Breck backs off on defensible space

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – Faced with a revolt from homeowners, the Breckenridge Town Council has abandoned its requirement that trees and other vegetation that could help spread wildfires be removed from around houses.

Opponents argued that the law infringed upon their property rights and that there was insufficient evidence that defensible space requirements will prevent forest fires from spreading, reports the Summit Daily News.

Fire department officials inspected more than 200 homes earlier this year, finding that on average 10 trees needed to be removed. Some residents, however, complained of costs running at $1,200 or more.

Fire and town officials told The Denver Post that they remain worried about the potential for wildfire. “We’re very uncomfortable. We think we’ve been living on borrowed time,” said Tim Gagen, the town manager. Without a legal mandate, the town now will ask for voluntary compliance.

The issue pivoted to an extent on costs of insuring homes in forested areas subject to potential forest fires.The Denver Post suggests that insurance companies may ultimately force homeowners in forested areas to take steps to mitigate risks.

“The public policy direction of the insurance industry is that, increasingly, we are requiring homeowners to see it as a shared risk and take certain mitigation steps in order to get and keep affordable insurance when they live in a high-risk wildfire area,” said Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.

Towns report real estate rebound

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Here and there come some glimmers that real estate sales have picked up this summer. That’s the story being noted in Whistler, Vail and Crested Butte.

In July, $17 million in sales were recorded in the Crested Butte area. The year has totaled $30 million, reports the Crested Butte News.

“I wouldn’t say we are back to the super-busy times of a few years ago, but after the worst six months in the last five years, we are seeing some good activity,” said Channing Boucher of Benson Sotheby’s International Realty.

“We were probably off 50 percent the first part of the year, so it is good to see positive movement,” he added.

As was predicted in Jackson Hole by veteran real-estate agents, the top and bottom ends of the market have done well. Of course, everything is relative. Crested Butte recently had its first $2 million sale. That, in Jackson Hole, is considered the middle market.

As elsewhere, condos have been moving sluggishly, because banks have been unwilling to extend credit.

Jackson Hole cutting its energy use

JACKSON, Wyo. – In February 2008, city officials in Jackson and leaders of Teton County called a combined meeting of all city and county employees to explain their program, called 10 X 10. Their goal, they said, was to reduce energy use 10 percent in government operations by the year 2010.

The leaders laid out two layers of justification. Energy was money, said Bob McLaurin, the town manager of Jackson, and hence saving energy saved taxpayers money. Also, Jackson Mayor Mark Barron had committed the town to trying to achieve reductions in greenhouse gases in accordance with the Mayors’ Agreement on Climate Change.

It’s now getting close to 2010. How are Jackson and Teton County doing?

The two governments have reduced use fuel for transportation, heating and cooling by 7 percent, while electrical use has dropped nearly 4 percent. Wendy Koelfgen, energy affairs coordinator for the two governments, says the goal looks attainable.

“I think we’re looking really good,” she says.

Plans already laid could result in much bigger savings yet. For example, the wastewater treatment plant is one of the biggest consumers of electricity in Jackson Hole, rivaling use even of the ski lifts at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Replacement of aerators will save 1 million kilowatt hours, she says.

While the city and county try to clean house, the broader community has been given what is labeled the Wolfensohn Challenge, named after former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, a part-time resident. That challenge aims for broader community-wide energy reduction in the private sector.

“It’s so much bigger than 10 X 10,” says Koelfgen. “It’s about taking an entire community and maximizing efficiency – going for deep efficiencies. We’re not just talking about replacing lightbulbs here.”

Vail Resorts turns back on downhill

VAIL, Colo. – Vail was among the first ski resorts to see opportunity in mountain biking as a way to boost summer business. That was in the late 1980s, and the gondola to the top of the mountain was outfitted so that bikes could be transported as well.

In 1994 and again in 2001, the ski area and town hosted the World Championships.

But while Whistler/Blackcomb, Keystone, Winter Park and other resorts have made bold efforts to cater to hard-core mountain bikers with rigorous downhill trails, Vail has chosen not to add substantially to its array of trails.

“The quality of Vail’s trials are good – the two that they do have,” said Jared Saul, a downhill rider. But the problem with just two, he told theVail Daily, is that they become boring after not too many rides.

“We’re the biggest single mountain,” said Brian Peters, a downhill racer. “It’s perfect for downhilling – it’s not crazy steep, but not super flat. And it is huge. One run all the way down is pretty long.”

Liz Biebl, a representative of Vail Resorts, the ski area operator, said that the expense of building difficult mountain bike trails is not justified by the income. “We will continue to improve and develop Vail’s mountain bike experience, but we do not have plans to develop a park or constructed experience like Whistler or Keystone,” she said.

Aspen debates Lance Armstrong Day

ASPEN, Colo. – Earlier this year, before the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong was camped out at his home in Aspen, training by riding up to 12,000-foot Independence Pass.

But not everybody in Aspen sees him as 100 percent local. When Mayor Mick Ireland tried to get a Lance Armstrong Day designated, at least one other council member disagreed, reportsThe Aspen Times.

“He has lived here all of five minutes,” said Councilman Steve Skadron. He said local athletes should get the attention. He also said designating a Lance Armstrong Day “feels like a cheap attempt to capitalize on his celebrity.”

Ireland, an avid bicycle rider, said Armstrong has done much to publicize the fight against cancer and the sport of bicycling. And as a celebrity, he noted, Armstrong has been gracious when people in Aspen approach him.

‘Passive house’ built for Olympics

WHISTLER, B.C. – Austrian visitors to the Olympics this coming February will be invited into what is described as a home so unusual that only a dozen of its kind exist in North America. Called a passive house, it seeks to limit energy use to about one-tenth that of a conventional building of the same size.

The foundation of that house has now been laid in Whistler, contractor Mattheo Durfeld tellsPique Newsmagazine.

“Normally when we do a foundation, we dig a hole and pour concrete on the ground, then infill it and put in the wood walls,” he said. This house instead has a concrete platform, with interlocking polystyrene insulation laid on top, and then the house itself. The intent, Durfeld explained, is to prevent thermal bridging, or allowing heat to escape.

Austrian athletes and officials will use the house as a home away from home during the Olympics, after which it will be turned over to Whistler. There is some hope that the house may become a model for more widespread deployment of housing designs that dampen energy use.

Vail seeks funds for biomass plant

VAIL, Colo. – Working with Vail town officials, a Connecticut company has put together a plan for a biomass plant that would create heat and electricity by burning dead trees from the surrounding forests.

An application for a $30 million grant has been filed with the U.S. Department of Energy, reports theVail Daily.

Stan Zemler, Vail’s town manager, noted that federal aid will be critical if the plans are to move forward. Many details must be figured out before the project can become viable, he said.

The town government proposes to invest no money of its own in the project, but instead would provide three acres of land for the burner and then purchase hot water for its street snowmelt system.

– Allen Best