Aspen residents weigh their options

ASPEN, Colo. — Most Aspenites are a few white pickets short of living the American dream. Their housing is cramped, their expenses high. Still, they say, Aspen is worth the aggravations, they tell The Aspen Times.

“I pay $1,000 to live in a box,” said a bartender named Kevin Gadow. But I live here because it’s a small community, and it’s eclectic, and everyone is from somewhere else. I love living here.”

“I’m 48 and I have a roommate,” said Mikey Wechsler, a 28-year Aspen resident. “But hey, look around: Aspen Mountain is right in our face. For me it’s all about the outdoors.”

“You are constantly weighing whether it’s worth it,” says flight attendant Lisa Gonzales-Gile, who lives with her husband, a certified public accountant and their 8-year-old child in a house so cramped that “I have to squish myself to the end of my bed to get out of it because my room is so small.” Looking out the window, “It does make it all worth it,” she added.

Heading the list of aggravations is the constant stream of newcomers, especially affluent retirees or part-timers. The polarity is described by one bartender as that of the “grunts” and the “gazillionaires.”

Still, there is the underground economy, the barter system, that makes the cost of living more bearable.

And, in the face of housing prices that have increased 15-fold since the early 1980s, there is the community’s housing program. The deed-restricted affordable housing program provides homes, if mostly cramped ones, to 1,400 people, or 23 percent of the local force. The community goal is 62 percent.

Some 592 people own homes through the program, and 909 people rent.

But therein lies a problem. People are permitted to retire into their affordable housing, and many have indicated that’s just what they intend to do. As such, the number of retirees living in affordable housing is projected to jump from 207 today to 1,142 in little more than 20 years.

“We’re building a retirement community without knowing it,” said Michael O’Sullivan, a resident since 1976.

The city government in Aspen recently released two reports, the “State of the Aspen Area,” which attempts to document the area’s living environment in a less anecdotal way, and a “White Paper” that reviews the economy since the 1970s. Both documents, saysTimesreporter Carolyn Sackariason, deal essentially with the failures and successes over the last decade in keeping the community sustainable, and the government’s role in maintaining Aspen’s quality of life.

Mining company courts Crested Butte

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – It was a superb irony. Officials last week from one molybdenum mining company were purring into all available ears in Crested Butte about their compatability – and getting little encouragement. At the same time, officials from another molybdenum mining company were preparing to tell Leadville, which has eagerly been anticipating the reopening of the Climax Mine, that the deal is off indefinitely.

Crested Butte has heard from a long list of suitors during the last 30 years. The newest is Thompson Creek Metals Co., which recently acquired the lease to the giant body of molybdenum ore adjacent to Crested Butte within the bowls of Mt. Emmons.

The new company has shed the name for the project, Lucky Jack, assigned by the previous company, a Vancouver, B.C.-based firm, as having too much of a gambling connotation. It wishes to portray exactly the opposite to Crested Butte, which has long feared that mining will impair or ruin the economies of tourism and real estate, which are based upon scenery and recreation.

Kevin Loughrey, the chief executive officer, told theCrested Butte News that his company already mines molybdenum in a very pristine area of Idaho – without problems. “It sits probably … as close to the Salmon River as Mt. Emmons is to the town of Crested Butte, and you can float the Salmon River and never know a mine is anywhere in any kind of reasonable distance.”

Local opponents aren’t buying any of this. “While we respect our heritage in Crested Butte, we don’t want to go back to mining,” said Ken Stone, chief operating officer at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. “Sustainability as we see it revolves around a recreation economy. A mine doesn’t fit into that.”

Leadville, unlike Crested Butte, has never satisfactorily created a tourism-based economy since the Climax Mine closed in 1981 and put 3,000 people out of work. But as world commodity prices several years ago rose briskly, Freeport-McMorgan

Copper & Gold Inc., began a long, measured study of the potential of reopening the mine. Finally, it announced it would do so in 2010, but only after a $500 million investment in more efficient mining equipment.

But now, after $150 million in investment, the reopening has been delayed indefinitely. The difference, explains theRocky Mountain News, is that the market for molybdenum ore is $12 per pound, or about one-third of the price from a month ago.

New taxes voted in all over the West

THE WEST, Colo. – Despite the backsliding economy, voters in ski town-anchored mountain valleys across the West last week agreed to continue many existing special taxes and also approved several new taxes.

In the Steamboat Springs area, for example, 77 percent of voters agreed to extend a half-cent sales tax for schools to 2019. By a much narrower margin, the Aspen School District won a property tax increase. Crested Butte and Gunnison school propositions also won.

Sales tax and real-estate transfer taxes collected for affordable housing in Aspen were renewed. More broadly, a new sales tax to be used to purchase water rights – a hedge against increased transmountain diversions – and other water-related improvements was approved by Pitkin County voters.

Voters from Aspen to Rifle also approved an increase in taxes for mass-transit bus operations operated by Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. The agency hopes to add more buses, as current buses are increasingly crowded, while also making improvements to bus stops and other infrastructure.

In Colorado’s Summit County, voters overwhelming approved a property tax increase dedicated to a grocery bag of purposes, but notably open space and operations to manage local forests of lodgepole pine, which have been hit heavily by bark beetles.

Some tax-increase proposals failed, however. Pitkin County’s increased tax for county roads was defeated. Telluride voters rejected bonds for a new medical clinic, a school addition, and reconstruction of the highway leading into town.

Renewables and aesthetics at odds

GRANBY, Colo. – As homeowners begin to study wind, solar and other renewable energy sources located literally in their backyards, local governments are increasingly confronting that balance between private property rights and aesthetic tastes of neighborhoods.

That question of balance has come up frequently in the matter of solar collectors. To some people, the collectors are unsightly. The issue is also arising in regard to wind turbines.

Consider Grand County, home to Winter Park, Grand Lake and other communities. Wind turbines are currently restricted to a maximum height of 35 feet. But the higher the better, says Guy Larson, who operates a Granby-based alternative energy firm called Simply Efficient.

“Every 10 percent increase in wind speed, you get 30 to 40 percent more production out of the turbine,” he told theSky-Hi Daily News.

To accommodate that, Grand County officials are considering revised regulations to allow turbines of up to 65 feet, or a maximum of 20 feet above the tops of trees. This would be applicable on lots of 5 to 35 acres. Taller towers yet of 80 feet would be allowed on large properties.

If taller, is this still too low for wind turbines. Larson suggests so. Turbines are best located “twice the distance of the tower from a home or other structure” to lessen the likelihood of damage from gusts.

Treatment plant offers hefty reward

ASPEN, Colo. – We’re accustomed to just dumping everything down the drain. Isn’t that what it’s there for?

But in Aspen, sewage treatment plant operators have offered a $500 reward for information about whoever dumps banned substances, such as paint thinner, anti-freeze and other petroleum products down the toilet.

The Aspen Times explains that these substances can destroy the bacteria, which are crucial to effectively treating wastewater and allowing its discharge into the local trout fishery, the Roaring Fork River.

Sewer plant operators believe that a major source of problems are the lodges and hotels that this time of year flush anti-freeze from boilers in preparation for winter operations.

– Allen Best