Old-timers taking back Tamarack

DONNELLY, Idaho – The poster child for overreach in the boom of the last 20 years has been the Tamarack Resort, located about two hours north of Boise. The first new major ski area since Beaver Creek opened in 1980, sending prices of nearby farmland shooting into the stratosphere and rapidly transforming the nearest town, Donnelly.

TheNew York Times explains that the old-timers in the town of 138 at first held firmly to the reins of power, but by late 2007 had been displaced at town hall.

But in March, when Tamarack was forced to close, three of the five elected officials were laid off, and a fourth member of the Town Council, who builds high-end houses, is all but out of work. Several have left to look for work elsewhere.

For some long-time residents, there is a poetic satisfaction in this exodus. The newcomers promised a more creative, responsive and environmental-friendly government, suggesting the old ways were not good. “It’s kind of fun to watch them go,” said Jesse Withers, a 68-year-old logging truck driver.

But theTimes also found testimony from the old-timers that new blood had been good for the town, which had been reeling from the downturn in logging. Council President Jay Mentzer, one of the newcomers, remains and intends to stay the course. “I’ll be here. I’m stuck. I’m in,” he said, committed even now to change without culturally eviscerating the community – long the complaint about so-called New West recreation-based economies.

Towns see extra quiet mud season

TELLURIDE – It’s always quiet in Telluride during early May, but this year it was even quieter. In Vail, the report is the same. “It’s eerie,” says one town official.

People like Myles Rademan, once of Crested Butte and now of Park City, have long pointed out that people caught up in the heyday of gold and silver booms couldn’t fully grasp an ebbing of activity. Yet, by the 1950s, places like Kellogg, Idaho, and Breckenridge were ghost towns – not abandoned, but ghosts of their former selves.

Telluride was also one of those towns. Mining there persisted into the 1970s, just when downhill skiing arrived. Still, the activity was a shadow of the boom years 80 and 90 years before, when the town supported several newspapers, had the world’s first electrified street lights, and in other ways distinguished itself as a warren of activity.

Telluride resident Emily Brendler Shoff, writing inThe Denver Post, wonders if spring provides a glimpse of what it’s like when a mining town is vacated.

“It’s a desolate time,” she writes of the shoulder season. “The wind howls, the trees are bare, and the snow continues to fall. The trails are covered in snow and mud. And there is nothing to do, except stroll to the post office and pick up your mail and stroll back again. If you’re lucky, you see someone.”

Shoff does not descend into despair, but she can’t help but wonder what future historians, strolling amid a vacated Telluride, would think of the rows of skis outside of everyone’s homes, the cruiser bikes, and the drained hot tubs?

‘Robin Hood’ rides through Aspen

ASPEN – Aspen has expanded its so-called Robin Hood program to commercial buildings. More formally called the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program, it was introduced in 2000 with the intent of reducing the burning of fossil fuels to heat or light homes.

The program targets houses of more than 5,000 square feet and those with outdoor use of energy considered extravagant, such as outdoor swimming pools and extensive snowmelting systems. Owners are given the option of offsetting their consumption by installing renewable energy devices or by paying in-lieu fees of up to $100,000. That money is then used in projects to offset greenhouse gases, such as by energy efficiency retrofits, installation of solar panels and even capture of methane from a coal mine in Utah.

In this latest twist, the same principles that applied to residential buildings have been expanded to residential buildings.

The Aspen Times reports no controversy in the adoption. The city government, which also delivers electricity to two-thirds of residents, has a goal of completely eliminating its carbon footprint through purchase of wind power, installation of an instream hydroelectric plant in a local creek, and possibly through tapping of geothermal.

Summit County takes on mining

BRECKENRIDGE – Summit County officials have gone back to the legal drawing board after their ban of cyanide heap-leach mining was rejected earlier this year by the Colorado Supreme Court.

The high court ruled that state government, not local governments, had the power to regulate mining in the manner Summit County had legislated. In response, planning officials tell theSummit Daily News that they have been reviewing a different tact, adoption of stricter performance standards. They believe such standards would allow local planning board authority to issue stringent conditional use permits while still staying within the boundaries prescribed by the Supreme Court.

What spurred Summit County’s ban was the fiasco of Summitville, a mining operation in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, a giant gold-mining operation that went badly, poisoning fish in the Alamosa River. The mining company similarly went belly up after paying $30 million in remediation, with federal taxpayers since paying $200 million.

Summit County, despite a rich history of gold mining, has no current mines nor have any been proposed.

Challengers shake up electric co-ops

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Again this year, incumbent directors of the Holy Cross Energy Association are being challenged by candidates who advocate a more rapid change in how electricity is produced.

In the Yampa Valley, which includes Steamboat Springs, challengers are similarly arguing that the local electrical co-ops must more actively push both energy efficiency and renewable energy. About 65 percent of electricity delivered to consumers in the cooperative, Yampa Valley Electric, comes from coal-fired power plants, slightly less than Colorado’s rate overall.

Issues are fundamentally the same in the election of Holy Cross Energy, which serves the Aspen and Vail areas plus other downstream areas. Environmental activists tell theAspen Times they see the co-op as progressive, but still needing to accelerate change.

“Holy Cross and every other utility can move faster, so the status quo isn’t where we want to be,” says Auden Schendler, the Aspen Skiing Co’s executive director of community and environmental responsibility.

The co-op already gets 12 percent of its electricity from wind, hydroelectric dams and other sources, and has pledged to hit 20 percent by 2015. That pace puts it well ahead of Colorado’s mandate of 10 percent for such cooperatives by 2020.

Challenger Marshall Foote, a businessman in Glenwood Springs, calls for even less reliance on coal-fired generation because of the higher costs he foresees as carbon dioxide emissions get taxed or otherwise regulated.

Vail clamps down on Teva Games

VAIL — With kayak, mountain bike, foot races and more, Vail’s Teva Mountain Games celebrate the great outdoors. But there has long been grumbling that a festival so closely identified with the mountain environment yielded decidedly unsavory mountains of its own: trash, from plastic bottles, cups and other debris.

With a new environmental sustainability coordinator now on the town payroll, Vail is turning the screws slightly. This year, reports theVail Daily, the town requires that festival organizers at the June 6-7 event deliver more recycling containers, eliminate use of Styrofoam, and discourage use of plastic cups and bottles, among other measures.

“These events can have such a major impact in such a short period of time,” said Kristen Bertuglia, the sustainability coordinator.

Employee housing units losing value

ASPEN – How strange is this? Some owners of deed-restricted employee housing in Aspen or Pitkin County could lose money if they sell their units.

To keep affordable housing affordable, deed restrictions limit annual appreciation to 3 to 5 percent. In most years, market values of real estate in Aspen have increased by the double-digits.

But the sharp downturn in real estate has dragged down the consumer price index, which is used to help calculate sales prices of affordable housing units. As such, anybody who bought an employee unit when the market was high and tries to sell now would lose money, reportsThe Aspen Times.

– 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