Oregon hot-spot tightens belt

BEND, Ore. – Bend has been a poster child of the amenity-based West for the last decade. A one-time timber town, it has a ski area on Mt. Bachelor, flyfishing in the Deschutes River, and world-class rock climbing at Smith Rock. Located just east of the Cascades, it also has sunshine and, of no small matter, a significant airport to allow lone ranger entrepreneurial types easy access to the outside world.

But the days of rapid growth have been upended. TheNew York Times notes that the unemployment rate, at almost 16 percent, is one of the highest of any metropolitan area in the nation. Luxury furniture stores are going out of business, San Francisco chefs have fled. And, of course “for sale” signs dot still-unfinished subdivisions.

“Economists say the city’s sudden abundance of investment income and housing equity from newcomers made Bend seem more secure than it was,” reports theTimes. Much of that new wealth was derived from California.

Symbolic of the changed circumstances are two magazines.Bend Living, a now defunct magazine, was supported by advertisements for high-end homes and luxury furniture. The editor, Kevin Max, described the magazine as being “about Bend’s emergence into 24-7, go-go-go, irresponsible construction and people living beyond their means.” A magazine he is now planning he describes as something else. “It’s about Oregon, so it’s all about sustainability.”

Telluride reconsiders real estate

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – Businesses owners and officials in Mountain Village, the joined-at-the-gondola slope-side town above Telluride, have been soberly questioning whether such things as evening concerts are a good way to spend money.

The problem, explains theTelluride Watch, is that revenues have dropped sharply, particularly from real estate assessments – 69 percent below the average of the previous nine years.

The sponsorship of events, including the Sunset Concert series, costs $845,000 per year, and there were plenty of people to defend the cost as worthwhile.

But Dave Riley, the chief executive of Telluride Ski and Golf Co., the ski area operator, sees a broader problem. “I think we’ve gotten ourselves in this pickle here because for 20 years we’ve been riding a real estate development boom,” he said. “What is our economic model for the long run here?” That model, he added, should not be dependent on real-estate development.

“We can’t ‘event’ ourselves out of this problem,” he concluded.

Eagle River gets federal support

RED CLIFF – People driving west from Vail soon find themselves next to the Eagle River. In places, it looks heavenly, pure and fresh.

But in fact, the river has led a tortured existence almost from its beginnings near the Climax Mine. Below its headwaters the river’s meandering loops were put into a straight-jacket in 1942, the better to create a military camp where 14,000 soldiers trained during World War II, some of them in the 10th Mountain Division.

Farther downstream is the abandoned mining town of Gilman, part of a Superfund site that cost a reported $80 million to clean up after mining operations ended in 1977.

Nearby is another old mining town, Red Cliff, which has about 300 people. But for decades, it has been unable to get its water and sewage treatment right. The river downstream is not necessarily something you’d want to wet your lips with.

But now, thanks to the federal stimulus package, the town believes it will get $2 million that can make things right. “I don’t know what could possibly stop it at this point,” Mayor Ramon Montoya told theVail Daily. The project will require $5 million, with the balance coming from other grants.

County aims for carbon neutrality

GUNNISON – A decade ago, few people would have been able to fathom what constitutes a “carbon-neutral development.” Now, it has become the cutting edge for housing projects.

To become carbon neutral requires that a house produce as much energy from renewable sources as necessary to balance the fossil fuels used to heat, cool and electrify the house.

Now comes word from Gunnison County of a proposal to make carbon neutrality a requirement of all major new proj

ects. The county, as well as Gunnison, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, have all adopted the goal of lowering their greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020.

One observer of county affairs believes that the planning commission is sending the message that if that is the goal, then this is what it will take. How builders respond will undoubtedly be part of the continuing story.

TheCrested Butte News said only one county planning commissioner has dissented. John Messner said he believed the county government should meet the standard before requiring others to do so.

Bruce Willis plans Idaho airport

HAILEY, Idaho – The actor Bruce Willis, who owns a small ski area about 50 miles from Ketchum and Sun Valley, has begun work that could yield an airport capable of handling jet aircraft. TheIdaho Mountain Express reports that paperwork filed with federal authorities estimates 150 monthly jet takeoffs or landings, and another 150 by turboprops and 200 by propeller aircraft.

Meanwhile, squabbling continues about whether the Ketchum and Sun Valley resort area needs a new airport. The existing airport is located at Hailey, about 20 miles down-valley from the resort community. Larger jets cannot use the airport safely, however, and expansion seems impossible owing to nearby residential development.

Instead, local officials have been looking to build another airport – one in the general vicinity of Willis’ proposed airport. Freed of geographical constraints and other development, such an airport could perhaps allow Sun Valley and Ketchum the sort of air portal enjoyed by Vail, Steamboat and other destination resorts.

But the operator of the Sun Valley ski area and others argue that an airport 45 minutes to an hour from the ski area will be too far, and customers will choose to drive another hour or two to reach destinations at Twin Falls or Boise. Also those protesting the more distant location include Horizon and SkyWest airlines, which current fly smaller planes into the airport at Hailey.

Ironically, because of its rail connection, Ketchum became the first dedicated ski town in North America in 1936, when Averell Harriman opened the Sun Valley ski area. Use of the railroad has long been discontinued, however.

Ski area submits expansion plans

CRESTED BUTTE – After many years of talking about it, Crested Butte Mountain Resort has officially submitted formal notice of its wish to develop a new ski area adjacent to the existing area. The expansion onto Snodgrass Mountain, as is now being proposed, would include 262 acres of lift-served ski terrain, of which 118 acres would be of intermediate-level difficulty.

Operators of the ski area have long insisted that in order to enjoy efficiency of operations and hence profitability, they need to have 500,000 to 600,000 skier days annually, a sharp increase over current levels.

That increase, they say, needs to come primarily from destination skiers, who favor intermediate-level terrain. As it is, they may tire of Crested Butte’s skiing after two or three days. Accordingly they often don’t return for a second year, and hence marketing costs for the resort are higher than at a Vail, Breckenridge or Snowmass.

County ends use of mag chloride

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS – Although it will cost more, Grand County has decided to cut its use of magnesium chloride to control the dust on its 158 miles of rural roads.

TheSky-Hi Daily News explains that a new product called Durablend will be applied to two roads. It uses salt, but because it bonds to dust and rocks better, less of the salt migrates off roadways.

Grand County has experimented with many new products, among them pine tar and animal fat. But the animal fat created spots on the paint of cars, and pine tar was intolerably sticky.

Bill Clark, the county’s assistant superintendent for road and bridges, said mag chloride remains the cheapest product for keeping gravel surfaces in place for extended periods. The treatment keeps roads smooth for up to four times longer than those with no chemical application, he said.

– Allen Best


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows