurz said.


Ski expansion splits the Butte

CRESTED BUTTE – Most ski areas in the Western United States are located on Forest Service land, which rarely approves of ski area expansions if the local communities are dead-set against them. That’s why it matters what the two towns located near the ski area at Crested Butte have to say about the proposal now before the Forest Service.

That proposal would be to extend skiing across the highway

onto a new mountain, Snodgrass, installing three chair lifts to provide a generous dollop of intermediate-level ski terrain, something in short supply on the existing ski mountains

Mt. Crested Butte, the closest town, has now registered its support for the terrain expansion. Two-thirds of resident and non-resident property owners had supported the expansion.

But 2 miles away, at the one-time mining town of Crested Butte, the wind is blowing in the opposite direction. There, a thin majority of the business community seems to support the expansion, but the community appears opposed. “Residents of this town have clearly said they don’t want lifts on Snodgrass,” said Alan Bernholtz, the mayor.

The Crested Butte News reports that the Town Council is trying to shape a letter that reflects this overall sentiment. Only one member seems to support the expansion.


Carbon footprint grows in Aspen

ASPEN – For all of its well-documented ambitions, the Aspen Skiing Co. continues to expand its carbon footprint. The latest report from the company shows that the company’s activities at its four ski areas and associated lodging and other properties increased 4.3 percent between 2000 and 2006.

This is despite changing out the lights, using biodiesel, buying wind power and two-dozen other measures to either use energy more efficiently or produce energy in ways that don’t involve burning hydrocarbons.

Now, it’s time to advance the conversation, says Auden Schendler, the director for community and environmental responsibility. He and his associate, Matt Hamilton, want to run all company initiatives through what he calls a carbon filter, to see how much greenhouse gas emissions result from a specified business decision.

For example, what about not trying to open at Thanksgiving, which most years requires extraordinary amounts of electricity to compress air, which is combined with water to make snow. He is also calling for a review of the World Cup ski races in the context of its carbon contributions. They also want to know whether the company intends to expand grooming and snowmaking.


Vail lays plans for wind and solar

VAIL – Three years ago Vail Resorts garnered national coverage when it announced the intent to buy 152,000 megawatt hours each year in renewable energy certificates for its five resort operations. It was, at the time, the nation’s biggest such purchase of wind-created power.

But in doing so, it put aside plans for a wind turbine atop Vail Mountain, the company’s flagship ski operation. To critics, the company’s claim of being “wind powered” was hollow.

Now, wind turbines are back, as well as ambitious plans for solar installations. The company has asked the U.S. Forest Service for permission to install two 30-foot-tall wind turbines on Vail Mountain. This compares with the 253-foot-tall turbine at Massachusetts’ Jiminy Peak, which was installed last summer.

This summer, Vail also plans to put solar panels on its gondola cars to power the lights and the fans inside, reports theVail Daily. Solar panels are also scheduled for several of the buildings on mountain, producing up to 8.4 kilowatts per hour, or enough to light 140 60-watt incandescent light bulbs.


Guide to the stars passes away

SUN VALLEY, Idaho – They’ve laid Clayton L. Stewart to eternal rest in Ketchum. He had returned to the Wood River Valley after World War II to run the transportation department in the municipality of Sun Valley, and also worked as city clerk and postmaster. But his most glamorous jobs were guiding the author Ernest Hemingway, the movie star Clark Gable, and Union Pacific Railroad president Averell Harriman to the best trout streams. As well, notestheIdaho Mountain Express, Stewart helped Hollywood moviemakers with the logistics for more than 20 movies, including “Bus Stop,” which starred Marilyn Monroe. He was 89.

Colorado clotheslines coming back

BASALT – Legislation likely to become law in Colorado would preclude homeowners’ associations from banning clotheslines. In Basalt, a group of high school students called the Planeteers have teamed with a community group to not only condone clotheslines, but to actively promote sun-drying of clothes. They call their mission the Clothesline Project.

– Allen Best